For many of us there is a new menace about – the smombie, people walking, glued to their mobile phones and oblivious to their surroundings. A recent survey of 14,000 pedestrians in cities like Amsterdam, Rome, Berlin, Brussels, Paris and Stockholm revealed that 17%, mainly aged between 25 and 35, were using their smartphones while walking.
What to do? Well, in Augsburg and Cologne the local authorities have installed red LED lights, the size of a beer mat, on the pavement by busy crossings, to try to warn smombies of the dangers of crossing a busy junction without paying due care and attention. They are known as bompeln or ground-level traffic lights.
Washington DC and Chongquing have experimented with special phone lanes for smombies whilst authorities in Rexburg in Idaho have taken a more draconian stance, imposing a $50 fine on anyone found texting while walking.
In Seoul there were 1,000 smart phone related collisions in 2014 (up from 437 in 2009) and officials, I read this week, have decided to install 300 road signs urging their denizens to practise safe text. Some will be at head height – surely they will be ineffective – whilst others will be at ground level. I will be interested to see how successful they are.
Still, I hope they do not suffer the fate of road signs in Iceland. Some of the natural hazards that the motorist faces are so unusual in that country – blind rises, gravel tracks and ford and glacier crossings – that the road signs warning of the hazards have become collectors’ items. The thefts have been so numerous that the Icelandic authorities have moved to make them too heavy to carry off and fit them with bolts that cannot be dismantled with an ordinary car tool-kit.
Sign of the times indeed.