German cities introduce ground traffic lights for distracted phone users

Authorities in the German cities of Cologne and Augsburg have installed traffic lights on the ground in the hope that they will get the attention of distracted phone users and stop them from walking out in front of traffic.

At various tram stops around both cities, rows of red LED lights have been installed by the curb and when a tram or bus is approaching, they flash.

It’s hoped the introduction of the lights will prevent so-called “smombies” (smartphone zombies) from being injured in road traffic incidents, which is what happened on two occasions in Augsburg recently.

Two pedestrians were hit by quiet electric cars when they had been looking at their phones in separate incidents, according to The Local. Both received minor injuries in the crashes.

In a more tragic incident in Munich in March, a 15-year-old girl was killed when she walked in front of an oncoming car while looking down at her phone.

“We realized that the normal traffic light isn’t in the line of sight of many pedestrians these days,” explained Tobias Harms, a Augsburg city official. “So we decided to have an additional set of lights - the more we have, the more people are likely to notice them.”

The lights have been installed on a trial basis and one local said they thought they “make it more obvious that you need to stop,” but not everyone is convinced, however.

“I find it scary that smartphone users are so addicted that they need to install lights in the ground so that they notice the tram coming,” another resident said.

One Augsburg teenager even admitted that he “didn’t even notice” the new lights. “Maybe it’d be useful at night, but yeah, I didn’t realize it was there until just now,” the teen said.

They’re not the first cities to introduce such measures to keep pedestrians safer.

Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah tackled the “texting while walking” debacle by introducing three separate lanes around the school’s new Student Life and Wellness Center.

The left lane is for walking, the middle for running and right for texting.

READ MORE: Move, texter, get out the way: Texting lanes debut in Utah

In 2014, the Chinese city of Chongqing introduced separate lanes for smartphone users to prevent them from banging into non-phone using pedestrians.

Similar measures have also been trialed elsewhere around the world, including in Belgium, the UK and in Washington DC.