It’s difficult to admit the level of stupidity required to do so, but staring at your phone while crossing the street has probably accounted for far too many close calls in our lives.
Whether you’re completely distracted by your phone or under the impression that you can assess oncoming traffic through your peripherals, chances are you’ve almost been mowed down by an 18-wheeler or city bus before. Instead of letting people learn the hard way (you know, death) the German city of Augsburg has installed traffic lights in the ground at two intersections so pedestrians distracted by their phones remain aware of when it is unsafe to cross.
The red flashing LED lights were embedded at two tram crossings near a local university after a 15-year-old girl distracted by her phone was struck and killed by a tram. Augsburg calls the new traffic lights Bompeln — from the German words Boden and Ampeln, or “floor traffic lights” — which were implemented to ensure the safety of young pedestrians who apparently refuse to put their phone away while waiting at intersections. They may not be as effective as the city had hoped, though, as one young pedestrian interviewed mentioned she didn’t even notice them until a reporter brought them to her attention.
Of course, more than just young people fall victim to looking at their smartphone when they should looking out.
Clearly, technology tends toward the accommodation of new habits, rather than the reinstatement of old behaviors, even if the old ones are objectively safer or better. That seems to be the motive behind Augsburg’s new traffic lights in the ground: while they ultimately serve the more pressing issue of protecting people, they don’t attempt to correct the harmful behavior of being glued to your phone in the first place. It could be argued that the new technology encourages people to keep looking at their phones while they wait at crosswalks, but saving lives is obviously more imperative than teaching a lesson. If only we could do both simultaneously.
It’s safe to say that cities with more people and a wider variety of age groups constantly on their devices like New York could truly benefit from something like the Bolmpen, but it may be a while before we start to see that come to fruition. In the mean time, next time you’re waiting to cross the street and you see there’s a new Snapchat filter, try to keep your priorities in check.