Leave it to the Australians to sorta confirm what everyone has suspected: Talking on your cellphone can distract you while you're crossing the street. Here's an abstract of the study by Julie Hatfield and Susanne Murphy of the New South Wales Risk Management Research Center:
Research amongst drivers suggests that pedestrians using mobile telephones may behave riskily while crossing the road, and casual observation suggests concerning levels of pedestrian mobile-use. An observational field survey of 270 females and 276 males was conducted to compare the safety of crossing behaviours for pedestrians using, versus not using, a mobile phone. Amongst females, pedestrians who crossed while talking on a mobile phone crossed more slowly, and were less likely to look at traffic before starting to cross, to wait for traffic to stop, or to look at traffic while crossing, compared to matched controls. For males, pedestrians who crossed while talking on a mobile phone crossed more slowly at unsignalised crossings. These effects suggest that talking on a mobile phone is associated with cognitive distraction that may undermine pedestrian safety. Messages explicitly suggesting techniques for avoiding mobile-use while road crossing may benefit pedestrian safety.
Imagine the signage the Department of Transportation could develop to tell pedestrians to pay more attention while crossing - if only there were signs to remind drivers not to do all the horrible things they do! Anyway, given all the broken curbs, potholes, and uneven sidewalks - not to mention dog poo - it's not a bad idea to be more alert while walking.
The NY Times also mentions another potentially bad cell phone distraction: Text-messaging while crossing the street. But in good cellphone news, Danish scientists find that cellphones don't pose a bigger cancer risk than, say, microwaves or FM radios.
Photograph of runner in NYC Marathon talking on cellphone by lornagrl on Flickr