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Walking While Texting

Eric Pickersgill is a photographer who explores “the psychological and social effects that cameras and their artifacts have on individuals and societies as a whole.” His website displays his current show “Removed” at Rick Wester Fine Art in New York City, March 24 – May 21, 2016.

“Removed” is a series of large format black and white photographs of people in and from all ‘walks of life’ NOT interacting with each other or their environment because they are engaged in looking at their bare hand or hands posed as if holding something – obviously a cell phone. “Removed” has proved to be an enormously popular topic on the internet.

The text introducing “Removed” cites numerous statistics about the rapid uptake and high level of cellphone service subscriptions, a whopping “96.8% of the Earth’s population.” It also includes a US Department of Transportation statistic that distracted driving caused 10% of all fatalities (3,179 people killed) in 2014—which is not news to regular Road Rules readers.

Another cited source is the Pew Research Centre whose studies on US mobile ‘etiquette’ indicate that 77% of adults regard phone use while walking down the street as “generally OK”, 75% also saying OK to cellphone use on public transit. But etiquette and safety on this issue differ. In Germany, they have a name for people so distracted by their phone they are oblivious to not just other people but also sidewalk obstacles, intersections, and even oncoming traffic. They call them ‘smombies’, short for smartphone zombies.

Hence a new road design adaptation out of Augsburg, Bavaria where strips of lights have been embedded in the pavement at two tram stops. When a tram is approaching, the lights flash red to grab the attention of smombies. Tobias Harms, an Augsburg city councilor, said: “We realized that the normal traffic light isn’t in the line of sight of many pedestrians these days, so we decided to have an additional set of lights — the more we have, the more people are likely to notice them.”

Media reports on Augsburg’s invention add that it is not, however, “the first city to institute special safety measures for people who text and walk.” They report that in 2014, Chongquing in southwest China separated one of its major sidewalks into two lanes, designating one lane for cellphone users using graphics on the pavement surface warning “Cellphones walk in this lane at your own risk.” The 50- meter-long, 3-meter-wide road, known as “yangrenjie,” or “foreigners’ street,” is a popular tourist attraction. Reports in China Daily said, tourists, however, tend to photograph the sidewalk more than they obey the regulation.

In a related story out of New Jersey, it has been reported that Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, has proposed banning “walking while texting” and prohibiting pedestrians on public roads from using smartphones that are not hands-free. Ms. Lampitt reportedly said pedestrians’ risky behavior is a danger to themselves and drivers and should be penalized, citing a US National Safety Council report documenting 11,101 distracted walking incidents over the past 10 years.

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