A German city embedded traffic lights in its footpaths to protect distracted texters

Texting in Augsburg, Germany just got a whole lot safer.

Following a March accident in which a 15-year-old girl got hit by a train while looking at her phone, city officials decided recently to install traffic lights directly in the footpath.

Now pedestrians won’t have to look up to check for oncoming cars; they can see a strip of flashing red lights and immediately know to stop.

“It creates a whole new level of attention,” city spokeswoman Stephanie Lermen told local news station n-tv.

The dangers of texting and walking are well-established.

In 2013, researchers showed roughly a third of people are distracted by their phones while crossing the street. The majority of injuries involve young people checking their Facebook profiles or text messages.

Other research has found that while the number of injuries sustained from distracted walking have been cut in half since 2004, the portion of injuries from cell phone use in particular has doubled.

In Augsburg, the foot-level traffic lights are meant to inject some life into the so-called “smombies,” or smartphone zombies.

A potential downside, however, is that catering to people’s dangerous habits might only reinforce those behaviours. A smarter solution might involve building physical barriers, which are also present at railroad crossings, to stop people whether they see the lights or not.

Presuming they do keep people safe, Lerman says the initial strips are a pilot project that could easily be installed elsewhere around the country.

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