How Smartphone-Enabled Crossings Improve Road Safety for Disabled Pedestrians

Crossing the road safely can sometimes be a struggle for disabled pedestrians. They feel that they aren’t given enough time to cross the road, have difficulty reaching the pedestrian box button or simply can’t find the pole to push the button to cross. For these reasons, Neatebox has developed an app called Button that can help disabled pedestrians cross the street safely.

 Philip trying to press the button at a crossing but he can't get close enough with his mobility scooter.

Philip trying to press the button at a crossing but he can't get close enough with his mobility scooter.

 

What is Button by Neatebox?

Button is a solution which allows users to automatically press the button at a pedestrian crossing with their smartphone. Currently, the operation of the pedestrian crossing relies on a physical interaction which can be difficult for a person with a mobility or visual impairment. Many crossing buttons are placed too far away from the actual crossing or at a height which makes it difficult to reach for a person using a wheel or power chair. The procedure can also be challenging for parents with children and prams and workers carrying a heavy load.

By installing a small piece of Bluetooth enabled hardware in the “box” it is possible to set up an automatic communication and button push between the phone and the crossing. This allows the pedestrian to focus on positioning and alignment prior to crossing the street.

 

Does it work?

A market research study has been conducted to assess the benefits of the app and the extent to which there is a need for the technology. Participants were invited to test Button by Neatebox in Largs on the West Coast of Scotland where the technology is installed in 10 crossings. The installation has been completed in partnership with Scotland TranServ, Transport Scotland and Dynniq

It became clear from initial discussions with the 29 research participants, that they found significant practical difficulties in using “traditional” crossings. Of note was the extent to which they felt constrained by the amount of time that they had to cross the road. In addition to this, participants highlighted difficulties in manoeuvring to access the button required to cross the road and in pressing the buttons.

After using the app, the participants highlighted benefits in three main areas: Time to Cross, Safety and Reduced Anxiety.

 Michelle and Angela crossing the road in the background, with someone holding up a phone with the Button App on the screen.

Michelle and Angela crossing the road in the background, with someone holding up a phone with the Button App on the screen.

 

More Time to Cross

Participants reported significant practical difficulties in using traditional crossings. In particular, they often felt constrained by the amount of time that they had to cross the road. With the usage of Button by Neatebox they felt that they had more time to complete the crossing. This is the result of them not having to manoeuvre to and from the pole and starting their crossing from the kerb edge.

One research participant highlighted:

“It’s amazing. It means I can just walk up to the lights and the button will have been pushed automatically. No need to ask someone to do it for me and it gives you more time to cross.”

 

Safer Crossing

With automated push being enabled by Button, people with visual impairments don’t have to worry about the button being pressed, as the app will do so once the user is in a certain proximity. Wheel or power chair users don’t need to try and get close to the pole but can focus on positioning and alignment on the kerb. These are just two examples how Button can make the crossing procedure safer for disabled pedestrians.

Former Minister for Social Security, Jeane Freeman, visited Largs to see the crossing in operation (30 August 2017) and remarked:

“It is important that everyone can get about safely and easily. The use of this technology in Largs will be a valuable addition to the road safety measures delivered in the area over recent years and will be of particular benefit to visually impaired road users.”
 Angela and Michelle are visually impaired and are using the Button app to press the pedestrian crossing box button with their phones.

Angela and Michelle are visually impaired and are using the Button app to press the pedestrian crossing box button with their phones.

 

Reduced Anxiety

With Button by Neatebox, users don’t have to worry about being able to push the button to cross the street anymore. It also addresses another frequently expressed issue among participants: The embarrassment of having to ask others for help or at taking longer to use road crossings, which results in a perceived lack of independence.

Some comments that were given by the participants:

“It takes the stress out of crossing the road.”
 “It gave me peace of mind. I could just walk up to the crossing and wait.”

 

An Impactful Innovation

Before and after the research was done they asked the participants to give a number on a scale of 1 to 10 to rate the ease of use of the crossing (1 being very difficult and 10 being very easy). The above chart shows a clear distinction in participants’ perceived ease of using road crossings with an improvement from 4.5 to 9.1 after usage of the Button app.

 The use of Button by Neatebox doubled the perceived ease of use of the crossing for participants

The use of Button by Neatebox doubled the perceived ease of use of the crossing for participants

The research report shows that a relatively small innovation in form of an automated button push at a road crossing can have a real impact on the wellbeing and independence of people with disability. The usability of this technology is proven by the fact that participants want to see it being applied to solve other challenges, e.g. to activate lifts, open doors or get tickets out of car park machines. 

Since the installation in Largs, this project has won two awards proving the potential of the app: CIHT/DfT Inclusive Transportation Award 2017 and Scottish Transport Awards Accessibility Project of the Year 2018.

Do you want to use Button on your daily route? Request a crossing here.