German City Experiments with Ground Lighting for Smartphone-Fixated Pedestrians - Atlas Obscura
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German City Experiments with Ground Lighting for Smartphone-Fixated Pedestrians

If they won’t look up, maybe they’ll at least look down.

Flashing LED lights in the ground are intended to identify red lights to smartphone users at the pedestrian crossing for the Haunstetter street tram stop. (Photo: swa/Thomas Hosemann)

Hardly a day passes without hearing someone lament our ever-growing attachment to mobile devices. After a recent European study concluded that a sixth of all pedestrians were more focused on their device than where they were walking, increasing the potential for pedestrian traffic accidents, one city in Germany has decided to take action.

In the Bavarian city of Augsburg, two streetcar stops have been outfitted with ground-level light strips in an attempt to get “smombies”—a German term combining “smartphone” and “zombie”—to look up long enough to get out of the way of an oncoming streetcar, according to a report in Deutsche Welle. As explained in an official press release from the utility company behind the lights, when the streetcar is approaching (or the pedestrian just doesn’t have the right of way), the lights rapidly blink red, hopefully catching the eye of anyone attempting to reply to their texts while crossing the street.

According to The Local, the idea arose after two recent incidents of “smombies” colliding with the quiet, electric streetcars and sustaining minor injuries. City officials feel the ground lights are more aligned with “smombies’” line of sight than the more-common traffic light, and might stand a better chance at stopping them before they step off the curb. Augsburg’s tactic is strikingly different from other municipalities; around the U.S., attempts have been made to impose fines for “distracted walking,” most recently in New Jersey, where a recently introduced bill would impose a fine of $50 or 15 days in jail for texting or using a smartphone while crossing the street.

While there’s no details on how long the trial will last or whether there are plans for expansion, area residents seem to find the concept reasonable. Its efficacy, though, has not been tested. “To be honest,” one teen admitted to The Augsburger Allgemaine,  ”I didn’t even notice it.”