Va. fourth-grader studies the dangers of distracted walking

Paula Wolfson,

WASHINGTON – Abby Fox is not even old enough to own a cell phone, but the Reston, Va. fourth-grader knows of the dangers they can pose.

“I have seen people crossing the road with all different kinds of distractions,” she says, “and it looked really dangerous because I have seen some cars almost hit them.”

And so, when Buzz Aldrin Elementary School announced plans for a science fair, Abby decided to focus on distracted walking.

She did so with the precision of an adult researcher, decades older, choosing a pedestrian crossing at Reston Town Center for her laboratory.

Abby honked a loud horn as people crossed the street — many of them talking on cell phones, listening to music, or texting — and she monitored the reaction of 100 pedestrians.

Those with a phone to their ear were least likely to notice the noise — almost none responded. The folks with earbuds were almost as bad. The texters came next.

“Texting was a moderate distraction,” Abby says. “Only 30 percent of the people responded.”

She used a bicycle horn that was loud enough to simulate a car horn. Even some people engaged in conversation as they crossed the street didn’t notice the sound.

Abby’s mom, Suzanne Groah, says she is proud of her daughter. But there is more to this story than just parental pride.

Dr. Suzanne Groah is a specialist in spinal cord injuries at the Medstar National Rehabilitation Hospital. She is well aware of the high cost of distracted driving and walking.

She says Abby did a great job. “It is a great little project,” she says, “and the best part about it is it is really relevant to everybody.”

Dr. Groah says a lot of people in science and medicine are wondering about the impact of distracted mobility.

“Even in my science, there is not much data out there,” she says.

She says Abby is interested in medicine and helping people, and Dr. Groah says she was not surprised at all when her 10-year-old daughter announced plans for a research project on distracted driving.

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