Oblivious Smartphone Zombies Prompt German Town To Embed Traffic Lights Into Sidewalks

A city in Germany has embedded LED traffic lights into sidewalks so that pedestrians who are too busy looking at their smartphone won't accidentally walk out into oncoming traffic. Sadly, this isn't a belated April Fool's story, and it begs the question, has it really come to this? And at the risk of sounding crass, isn't there a cutoff point where we stop interfering with natural selection?

The city of Augsburg came up the idea after noticing that walkers were so engrossed with their smartphones that they weren't paying attention to traffic signals. By installing LED traffic lights right into the pavement, pedestrians can continue looking down at their handsets while being made aware of when it is and isn't safe to cross the road.

Traffic Lights in Sidewalks
Image Source: Augsburger Allgemeine (YouTube)

City spokeswoman Stephanie Lermen said "it creates a whole new level of attention," adding that it was a wise investment. She backs up that viewpoint by referencing a recent survey conducted in a handful of European cities. According to the survey, around 2 out of 10 pedestrians are distracted by their handsets.

Here's a look at the lights in action from a German language news report:

This isn't a phenomenon that's unique to Germany. Back in 2014, a study in the U.S. found that over the course of a year, around 41,000 pedestrians visited the emergency room for injuries sustained from texting and walking. You can even be cited an $85 fine for texting and walking in New Jersey. And in the Australia, a study found that typing and reading texts while walking can affect a person's sense of balance.

As unfortunate as it might be, this is a real and growing problem. However, not everyone agrees with Lermen that installing traffic signals in sidewalks was money well spent on the behalf of taxpayers. Nevertheless, city officials are adamant that it was the right call, one that was partially motivated by a 15-year-old girl being struck and killed by a tram. Police reports says she was distracted by her smartphone when it happened.