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Pedestrians distracted by their smartphone: Are in-ground flashing lights catching their attention? A laboratory study

The purpose of this study was to determine if in-ground Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) embedded into pathways are an effective solution in attracting the attention of distracted pedestrians. A controlled laboratory study was conducted to examine whether pedestrians detected the activation of flashing LEDs when distracted by a smartphone more accurately and efficiently when the lights were located on the floor compared to a control position on the wall.

A total of 24 adults (54.2% female) completed the study. Participants were recruited via flyers, online forums, and notice boards. Prior to the experiment, participants completed a demographic questionnaire, the Pedestrian Behaviour Scale, and the Mobile Phone Problem Use Scale.

To evaluate the effect of distraction on the detection of flashing LEDs, the lights were positioned at two locations, on the wall (control position) and on the floor 1 meter (m), 2 m, and 4 m away from the participant. Participants completed six detection tasks and in each task the four sets of flashing LEDs were randomly activated four times for a duration of five seconds. Participants used a handheld press button to report their detection of the activation of the LEDs. The distraction factor had three conditions: (1) no distraction (control condition); (2) visual distraction; and (3) auditory distraction. The visual distraction task was conducted on a smartphone and required participants to touch the pre-determined target word when they saw it appear within a random rotation of six words that appeared on the screen. The auditory task was similar in that the words were randomly emitted via sound through earphones worn by the participant. Each session was approximately two hours in length.

Results indicate that distracted participants were able to detect the activation of the floor and wall-mounted LEDs with accuracies above 90%. The visual distraction task increased the reaction time by 143 milliseconds (ms), and the auditory distraction task increased the reaction time by 124 ms. Even when distracted, performance improved with the floor LEDs when positioned close to participants, with reaction times of 42 ms for LEDs 2 m away from the participant and 159 ms for LEDs 1 m away. Ultimately, results suggest the in-ground LEDs are likely to be effective at attracting the attention of distracted pedestrians, even when not fixated on the lights as participants detected them using their peripheral vision.


Larue, G. S., Watling, C. N., Black, A. A., Wood, J. M., & Khakzar, M. (2020). Pedestrians distracted by their smartphone: Are in-ground flashing lights catching their attention? A laboratory study. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 134, 105346.

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