1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Bright idea for distracted pedestrians

Kathleen SchusterApril 22, 2016

Headphones on, eyes glued to a smartphone. This all-too-common habit is contributing to a rise in accidents involving pedestrians. But Germany has a new, bright idea to make cellphone users look up before crossing.

A picture of a cell phone against a background of the new curb lights for distracted walkers
Image: picture alliance/dpa/T. Hosemann

This week, the German cities of Cologne and Augsburg launched a new initiative to keep distracted pedestrians safe. But you have to look at the ground to find it.

Rows of LED lights have been installed into the curb at several street car stops around both cities. When a tram approaches, the strip of eight lights flash red, warning pedestrians to stop and look up.

There's no word yet on when the test phase will be completed or how much the safety measure would cost if fully implemented. City officials first want to see if the lights are an effective way to keep "smombies" - that is to say, smartphone zombies - safe.

Augsburg is testing the lights at two locations
Augsburg is testing the lights at two locationsImage: picture alliance/dpa/T. Hosemann

Raising awareness around the globe

According to the Germany-based transportation research firm Dekra, an estimated 17 percent of pedestrians engage with their smartphones in some way while walking. The prevalence of this habit is correlated with a rise in pedestrian accidents.

In March, a 15-year-old was killed in Munich when she failed to notice an oncoming streetcar. She had been looking at her smartphone and had headphones on when the accident occurred.

Germany isn't the only place taking action. Cities around the world have also begun launching safety campaigns.

In the Chinese city of Chongqing, a popular destination for domestic tourists, a 30-meter (100-foot) stretch of pavement was marked "cellphone lane" in 2014.

This picture on Twitter shows the e-lane, which was conceived as a way to alert people to the danger using humor.

The idea resembles a similar campaign by the National Geographic Channel in Washington, D.C., several months earlier. According to The Washington Post, pedestrian deaths rose from 20 to 24 percent of all traffic fatalities in the US capital between 2005 and 2013.

An unofficial road sign in Sweden featuring pedestrian symbols staring at their cellphones has also become part of the global trend, according to an interview earlier this month on the expat news website The Local.

Officials are using much more than humor to capture the public's attention. In the US state of Utah, distracted walkers face a $50 (44-euro) fine for using their cellphones while ambling near train tracks, and, in Hawaii, a law is pending to slap a $250 fine on similar violations.

Penalties could become even more extreme: In New Jersey, lawmakers are considering both a $50 fine and 15-day jail sentence for texting while crossing the road. Jaywalking carries the same penalty in the northeastern US state.