It's no secret that many of us walk around with our eyes glued to our smartphone screens. And if we're looking at something really engrossing, everything around us seems to melt away, including other people, bikes, oncoming trucks...
To accommodate the smartphone 'zombie march' of locals and tourists alike, the city of Augsburg in Germany decided to install traffic lights in the pavement.
Yes, to keep pedestrians safe while they're staring down at their Facebook notifications and incoming texts, rows of red LEDs are now embedded in the pavement next to two tram stops that serve a local university, and if they're a success, the scheme is going to roll out to the rest of the city.
It sounds kind of hilarious, but there's a darker reason for the decision: a 15-year-old girl was killed in Augsburg after stepping in front of a tram while looking at her smartphone and listening to music. Two other people have been injured after similar incidents in the area.
The Germans have a word for people who spend all their time staring at their mobile device: smombies ("smartphone zombies"). As Ian Thomson at The Register reports, the authorities are particularly concerned about keeping younger people safe on the streets. Hopefully, these new lights will prevent yet another tragedy.
The lights work by flashing red when the tram crossing is closed to pedestrians - giving enough time to alert even the most avid Instagrammer. "It creates a whole new level of attention," Augsburg city spokeswoman Stephanie Lermen told N-TV in Germany.
The Washington Post's Rick Noak quotes a recent study looking at 14,000 people from several European cities that said 17 percent of pedestrians use their smartphone while navigating around road traffic. Eight percent of people monitored at busy junctions were seen texting while crossing the street.
You might think you can WhatsApp or Snapchat while keeping your attention elsewhere, but it's just not the case – studies have shown that texting at the wheel actually impairs your driving skills more than being drunk, and if you consider how dangerous drunk driving is, then it shows just how much of our cognitive abilities are taken up by concentrating on our smartphones.
"Making calls, listening to music, using apps and texting all cause a risk of distraction in road traffic," said one of the researchers behind the European study, Clemens Klinke. "Many pedestrians clearly underestimate the dangers for their own safety if they divert their attention from events on the street in this way."
Let's hope the new lights – and some common sense – prevent any future accidents caused by distracted smombies.