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Smartphones and pedestrian safety

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People using smartphones while walking
People using phones while walking

Safety hazards have been noted due to pedestrians walking slowly and without attention to their surroundings because they are focused upon their smartphones. Texting pedestrians may trip over curbs, walk out in front of cars and bump into other walkers. The field of vision of a smartphone user is estimated to be just 5% of a normal pedestrian's.[1]

Some cities have taken design measures to make the streets safer for inattentive pedestrians, including lights embedded in pavements, and dedicated lanes for smartphone-using pedestrians to use.

The pejorative term smartphone zombie has been used to describe inattentive phone users;[2] this phrase was sometimes blended to smombie in German[3] and has seen some English usage.[4] In Hong Kong such phone users are called dai tau juk ("the head-down tribe").[5] A 2017 review considered the popular culture term in regards to the medical diagnoses of internet addiction disorder and other forms of digital media overuse.[6]

Problematic mobile phone use

In March 2023, Accident Analysis & Prevention published a systematic review of 47 samples across 45 studies investigating associations between problematic mobile phone use and road safety outcomes (including 32 samples of drivers, 9 samples of pedestrians, 5 samples with road use type unspecified, and 1 sample of motorcyclists and bicyclists) that found that problematic mobile phone use was associated with greater risk of simultaneous mobile phone use and road use and risk of vehicle collisions and pedestrian collisions or falls.[7]

Urban design

A warning sign in Osaka

In Chongqing, China, the government constructed a dedicated smartphone-sidewalk in 2014, separating the phone users and the non-phone users.[8][9][10] A similar scheme was introduced in Antwerp the following year.[11]

In Augsburg, Bodegraven and Cologne, ground-level traffic lights embedded in the pavement have been introduced so that they are more visible to preoccupied pedestrians,[12][13] while traffic signals at an intersection in Zagreb cast the red light downwards, producing glare on smartphone screens.[14]

In Seoul, warning signs have been placed on the pavement at dangerous intersections following over a thousand road accidents caused by smartphones in South Korea in 2014.[15] The city has also implemented traffic lights embedded to the ground to pass the indication to the pedestrian even he is fully immersed to his smartphone experience.

Phone technology


An app which uses the phone's camera to make the screen appear transparent can be used to provide some warning of hazards.[16]


In October 2017, the City of Honolulu, Hawaii introduced a measure to fine pedestrians looking at smartphones while crossing the road.[17] In 2019, China introduced penalties for "activities affecting other vehicles or pedestrians" and a woman was fined 10 yuan in Wenzhou.[18]

In fiction


Science fiction author Ray Bradbury wrote about people being distracted by miniaturised technology in the 1950s, in his stories such as The Pedestrian and Fahrenheit 451.[19][20][21] He wrote in 1958 of observing a couple walking in Beverly Hills, the woman listening to a small transistor radio "oblivious to man and dog, listening to far winds and whispers and soap-opera cries, sleepwalking, helped up and down curbs by a husband who might just as well not have been there".[22]

See also



  1. ^ "Japan's smartphone 'zombies' turn urban areas into human pinball", Japan Times, 17 November 2014
  2. ^ Chatfield, Tom. "The new words that expose our smartphone obsessions". www.bbc.com. Retrieved 2019-01-22.
  3. ^ Wordsworth, Dot (17 December 2020). "The word of the year (whether we like it or not)". The Spectator. Retrieved 17 April 2023.
  4. ^ English, BBC Learning. "BBC Learning English - The English We Speak / Smombie". BBC Learning English. Retrieved 25 April 2023.
  5. ^ Mark Sharp (2 March 2015), "Beware the Smartphone Zombies Blindly Wandering Around Hong Kong", South China Morning Post
  6. ^ Duke, Éilish; Montag, Christian (2017), Montag, Christian; Reuter, Martin (eds.), "Smartphone Addiction and Beyond: Initial Insights on an Emerging Research Topic and Its Relationship to Internet Addiction", Internet Addiction: Neuroscientific Approaches and Therapeutical Implications Including Smartphone Addiction, Studies in Neuroscience, Psychology and Behavioral Economics, Springer International Publishing, pp. 359–372, doi:10.1007/978-3-319-46276-9_21, ISBN 9783319462769
  7. ^ Rahmillah, Fety Ilma; Tariq, Amina; King, Mark; Oviedo-Trespalacios, Oscar (2023). "Is distraction on the road associated with maladaptive mobile phone use? A systematic review". Accident Analysis & Prevention. 181. Elsevier: 106900. doi:10.1016/j.aap.2022.106900. PMID 36580764.
  8. ^ David Raven (15 September 2014), "World's first mobile phone walking lane for 'zombie pedestrians' addicted to texting", Daily Mirror
  9. ^ Heather Chen (7 September 2015), Asia's Smartphone Addiction, Singapore: BBC News
  10. ^ Leo Benedictus (15 September 2014), "Chinese city opens 'phone lane' for texting pedestrians", The Guardian
  11. ^ David Chazan (14 Jun 2015), "Antwerp introduces 'text walking lanes' for pedestrians using mobile phones", Daily Telegraph, Paris
  12. ^ Pavement lights guide 'smartphone zombies', BBC, 16 February 2017
  13. ^ Janek Schmidt (29 April 2016), "Always practise safe text: the German traffic light for smartphone zombies", The Guardian
  14. ^ "U Zagrebu postavljen semafor koji upozorava pješake zadubljene u mobitele". Tportal.hr (in Croatian). Zagreb, Croatia. HINA. 12 October 2019. Retrieved 14 February 2022.
  15. ^ Max Bearak (21 June 2016), "Seoul wants 'smartphone zombies' to read road signs instead", Washington Post
  16. ^ Peter Apps (31 March 2014), "'Transparent' iPhones: A text and walk plan for those trying to do two things at once", Independent
  17. ^ Brett Molina (25 October 2017), "Looking at your phone while crossing the street will cost you in Honolulu", USA Today
  18. ^ George Pierpoint, Kerry Allen (17 January 2019), 'Smartphone zombie' fine cheered on Chinese social media, BBC News
  19. ^ Jeff Miller (24 October 2014), "Put down the smartphone and make a real connection", Augusta Chronicle[permanent dead link]
  20. ^ Jordan Oloman (16 May 2016), "Word of the Year: SMOMBIES", The Courier[permanent dead link]
  21. ^ Hayley Tsukayama (7 June 2012), "10 Ray Bradbury predictions that came true", Washington Post
  22. ^ Ray Bradbury (2 May 1953), "The Day After Tomorrow: Why Science Fiction?", The Nation

Further reading