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Texting while walking? These in-ground traffic lights should get your attention

Can’t make them come up to you? Go down to them. Such is the logic behind Germany’s new traffic lights, which see distracted pedestrians and chronic texters, and raise them traffic lights that they just can’t miss. It’s an interesting way of combating an international smartphone addiction, adopting street safety signs with the times rather than trying to fight the onslaught of near-ubiquitous mobile technology. Officials in the city of Augsburg have now embedded lights directly into the sidewalk, so that even if you’re looking down at your screen, you’ll (hopefully) notice whether the light is green or red.

“It creates a whole new level of attention,” city spokeswoman Stephanie Lermen told local media. While the lights don’t come cheap (each actually carries the hefty price tag of 10,000 euros), city officials say it’s well worth the cost to keep its citizens safe. Recently, a teenage girl was killed in a traffic accident while looking at her smartphone, and a recent European survey concluded that around 20 percent of pedestrians were distracted by their mobile devices, creating numerous hazardous situations for drivers and non-drivers alike.

“We realized that the normal traffic light isn’t in the line of sight of many pedestrians these days,” Tobias Harms from the Ausburg’s council told reporters. “So we decided to have an additional set of lights — the more we have, the more people are likely to notice them.” Over the next several months, officials will “keep an eye on the results and see if less people will walk over the red light,” a spokesman added.

If successful, this may be a system the U.S. considers adopting as well. At home, the issue of distracted walking is even more pervasive — a University of Washington survey found that one out of every three Americans mind their smartphones (perhaps more than their safety) at road crossings. Recently, the Department of Transportation established a strong correlation between texting while walking and pedestrian deaths.

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