Smombie or the dangerous habit of walking while looking at the smartphone

Smombie or the dangerous habit of walking while looking at the smartphone

Zombies on the street and not just for Halloween. The term Smombie has been coined to indicate the (many) people who walk outdoors with their eyes fixed on their mobile phones. The neologism that unites the words smartphone and zombie has even ended up in the Treccani vocabulary, where the definition leaves no room for doubt: "those who walk down the street without looking up from their smartphone, risking stumbling, colliding with other people, crossing the road in dangerous way ". The risks, in fact, are not few for smombies. Between 12% and 45% of pedestrian road accident victims are due to distraction. This is why various nations around the world are installing special signs and traffic lights to try to awaken those who are acting like a smombie, risking to endanger themselves and other passersby.

Amsterdam against smombies

In the Dutch city, special traffic lights have been installed at eye level to attract the attention of passers-by. The new lights were placed on poles already present or specially created in the pavement. They have been located close to the intersections so that even if you are not looking in a straight line, you will still see a bright red light ahead. The expedient was designed for smombies in the Dutch capital with the aim of warning when they are about to pass through a busy area. The World Economic Forum website reports that similar traffic lights have also been installed in Sydney, Singapore, Habsburg and Tel Aviv. Alternatively, in the neighborhoods of Seoul in South Korea, red LEDs have been added that illuminate the sidewalk in order to arouse the attention of those who are looking down, that is, they are holding their smartphone.

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When the lights were installed in Australia, Center for Road Safety Director Bernard Carlon told ABC News: “We have studies indicating that people who use cell phones with their headphones on and listen to music they are four times more likely to do something risky when crossing the street ”. Scotland has created road signs to warn smartphone-obsessed people of the risks they might run into by sticking to their devices.

The origin of the neologism

Concern for those who walk with the phone is not new. The term smombie was voted Word of the Year for Young People in Germany in 2015. Even though the slang hasn't caught on as much as other terms related to the internet age, the fatal consequences of this type of behavior are steadily increasing. About 270,000 pedestrians die each year on the world's roads; experts say "distraction" is a factor between 12% and 45% of deaths. Injuries caused by colliding with street lamps, tripping and falling all increased more than ninefold between 2004 and 2010 according to Canadian research.

Implementation of special anti-smombie traffic lights and signals seems to work where it is been put in place. The number of pedestrians killed on Hong Kong's streets has declined over the past three years, while in South Korea a scientific study has called the measures taken as an initial step towards better ways to attract the attention of those who walk. An app connected to the camera that, thanks to artificial intelligence, recognizes pedestrian crossings can be installed on the smartphone; in the future, self-driving cars will need to be able to recognize pedestrians who inadvertently throw themselves into the street. In addition to advising walkers not to get too distracted, road safety associations add that it is equally important to urge motorists to reduce their speed, especially around intersections.

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