Sydney to try to curb 'distracted walking'

Jun 01, 2016, 4:10 PM EDT
(Source: Ian Sane/flickr)
(Source: Ian Sane/flickr)

The Australian government has revealed that it will devote AU$250,000 to a project that will implement "ground-level semaphores," or sidewalk-based traffic lights, to try to keep pedestrians who have their heads buried in their phones safer.

The semaphores will be tested in Sydney first; and the New South Wales state government will implement them at key crossings beginning in December to try to create safer street crossing environments, as more and more users prove unwilling to lift their eyes from their mobile device screens in order to pay attention to walk or traffic signals.

Centre for Road Safety Executive Director Bernard Carlon told Mashable Australia: "Pedestrians are less protected in a road crash, and are therefore more likely to be seriously injured or killed. This is why we need to create a road system that keeps them safe, and this includes situations when they may not be paying attention.”

The news outlet also noted that 61 pedestrians were killed on New South Wales roads in 2015 — a 49% increase from 2014.

A study done earlier this year in the U.S. by the Governors Highway Safety Association found that pedestrians account for 15% of all traffic deaths in the U.S.

It's difficult to pinpoint how many of these fatalities are a result of a pedestrian ignoring traffic signals because he or she was engrossed in a mobile device. Nonetheless, many argue that the proliferation of smartphones and digital life is impacting pedestrian safety, as evidenced quite simply by the visible number of people on sidewalks buried in their phones. The other side argues that "distracted walking” is not a real problem, and that drivers are still to blame for increasing pedestrian fatalities.

 Australia is not the first country to adopt a measure to protect pedestrians distracted mobile devices. Earlier this year, the German city of Augsburg implemented sidewalk traffic lights that notify users with bowed heads when to cross the road. For now, safety notwithstanding, lure of the mobile device seems to be prevailing.