Research In Action

Research In Action

distracted walking
Teens and Distracted Walking
September 11, 2014

Our team came across this great infographic from Safe Kids about pedestrian safety  -- “How Does a Teenager Cross the Road?” Based on over 34,000 observations and discussion groups with more than 2,400 students during the 2012-2013 school year, their research indicates that a significant number of high school and middle school students cross the street while distracted, most frequently texting or using headphones.

Although older teens account for half of all pedestrian deaths among children age 19 or younger, only one-fifth of teens felt that their age group was the most at risk  for pedestrian injuries. To understand these findings, it is helpful to review brain development during adolescence and how teens make decisions.

Brain Development During Adolescence

Dramatic brain growth occurs during early childhood, with a second wave of development during the teenage years. The final area of the brain to become fully developed is the prefrontal cortex, which helps to mediate planning, impulse control, perception of risk, and decision-making.

These changes occur until a teen reaches his mid 20s. As the prefrontal cortex and a teen’s decision-making skills mature, the effects of other areas of the brain (e.g., amygdala) may become more prominent. This is why teens might be prone to value the rewards from risk taking, pleasure seeking, and emotion when making decisions.

In addition, the physical changes of puberty occur before the brain reaches maturation, and the resulting “mismatch” means that there is potential for teens to feel the desire and motivation to do something before their decision making and judgment skills are fully developed.

How Teens Assess Risk

A common myth about teens is that they engage in risky behaviors because they are irrational or think they are invincible. However, teen driving research actually suggests that teens recognize risk but either perceive low personal risks or accept the risks for the benefit.

When teens assess the costs and benefits of a decision, they are often influenced to engage in more risky behaviors by strong emotions and how they will be perceived by peers.

These are some theoretical considerations for why teens are at particular risk for pedestrian injuries. The Safe Kids infographic reminds me to speak to my teen patients about pedestrian safety. Most teens are not aware that their age group is at such high risk for pedestrian injury and death. For more information, click here.

To download the full research report from Safe Kids, click here.