Looking Down on Traffic Lights

We’ve all watched and wondered, “will that guy/girl stop playing Candy Crush to even check if the road is clear before they step out into traffic?” or seen people so engrossed in their tiny little screens that they’ve walked right into a glass door.

They’ve been described as smartphone zombies and have developed into such a danger, to themselves and others, the Dutch town of Bodegraven-Reeuwijk, sitting about 25 miles south of Amsterdam, is piloting a program that could mean the difference between life and death for these preoccupied pedestrians.

A select handful of junctions and crossings around the town have been fitted with illuminated LED light strips, known as light lines, set in the pavement by the roadside and synced with their corresponding traffic light so they turn green or red with the signal, indicating if it’s safe to walk to those who forget to look up from their cell phones.

The plan, according to the town officials, is that people’s gaze will be aimed down anyway, so why not make the traffic lights easier for them to see in their immediate peripheral vision?

“The lure of social media, games, WhatsApp and music is great, and it comes at the expense of paying attention to traffic,” explained town alderman Kees Oskam in a statement. “As a government, we probably can’t reverse this trend, but we can anticipate problems.”

However, the project has been criticised by Veilig Verkeer Nederland (VVN), one of the Netherlands road safety groups.

“What you are doing is rewarding bad behaviour,” said a spokesman for the group in a statement directed toward the town officials, via the DutchNews.nl website.

But that’s not deterring the schools in Bodegraven-Reeuwijk nearest the test light lines from reportedly praising the scheme, on the grounds that it could increase safety for the students that have smartphones, which is most of them.

HIG Traffic Systems, which designed and developed the light lines, hopes other cities in the Netherlands may be interested, as well as other governments around the world.

In 2015, for the first time, the US National Safety Council included statistics regarding distracted-walking incidents involving cell phones in its annual report. It was found that distracted walking was responsible for over 11,100 injuries between the years 2000 and 2011.

The National Safety Council’s list of pedestrian safety tips includes such ingrained advice similar to our legendary ‘Green Cross Code’, but now also warns against using a cell phone or any other electronic device while walking.

“Walking is one of the best things we can do to stay healthy, but only if we put safety first,” the group notes on its website.

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