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German City Installs In-Pavement Traffic Lights to Warn Smartphone-Enthralled Pedestrians

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Smartphones are attention-grabbers (as we have discussed before). So many people have begun focusing their attention on their phones while walking around that the young people of Germany have come up with their own word for these shambling walkers: smombie (aka smartphone zombie).

This phenomenon can be funny when you see someone walk right into a road sign because they were trying to text someone (I am guilty of that one), but in places like Augsburg, Germany, the city is criss-crossed by quiet, electric street trains. Where pedestrian paths cross the rails, there are traffic lights, but they are placed so that they can be seen above people’s heads, a fair amount above the sight line of someone on a smartphone.

So, in order to protect its various smartphone-enthralled pedestrians (both tourist and local), Augsburg decided that it would install red “traffic lights” in the pavement. The lights have been operating at two tram stops in the city since the 19th, and work by flashing red when a train is approaching or when the normal traffic light turns red.

Of the lights, Tobias Harms of the city administration told the Augsburger Allgemeine, “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.”

The public reception is mixed. Some told the Augsburger Allgemeine that the lights make sense, since young people are always ignoring red pedestrian signs; another said that is was frightening that smartphone use had led to such extreme efforts; and one young person told the paper that he hadn’t even noticed the new lights.

I don’t know if that’s funny or scary.

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