Your child’s backpack: convenience… or death trap?

By Seriously Science | November 20, 2013 7:00 am
Photo: flickr/bradleygee

Photo: flickr/bradleygee

What’s lurking in your college student’s backpack? Could it be… death? Here, researchers gave college students a backpack containing 12% of their body weight (e.g., about 21 lbs for a 175-lb guy) and had them cross streets in a “virtual pedestrian environment.” They found that “participants walked more slowly, left less safe time to spare after crossing the virtual street, and experienced more frequent hits or close calls with traffic when crossing while carrying the backpack.” Perhaps this is just another argument for doing away with heavy (and expensive!) textbooks in favor of electronic versions?

The influence of carrying a backpack on college student pedestrian safety.

“University students walk frequently, and individuals ages 18-22 have among the highest rates of pedestrian injury among any age group in the United States. These injuries are caused by a wide range of individual, interpersonal, and environmental factors, but one factor that has not been previously considered carefully is the influence of wearing a heavy backpack on pedestrian safety. Backpacks are known to slow walking speed and disrupt perception of one’s environment, so it is reasonable to question whether they might also influence safe pedestrian behavior. Ninety-six college students engaged in 20 street-crossings within a virtual pedestrian environment. Half the crossings were completed while bearing a backpack weighing 12% of their body weight; the other half were completed without any burdens. Results suggest that participants walked more slowly, left less safe time to spare after crossing the virtual street, and experienced more frequent hits or close calls with traffic when crossing while carrying the backpack. They also missed fewer safe opportunities to cross while carrying the backpack. Our tests of several demographic characteristics, pedestrian behaviors, and backpack use, as covariates suggest the finding holds across all subsamples included in our study. Implications for pedestrian safety and future research are discussed.”

Related content:
NCBI ROFL: Why walking blindfolded in the Sahara desert might get you lost.
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NCBI ROFL: The science of spontaneous synchronized stepping.

  • Robert Wright

    Call me eccentric but I wonder if part of the issue here might be that drivers are too impatient with pedestrians and too prone to driving into them.

    Left-field thinking I know.

  • Pedestrianite

    Imagine how much safer these kids would be if they were naked! Clothes weigh a lot! Shoes, too. Probably four or five pounds altogether. And nude college students might even get the attention of drivers who are too busy texting and being distracted to look out for pedestrians no matter how fast they walk.

  • dontcoast

    …Or ban heavy cars? More traffic calming? Better protected pedestrian infrastructure?

    Only in america would the backpack get the blame!

  • mikegorton

    I blame the breaking systems of cars. They are too good, so people expect miracles when you step on the brakes.

  • Adam Herstein

    Is this an Onion article?

  • Bear Eggers

    Let me recall the college town I used to live in; students crossing street anywhere they want, always wearing headphones and staring at their phones. Yep, totally the backpacks fault for any accidents.


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