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School of Public Health News May 04, 2023

A new study co-authored by five UAB researchers shows the potential cost savings from the use of StreetBit, a UAB-developed smartphone-based application that utilizes Bluetooth to provide road safety to distracted pedestrians. This study provides a template of how existing data sources can be leveraged to do cost-benefit analyses for any interventions designed to enhance pedestrian safety.

The ubiquity of smartphones has led to an increase in distracted walking, which has, in turn, contributed to rising rates of pedestrian fatalities and injuries in the U.S. over the past decade. According to the CDC, more than 7,000 pedestrians died in traffic crashes in 2020 alone, and smartphone-related distraction is likely a contributing factor to the increasing rate of pedestrian fatalities and injuries in the United States. However, interventions to improve pedestrian safety by reducing distractions have yet to be widely adopted.

The study, Cost–benefit analysis of a distracted pedestrian intervention, published in Injury Prevention, is the first U.S.-based study to demonstrate how existing data can be leveraged to predict the net monetary benefits of distracted pedestrian intervention programs like StreetBit.

StreetBit works by sending auditory and visual warnings to a distracted pedestrian’s smartphone as they approach a street corner where Bluetooth beacons are installed. By analyzing pedestrian injury rates, expected costs per injury, and prevalence of distracted walking, the study team estimated that StreetBit could potentially save between $18 to $29 million annually in Alabama alone. Even under the most conservative scenario, StreetBit could yield an estimated net annual benefit of $11.8 million for the state.

Co-investigators include first author, Jillur Rahim, MA, Statistician II in the UAB Department of Health Policy and Organization, David C. Schwebel, Ph.D., University Professor in the UAB Department of Psychology, Ragib Hasan, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the UAB Department of Computer Science, Russell Griffin, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the UAB Department of Epidemiology, and Bisakha Sen, Ph.D., Professor and Blue Cross Blue Shield Endowed Chair in the UAB Department of Health Policy and Organization. The team hopes that the template developed in this study can facilitate large-scale implementation of any intervention designed to prevent pedestrian fatalities and injuries by providing policymakers with information on the net benefits of the intervention. The findings could facilitate the adoption of such programs on a larger scale, leading to significant cost savings for the states and, most importantly, pedestrian lives saved.

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