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Dutch town installs LED pavement strips to alert distracted smartphone users

Why it matters to you

If pedestrian safety systems like these are adopted worldwide, they could one day save your life.

A Dutch town believes it may have figured out a solution to the problem of pedestrians distracted by their smartphones. Officials in Bodegraven, Netherlands are now running trials of LED strips embedded into sidewalks near intersections that notify walkers of whether it is safe to cross.

The system, developed by local firm HIG Traffic Systems, is connected directly to traffic lights and shifts from red to green to signal pedestrians who are looking down at their devices of when they may safely walk. Named “+Lichtlijn,” or +Lightline, the proposal ran into some opposition from the country’s road safety organization, VVN. According to DutchNews, a VVN spokesman decried the idea as a reward for unsafe behavior.

Since the rise of smartphones, pedestrian safety has become an area of increasing concern around the world. The National Safety Council reports that distracted walking incidents involving phones accounted for more than 11,000 injuries in the United States between 2000 and 2011, and the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons estimates injuries to pedestrians have more than doubled since 2004.

While surveys indicate smartphone users are well aware of the dangers of distraction, the AAOS found that one of the key issues might be people’s overconfidence in their ability to multitask. If pedestrians’ behaviors aren’t changing for the better, programs like Bodegraven’s might be the answer. If the trial goes well, HIG might shop the technology around to other towns.

The AAOS reports that a recent study of 20 high-risk intersections in Seattle found that pedestrians who were texting while crossing took roughly two seconds longer on average to get through compared to those who weren’t distracted. What’s more, those who texted were found to be four times more likely to commit at least one “unsafe crossing behavior,” such as not looking both ways or disregarding traffic signals.

While millennials aged 18 to 34 were the least likely to be injured, according to the AAOS survey, the group reported the most distracted walking incidents of any demographic. Meanwhile, women aged 55 and older experienced the greatest number of serious injuries.

Of course, no matter who you are, using a phone on the move has been found to significantly impact walking pattern, speed, and gait. Between the expanding capabilities of smartphones and the litany of new wearable devices that have come along in recent years, pedestrians stand at greater risk than ever before. Initiatives like these remind us the importance of staying alert.