Most of us are used to seeing traffic lights above eye level. Whether we are driving, biking, or walking around Boston, traffic signals help us know when to stop and when it is safe to proceed. Crossing signs that flash “WALK” and “DON’T WALK” are placed at intersections to tell pedestrians when it is safe to cross a busy intersection on foot and prevent pedestrians from being struck by motorists.
The prevalence of people talking on cells phones is posing a new distraction however. Pedestrians who are talking on the phone or sending text messages are typically staring at their phones rather than looking for traffic signals. They are often too distracted to notice whether traffic signals indicate that it is safe to cross an intersection, leading to an increase in pedestrian texting accidents.
To combat the problem of distracted pedestrians, two cities in Germany are trying an innovative approach: installing traffic lights in the ground.
German City Seeks to Reduce Pedestrian Texting Accidents
The connection between cellphone use and pedestrian accidents is clear. An article in Healthline reveals that texting while walking causes more accidents than texting and driving. Another study conducted by researchers at the University of Washington, and published in BMJ, found that one out of every three Americans is busy texting or working on a smartphone at dangerous road crossings.
Recognizing the dangers of texting and walking – and perhaps realizing that attempts to stop pedestrians from using their phones would be futile – the German city of Augsburg installed traffic lights in the sidewalk that face up at pedestrians. Stephanie Lerman, who is a spokesperson for the German city of Augsburg, told the The Washington Post that the new traffic lights “…create a whole new level of attention,” and that the money was “wisely spent.”
Whether the repositioned traffic lights will help to reduce the number of texting while walking accidents is a question that transportation planners in cities around the world would like to have answered.
What Is Being Done to Combat Texting and Walking Accidents in the U.S.?
While there are no cities in the United States that have followed Augsburg’s lead by installing traffic lights in sidewalks, there are cities that have acknowledged the dangers of texting and walking and have explored options for reducing pedestrian texting accident injuries. In fact, New Jersey lawmakers have even proposed legislation that would ban distracted walking, fining those who use their cellphones while walking $50, according to an article published by WGNTV.
How You Can Reduce Pedestrian Injuries
In 2015, Walk Boston issued a report with a number of recommendations for communities to consider to calm traffic and improve pedestrian safety. One measure was re-timing traffic signal cycles if too much time is allocated to allow vehicular traffic to move through an intersection before pedestrians receive a walk signal. Pedestrians may become impatient and attempt to cross against the light if they have to wait too long for a WALK sign. In addition, some pedestrian signals do now allow enough time for pedestrians to cross an intersection safely. On wide streets, pedestrian refuge islands in the roadway medians allow pedestrians to stand safely apart from active traffic lanes and deal with one direction of traffic at a time.
If you are a driver…
If you are acting as a driver, there are a number of things that you can do to reduce your risk of hitting a pedestrian. These include:
- Always drive sober – alcohol and operating a motor vehicle do not mix;
- Do not drive while fatigued or otherwise impaired;
- Put distractions away – changing the radio, using a cellphone (even a hands-free device), studying a navigation system or tending to children or pets can all be dangerous;
- Obey the law – driving aggressively, running red lights, and speeding all put you and pedestrians at risk
If you are a pedestrian…
If you are a pedestrian, you have a duty to follow the law and to take action to protect yourself. Some things that you can do to reduce your risk of being involved in an accident include:
- Put away your cellphone – You are at a much greater risk of being involved in a pedestrian accident if you are using your cellphone. Looking up information, using social media, or even talking on the phone can all be distracting.
- Follow the law. You do not automatically have the right of way as a pedestrian. In fact, there are many instances when you do not have the right of way. Know when are you required to yield and what your rights are in terms of walking.
- Act safely. Even when you have the right of way as a pedestrian, motorists may not always be paying attention. You can protect yourself while walking in Boston by remaining alert for approaching cars and exercising caution. Wear bright clothing to help drivers see you, use reflective tape and a flashlight when walking in the early morning or during the night, and make eye contact with drivers to ensure that they see you before attempting to cross.
Article originally appeared on Kelly and Soto’s Law Blog