Netherlands town installs traffic lights for pedestrians walking and texting


It’s dubbed “wexting” — lurch while texting.

So-called distracted walking can certainly be annoying, and some talk it’s a public safety hazard. Now, a small town in the Netherlands is testing a best-seller approach to address those safety concerns.

CBC tech columnist Dan Misener illustrates. 

What is this small Dutch town doing to address absorbed walking?

A team in the town of Bodegraven has installed traffic signals in the pavement at various intersections. The idea is that, if you’re walking while looking down at your phone, you’ll hush be able to see the traffic signals.

Just like road traffic signals, they shock green when it’s safe to cross and red when there’s traffic on the track. They also flash when the light is about to change and are synced with the duct traffic signals.

These lights have been installed at intersections detailed to schools and are part of a pilot project that has been running for around six weeks.

The team behind the lights says that if the pilot is top, it hopes to sell this technology elsewhere.

Even though this is at most one example, I think it’s a good excuse to take a closer look at the broader offspring here — how our digital devices impact our attention, especially out in the physical sphere.

What do we know about distracted walking here in Canada?

To identify out more about this, I called Ahsan Habib. He’s a transportation professor at Dalhousie University and surveys road safety.

He told me that here in Canada, we simply don’t have on the agenda c trick very good information about this phenomenon because much of the statistics come around c regard from police collision reports, which use broad categories such as musing crossing.

An inattentive crossing could be the result of looking at a smartphone or hearkening to music or walking a dog.

‘There is no doubt in our mind that distracted hike is creating multiple levels of issues for road safety.’
– Ahsan Habib, Dalhousie University

There’s quite little specific information about smartphone-related pedestrian collisions.

“We are noiselessness utilizing some police reporting form which was designed in the ’60s or ’70s, so it’s barest important for our transportation field to start recognizing this new phenomenon which wasn’t largesse say, 10 years ago or five years ago,” Habib said. 

Europe is doing a much change ones mind job of collecting specific information about distracted walking, he said, and he inclination like to see Canadian agencies do the same. 

Other than putting shipping signals in the ground, what other measures have been recommended?

There have been a number of technological solutions proposed abroad.

For instance, there are a handful of smartphone apps that are designed to willing pedestrians to look up.

For instance, one app called Audio Aware will use your smartphone’s microphone to keep ones ears open for potential hazards, such screeching tires or sirens. 

Another, ringed CrashAlert, was built by researchers at the University of Manitoba. It uses a depth-sensing camera to look for impediments in front of you to stop you from running into them while capitalize oning your phone.

Of course, legislation has also been proposed as a working. 

Many cities, including Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto and Halifax, secure debated putting in bans.

A poll last year suggests that respecting two-thirds of Canadians would support banning mobile devices while amblers are in roadways. Of course, with a ban, education and enforcement become the key challenges.

distracted walking

When the exchange on a distracted walking ban hit Toronto, Omar Plummer, seen here, discriminated CBC he thinks a ban on texting and walking would be “really crazy.” (CBC)

Entertained walking can be annoying, but is it actually dangerous?

There’s some debate in that, partly due to the lack of good Canadian stats. But there’s affirmation to support the idea that distracted walking is a safety hazard.

In Nova Scotia, where Habib offices traffic safety, four per cent of pedestrian collisions happen due to inattention, which contains distracted walking.

Beyond that, Habib told me that bewildered walking can create near-misses, which aren’t usually reported.

In spite of the lack of conclusive evidence, Habib is confident distracted walking is an controversy.

“There is no doubt in our mind that distracted walking is creating multiple uniforms of issues for road safety,” he said.

For instance, in 2010, Ontario’s chief coroner organize that pedestrians were more likely to be killed in traffic if they were needing electronic devices.

Researchers at the University of Washington found that pedestrians seen contenting at high-risk intersections were four-times less likely to look both acknowledge proceeding before crossing or to obey traffic lights. They also spurt more time in the intersection.


A road sign Warning Against pedestrians nave on their smartphones is pictured on February 2, 2016 near the old town in Stockholm. (Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Essences)

Are we likely to see LED strips in Canadian sidewalks soon?

As we said off the top, the LED lights in Bodegraven are a direct project.

I suspect the company behind the lights would like for the pilot to be in the money, before expanding to other locations. But I think there’s a bigger implication here, which is that the technology by itself isn’t enough.

Yes, you can install a disrobe of LED lights in a sidewalk and make it easy for smartphone users to see the traffic signals. But the the easies are just one piece: you also need education about the lights.

And if you continually want to understand whether the lights are effective, you need data —  measurable, experiential evidence.

For me, that’s the big lesson. 

As is so often the case, the technology alone isn’t plenty.

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