Study into Touch Screen Safety

Cyclist wearing business suit riding through traffic while on phone

Touch screens even more dangerous than regular phones

A study carried out in The Netherlands has compared the behavior of cyclists when distracted in different ways. The study looked at using both conventional and touchscreen signs, texting, listening to music, talking on the phone, talking to another cyclist, and even playing a game on their phone. Each of these distractions was compared against

All forms of distraction caused the cyclists

This was a relatively small study with just 24 participants, recruited by word of mouth. Each person rode the section of public cycle path on their own bicycle, while being distracted in a number of ways.

The importance of this study is set in the context of previous research. This has shown that 17% of cyclists usually make phone calls and listen to music while riding. Other studies have shown cyclists are less aware of hazards. Importantly,


Although it has been shown that making phone calls or sending text messages while riding a bicycle can have a negative impact on bicyclist’s behaviour, in countries such as the Netherlands the operation of a mobile phone while cycling on a bicycle is not illegal and is actually quite common. In recent years conventional mobile phones with a physical keypad are increasingly being replaced by smartphones with a touch screen. The operation of a touch screen phone ironically cannot be done purely ‘by touch’ due to the lack of tactile feedback, and instead requires fixations on a relatively small screen. The question therefore can be asked whether the operation of touch screen telephones deteriorates cycling behaviour more than operation of a conventional mobile phone.

Twenty-four participants completed a track on their own bicycle while sending a text message from a conventional and a touch screen mobile phone. In addition the effects of other common activities that can accompany bicycling were studied, including texting at the same time as listening to music, talking on a mobile phone or cycling next to someone and speaking with this companion, and playing a game on a touch screen phone while bicycling. The impacts of all the above conditions on cycling performance and visual detection performance were compared with control conditions in which participants cycled with either one or two hands on the handlebars and were not required to perform any secondary tasks.

Bicycle speed was reduced in all telephone conditions and in the condition when cycling next to someone. Lateral position variation increased in all telephone conditions. Use of the touch screen led to a more central position in the cycle lane and resulted in worse visual detection performance compared with the operation of a conventional mobile phone. The main effect of listening to music was that an auditory signal to stop cycling was missed by 83% of the participants. In conclusion, while all investigated types of phone deteriorated cycling performance, the use of a touch phone has a larger negative effect on cycling performance than a conventional mobile phone. With touch screen smartphones taking the place of conventional mobile phones and being used for other purposes than verbal communication, these effects on cycling performance pose a threat to traffic safety.


The effects of operating a touch screen smartphone and other common activities performed while bicycling on cycling behaviour

De Waard, Dick; Lewis-Evans, Ben; Jelijs, Bart; Tucha, Oliver; Brookhuis, Karel 2014

In: Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour v 22

Read the full paper…

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