Research In Action

Research In Action

child crossing street
Where Do Child Pedestrians Look Before Crossing the Street?
October 15, 2018

Children are generally taught to always look both ways before crossing the street. But there’s clearly more than this simplistic advice involved in pedestrian traffic safety. Of the nearly 6,000 pedestrian traffic fatalities that occurred in 2016, 20 percent involved children under age 14, according to the National Center for Statistics and Analysis.

To determine where child pedestrians really look before they cross the street, I recently conducted research with colleagues from Villanova University and Catherine Krawiec, an Injury Science Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) student from the Rochester Institute of Technology who worked with us this summer on the project. Our one-of-a-kind pilot study employed a virtual pedestrian crossing environment to explore how eye-tracking technology could be used to evaluate children’s behavior and point of view before crossing. Ultimately, we hope our work will pave the way for future studies that will reveal trends in how visual focus patterns can predict crossing behavior and safety.

In CHOP’s first collaboration with Villanova, we used eye-tracking technology with the University’s Immersive Studies CAVE, an immersive virtual reality space that allows researchers to investigate human behavior in potentially dangerous situations. Study subjects wore eye-tracking glasses so that we could evaluate their crossing behavior, gaze focus, and the safety and success of each street crossing.

We found a linear relationship between the frequency of viewing the pedestrian crossing signal and the safety and success of the crossing. In other words, the more time spent looking at the pedestrian signal, the more safe and successful a subject’s crossing will be.

Tracking Behavior of Different Age Groups

While child participants were not used in this pilot study, the methodology can be used in future research to explore the behavior of different age groups. Children possess a variety of unique cognitive and physical characteristics that influence their decision-making process and can put their safety as pedestrians at risk:

  • Less cognitive development
  • Less cognitive processing power
  • Tendency toward impulsive behavior and poor decision-making skills
  • Small stature, making them harder for drivers to see

In addition, eye-tracking studies have shown that children, depending on their age and cognitive development, process visual information differently than adults. Environment also plays a role in children’s decision-making. They tend to make more errors in judgment when in unfamiliar territory than when in their own neighborhoods.

We will present a poster of our findings this week at the Biomedical Engineering Society Annual Meeting, and the Transportation Research Board will publish the paper about this research in early 2019.

We hope that findings from future studies will help to improve intersection design, as well as safety education for children.