Always practise safe text: the German traffic light for smartphone zombies

zombiA ‘mobile phone lane’ on a street in a theme park in Chongqing, China. Photograph: Imaginechina/Rex

The word “smombie” is one of the most recent additions to the German language. Last November, the term – a mashup of “smartphone” and “zombie”, referring to oblivious smartphone users staggering around cities like the undead – was voted Youth Word of the Year in Germany.

The disease is virulent. A recent study of 14,000 pedestrians in Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, Paris, Rome and Stockholm found that 17% of people used their smartphone while walking. The heaviest users were 25 to 35-year-olds: almost a quarter of them exhibited smombie-esque behaviour.

Now Augsburg, a municipality outside Munich, has braced itself for this new public peril. After several smombies caused accidents by carelessly crossing tram tracks, city officials decided to install new traffic lights – at ground level.

At Haunstetterstraße station, one of two locations for the experiment, 16 red LEDs, each about the size of a beer mat, are embedded in the pavement next to a tram crossing.

Passengers are divided on their merits. Katja Lechner commutes here daily to university. “OK, you really do see the lights blinking when the tram approaches,” she says. “But that doesn’t stop anybody from crossing, as people rush to catch their trains.” She thinks the €10,000 should have been invested in education.

Arzu Araz, a hairdresser who lives nearby with her seven-year old daughter, disagrees. “The lights are ideal for kids, who notice them immediately,” she says.

Augsburg is not the first city to react. Cologne has equipped three tram crossings with similar lights, prompting the creation of yet another portmanteau: “Bompeln”, an abbreviation of “Boden-Ampeln” (ground traffic lights).

In Munich, where a 15-year-old girl wearing headphones was recently killed by a tram, certain particularly dangerous crossings were fitted with special beacons that send warnings to smartphones enabled with a corresponding app, called Watch Out!

In the US, meanwhile, cities such as Portland, Seattle and Cleveland have experimented with talking buses that alert pedestrians during turns. Rexburg, Idaho has even imposed fines of $50 for texting while walking.

And a theme park in the Chinese city of Chongqing has experimented with a special “phone lane” for pedestrians, itself based on an earlier experiment in Washington, DC.

After a trial period, Augsburg officials will interview tram drivers and passengers before deciding whether to roll the lights out to other stations.

“This is not just about smartphones. The crossing here is so busy and dangerous that we are used to the screeching noise of the tram’s emergency breaks,” says Sebastian Hrabak, owner of the restaurant Schwarze Kiste at Haunstetterstraße station. “But since the lights were installed last week, there hasn’t been a single dangerous incident.”

Have you been a “smombie” yourself ?

Read the full article @ Always practise safe text: the German traffic light for smartphone zombies

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