Sydney’s street-level traffic lights to save the phone-absorbed

traffic lightSydney is to get ground-level traffic lights so that smart-phone users don’t get run over by cars.

Mashable reports that: “Fed up with pedestrians who can’t take their eyes off the screen, the government is obliged nevertheless to try and save their lives. It will implement a six month trial of the traffic lights at a cost of A$250,000.”

Come on, surely this can’t be serious. First, and most obviously, shouldn’t we be expecting people to take some responsibility for their actions? This puts me in mind of a recent discussion I was involved in about banning phones in school classrooms because parents are phoning kids during school time and the kids are answering. My argument was that rather than confiscating phones we should be educating kids (and by extension parents) that there are times you don’t answer the phone. In the middle of a class, or in a business meeting, or at the dinner table would all be such times and we should be educating young people in the proper use of the device, not just taking it away from them in spite of themselves. Same here with the lights; although who on earth needs educating in the idea that you look before crossing a road? Perhaps they were the ones answering a phone in class.

Also have we drifted so far down the evolutionary chain that we don’t have the peripheral vision to see the kerb behind our phone’s screens? And if, we’ve done that, what makes anyone think that the phone-absorbed will see a lower light?

And onward. Unless you put these phone-friendly lights at every intersection they are positively dangerous. If people expect to be warned off by a light-at-their-height they’ll just keep walking until warned – and so will blindly march through normal intersections.

Finally, this is not a smart solution.  Installing beacons that tell the phone to tell the walker to stop might be smart and extensible and not ludicrously expensive. Adding another layer of indicators to the lights, vibrating buttons, and pinging sounds we already use is not smart. It’s more of the same.

If it wasn’t for the fact that some poor driver or cyclist is the other party to a phone-zombie-walker accident I’d be tempted to say that we should just let nature take its course. But as long as we need a solution how about we think cleverly and come up with something that has a chance of working; and doesn’t read like a passage from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy?

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