A town in the Netherlands has installed LED traffic lights in its pavements in order to prevent entranced smartphone users from meeting a premature demise. The light strips, which resemble lightsabers ensconced in concrete, are designed to catch the attention of pedestrians who would otherwise be glued to their social media feed.
It’s a story worthy of r/NotTheOnion, Reddit’s home for news stories that are implausible enough to be confused with satire. Or maybe The Week’s" Spirit of the Age", which lambasts and lampoons ridiculous present-day practices (think English schools offering "mindfulness" classes in lieu of good old-fashioned cross country).
Dutch road safety group VVN was also sceptical of the idea, arguing that it “rewards bad behaviour”. Jose de Jong of VVN spoke to the Dutch Traffic Safety Association, saying: “It’s not a good idea to help mobile phone users look at their phones [...] People must always look around them, to check if cars are actually stopping at the red signals.”
VVN has a point. Pedestrians could acclimatise to the presence of the lights, creating a culture of dependency on the far-fetched safety devices. This recent study from the University of New Hampshire presents an interesting parallel, suggesting that getting rid of American football helmets could actually make the sport safer; helmetless players felt more vulnerable, and were therefore more likely to exercise caution on the field. The same, it might be said, goes for pedestrians crossing the road. Safeguard them from exercising caution, and a lack of awareness proliferates, as does the potential for road traffic accidents.
For now, the lights have been installed on a trial basis in the Dutch town of Bodegraven, but similar systems are popping up worldwide: pavement traffic lights were recently announced in Australia, and are being tested to help smartphone users navigate level crossings in Augsburg, Germany. Meanwhile, over in Antwerp, things have got so dire that smartphone addicts have actually been designated their own "text-walking" lanes. Love the idea or abhor it, your very own pavement traffic light could be coming to a town near you.
Watch this space. Just not when you’re crossing the road.