For smartphone users on a city walk, their focus often is more on their screens than the urban landscape that surrounds them. That can present a real danger—one study showed that people who walk and text are 61 percent more likely to veer off course than those without phones in their hands. But smartphones aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, so one German city has designed stoplights that grab the attention of the digital-first—by embedding them in the ground.
As Stefan Krog reports for Augsburger Allgemeine, the city of Augsburg is testing placing LED lights in the ground near streetcar crossings. The lights act just like regular stoplights—when the crosswalk is green, they go green, too, and they flash red when the crosswalk is red. They’re being installed at two such crossings throughout the city in an attempt to make smartphone users a bit more aware of their surroundings.
In a German-language release about the innovation, Jürgen Fergg of Stadtwerke Augsburg, which installed the lights, writes that regular crosswalks simply aren’t enough for people focused on their devices. He says that the lights are intended to stave off accidents before they happen.
And boy, do they happen. Last year, a Governors Highway Safety Association report noted that in the United States, pedestrian fatalities rose after a decades-long decline in 2013, and that more than 1,500 Americans were treated for texting-and-walking-related injuries in 2010 alone. A 2008 study found that cell phone users are 48 percent more likely to walk directly into oncoming traffic, and Deutsche Welle reports that this March, a 15-year-old girl was killed by a streetcar in Munich when she walked into its path while texting and wearing headphones.
Urban planners may despair over the rise of distracted walking, but they haven’t yet hit on the perfect way to alert texters to oncoming traffic. Carmakers have debuted apps that alert walkers to the fact they’re about to be run over. Cities like Portland have public information campaigns aimed at making people look up. Chongquing, China, even has a “phone lane” for pedestrians who insist on texting and walking. But the only real solution to the distracted walking crisis involves looking up—and putting down the phone.