The influence of environmental distractors on pedestrian behavior

This presentation and conference proceeding paper were given at the 6th International Conference on Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics (AHFE 2015) and the Affiliated Conferences, AHFE 2015 Annual meeting held in Las Vegas July 28-30, 2015.

Towards understanding the influence of environmental distractors on pedestrian behavior, to appear in Tapiro H., Oron-Gilad T., Parmet Y. / Procedia Manufacturing 00 (2015) 000–000


  • There is a gap in understanding how environmental characteristics affect pedestrians’ crossing behavior in general and in particular among child pedestrians.
  • We aim to explore how the constructs of the urban environment affect pedestrians’ road crossing behavior.
  • Elements that were defined as distractors, were aggregated to categories based on their characteristics, such as: prominence, proximity, dynamicity, context (relevance to the environment), and height above ground.


  1. Close, or prominent distractors that do not blend in the environment will have higher potential to influence pedestrians’ perception of the environment, and by that influence their crossing behavior.
  2. Larger numbers of distractors will effect pedestrian perception.
  3. Greater volume of entities in the environment will have the same effect.
  4. It was expected, in line with other studies that demonstrate age groups differences, primarily expressed by lower sensitivity of younger children (aged 7-8) to elements in the environment, such as parked cars or limited field of view [21], children aged 7-8 will demonstrate insensitive behavior to distractions, which will be different from the children aged 9-10 and the adults that will show greater sensitivity and awareness to elements in the environment.
Dome projection facility, pedestrian crossing in a noisy urban environment

Dome projection facility, pedestrian crossing in a noisy urban environment


Although it is known that pedestrians’ injury rate is associated with specific urban environments; very limited research had systematically explored the effect of environmental distractions on pedestrian’s crossing behavior and safety. The goal of this experiment was to obtain preliminary exploration of environmental distractions that influence pedestrians of different age groups.

Eight children aged 7-8, eight children aged 9-10 and twelve adults participated in the experiment that took place in an urban simulated environment in a semi-immersive virtual reality lab.

Participants viewed 13 dynamic scenarios that illustrated typical road-side crossing situations. Each scenario included distractors, which were defined by five characteristics: proximity, height, prominence, context relativity and dynamicity. Participants were required to press a designated crossing button as fast as possible, if they felt it was safe to cross, then they were required to state which distractors they remembered out of a checklist. Finally they had to rate their perceived safety of the crossing site.

Close, high, prominent or dynamic distractors were more memorable. Scenarios crowded with distractors caused participants to rate the crossing site as less safe for crossing.

Tapiro, Oron-Gilad and Parmet, 2015

Tapiro, Oron-Gilad and Parmet, 2015

Children aged 7-8 ranked the crossing sites as safer for crossing in comparison to the other age groups, and regardless of the number of distractors in the scenario. Unlike them, adults and children aged 9-10 showed more sensitivity to the number of distractors in the scene, and ranked the site as more dangerous for crossing when more distractors were visible.

Tapiro, Oron-Gilad and Parmet, 2015

Tapiro, Oron-Gilad and Parmet, 2015

The findings of this experiment lay out an initial understanding of the types of objects and thereby environments, which may pose higher risk to pedestrians and particularly to less capable, children pedestrians.

  • Crossing behavior is affected by the objects and overall construction of distractors in the environment.
  • Children aged 7-8 are not able to evaluate all the risks that the environment poses to them, in contrary to older children and adults.
  • Parents and road-safety educators that shape children road behavior should be aware of the implications of environmental distractions.
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