Heads Down in Holland

(photo courtesy HIG Traffic Systems)

Heads down in Holland

Smartphone zombies blundering into traffic is a worldwide problem. The problem of pedestrians immersed in their phones and oblivious to their surroundings is so widespread that Germans coined a new term to describe them – smombies. In Hong Kong they are called the head-down tribe (dai tau juk).

Watch out for smombies

We’ve all seen videos of distracted phone users falling into fountains or walking into cars. But really serious injuries and fatalities are increasing and governments are beginning to act. In Hong Kong notices request people to look up and in Stockholm signs warn motorists of the presence of smombies as if they were ducks or kangaroos to watch out for. There’s even a dedicated cell phone lane alongside a bike lane in the Chinese city of Chongqing that allows you to shuffle along a 30 metre path painted with the disclaimer “walk in this lane at your own risk”.

Digital nanny

Apps have been developed that tap into the phone’s GPS and flash a warning when you come to an intersection, though it doesn’t seem likely that people will be keen to add a digital nanny to their phone. Utah and Hawaii have introduced fines for people crossing intersections and texting at the same time.

LED light strip

But Dutch company HIG Traffic Systems has come up with another solution. Since people are already looking down when distracted by their phones, an LED strip embedded in the footpath is being trialed. This LED light strip switches between red and green and blinks in synchrony with the rest of the pedestrian signals when they are about to change.

Keep your head down

The obvious problem with this approach is that distracted pedestrians are focused on their phones to the exclusion of everything else, but it’s thought that there is a better chance of interrupting their trance by intruding into their peripheral vision on the ground. At least it allows you to keep your head down.

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