It’s happening all over the world – people walk, heads down, so obsessed with their smartphones they don’t even notice the light is red.
Such people have been termed “smombies” by the Germans, a word that was voted “youth word of the year” in 2015 and is a combination of the words “smartphone” and “zombie.”
After a 15-year-old woman was killed in Munich during March by an electric tram while crossing the road – preoccupied with her phone – and two other pedestrians in their own city were knocked over by trams but fortunately survived, the city of Augsburg decided to do something about the situation.
According to the International Business Times, Germans are normally very rule-conscious and follow traffic rules to a tee. In fact, tourists often wonder why Germans wait for the light to change to green, even when there is no traffic on the road – no jaywalking there it seems.
However, with the advent of the smartphone, even German pedestrians are either ignoring – or possibly just not seeing – the red traffic lights when crossing the roads.
Augsburg has now installed traffic lights in the paving itself, allowing smombies to see a flashing red light, without even lifting their eyes from that tiny screen. Using such methods, the city’s management hopes to get pedestrians to follow the traffic rules even while entranced with their smartphones.
Tobias Harms of the Augsburg city administration said, “We realized that the normal traffic light isn’t in the line of sight of many pedestrians these days. So we decided to have an additional set of lights – the more we have, the more people are likely to notice them.”
According to the German media, not everyone thinks the new traffic lights are a good idea with some commentators complaining they are a waste of taxpayers’ money.
However, the Washington Post quotes Stephanie Lerman, a spokesperson for the German city as saying, “It creates a whole new level of attention.”
Lerman believes the money has been well spent by the city, as a recent survey conducted in several cities in Europe – including Berlin – showed that almost 20 percent of pedestrians are distracted by their smartphones while walking. Reportedly younger people are the most likely to risk their safety for a few WhatsApp messages or a quick check of their Facebook or Twitter news feed.
So far the new high-tech traffic lights have been installed at two tram stops in the city and started operation on April 19, with plans underway to install more. The lights have been programmed to flash red whenever a tram is approaching the crossing, or when the regular traffic light turns red.
Watch the new lights in action in the video included below.
The Washington Post reports that the problem may be even more widespread in the U.S., after a survey by the University of Washington discovered that 1 in 3 Americans are engrossed in their smartphones at dangerous traffic crossings.
In fact, the Department of Transportation has already established a clear connection between the advent of smombies and an increase in pedestrian deaths.
While Augsburg might appear to be the only city to have responded to the smombie crisis; as reported by TheInquisitr, the Chinese city of Chongqing made headlines back in 2014 after the city experimented with a 165-foot stretch of paving, where pedestrians can choose between walking in a normal lane or a lane reserved specially for people walking while obsessed with their smartphones.
At the time, marketing official Nong Cheng told the Associated Press, “There are lots of elderly people and children in our street, and walking with your cellphone may cause unnecessary collisions here.”