What was the problem? These oblivious folks were texting or watching videos while walking across traffic lanes or streets with lots of cars. The government reports visits to the emergency room involving distracted pedestrians is up over 100% in the last few years. Six people die every year after strolling into the path of a car or truck while checking their smartphone and thousands are injured.
The article mentioned two phrases to describe this behavior that seem on target: "inattentional blindness" and FOMO, the "fear of missing out." These two factors are responsible for cities starting to put up signs warning drivers of distracted walkers; posting signs for the smartphone texters would go unseen. According to the article, New York City has reduced the speed limits on some thoroughfares to lessen injuries, while San Francisco is banning cars completely in parts of downtown to protect its distracted citizens.
None of this surprises me. Watch any group of people and the majority are probably staring at a smartphone or thumbing a message to someone. The average American spends 4.7 hours per day looking down at an electric device in their hands. Once the folly of the young, now anyone of any age is just as likely to be seriously wrapped up in their phone.
A few weeks ago Betty and I were enjoying happy hour at a restaurant with a beautiful, sunny patio. There were four folks, probably our age, seated at the table near us. Except to order more drinks, not once in 45 minutes did any of them talk to one another or enjoy the weather. Their full attention was focused on the 3" screens in front of them.
Arizona is one of the 25 states that continues to allow texting while driving, except within the city limits of Phoenix and Tucson. So, I am used to seeing someone steering a 3,000 pound hunk of metal while staring at a screen to read or respond to something too urgent to wait. My response is to change lanes or slow down enough to give myself enough time to avoid an accident. But, combine a distracted pedestrian and driver and the stage is set for something bad to happen.
The cell phone industry is looking for ways to protect its customers from themselves. One possibility is a GPS app that locks the screen and warns you to look up when you are close to an intersection. I'd suggest speakers at all crosswalks that yell, "Look Up" or sing "Look to the left, look to the right, look to the left one more time." Hey, it was good enough for your mom to use to keep you safe as a kid.
I don't have any particular suggestions to protect us from our own self-absorption. As Jimmy Buffett once said, "there is no dumb-a**" vaccine." Just know that if some person steps off the street corner in the path of your car, the odds are good that you will be to blame, even if he or she was playing Candy Crush.
Update: a German city has decided to install traffic lights at sidewalk level for people too distracted to keep from hurting themselves and others: Click here