If you read e-books while you walk, don’t get creamed crossing the street


Are you in the habit of wandering around everywhere with your nose in your smartphone, perhaps due to a really gripping e-book? Going around with your nose in a book isn’t exactly a new problem—especially since the advent of paperbacks—but the addition of social media, web browsing, videos, and other excuses to stare at your smartphone has made it something of a pandemic.

We’ve already mentioned an e-reader app that added a see-through camera view so you could watch where you were going, but a German company is experimenting with going a step further. On a trial basis, a utilities company in Augsburg has installed LED lights along the curbs at two tram stops. The lights will flash red whenever a vehicle approaches, to warn pedestrians not to cross, and should be in the field of view of anyone approaching the edge of the street while staring at their phone. (Assuming they’re not too distracted by what’s on the screen to pay attention to their peripheral vision.) The usual “walk” and “don’t walk” signs require you actually be looking straight ahead to notice them, after all.

It seems like a funny idea, but it’s not entirely a laughing matter. A month ago in Munich, a 15-year-old girl died after getting hit by a tram while she crossed the street staring at her smartphone and listening to headphones. In December, a woman drowned in a canal in China after walking into it while apparently distracted by a smartphone. A European survey suggested that 1 in 6 people cross the road distracted by smartphones, including people who cross the road with children. The article has other examples to cite, including the invention of a new word, “smombie,” to define people who wander around staring at their smartphones like a zombie.

I suppose it’s kind of a sad commentary on just how few people actually read anymore and how many people use their phones for other things that it wasn’t so much of a problem for people doing it with physical books but now it’s actually hazardous for smartphone users. In any event, it’s somewhere between sad and amusing to see how the nature of pedestrian hazards continues to evolve.


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