Are Embedded Safety Lights A Good Idea For Alameda Pedestrians ?

I reviewed an article recently about a City in Germany which has embedded traffic lights into the pavement at crosswalks. The City of Augsburg, is a college town of about 270,000 residents. The decision to install the lights was made after a 15 year old girl was struck and killed by a train while she was looking at her cell phone. Now pedestrians in that city will see a strip of flashing red lights in the sidewalk to warn them that they approaching an intersection. As an Alameda personal injury lawyer, this made me think about what we can do to make our streets and sidewalks safer.

According to an Ohio State University study, pedestrians are being distracted while walking and using their cell phones, or texting, resulting in an increased number of pedestrian accidents. The study showed that distracted walking accidents have steadily increased since 2005.

In Alameda, we are one of the worst ranked cities in the State of California when it comes to pedestrian safety. Statistics gathered by the California Office of Traffic Safety show that Alameda is ranked eighth worse out of 103 counties when it comes to pedestrian accidents. According to Alameda’s police Chief Paul Rolleri, Alameda definitely has a pedestrian safety problem.

The City of Alameda is actively working on the problem. In 2015, it set up pedestrian decoy operations to increase motorist awareness of pedestrians and to educate drivers about the rules of the road with respect to pedestrians and motorists. Over 167 citations were issues to drivers and one jaywalker. 80% of the tickets were for failure to yield the right of way to pedestrians. While a step in the right direction, this doesn’t address distracted pedestrian walking.

The City is also looking into improving controlled intersections. It is considering four way crosswalks, also known as pedestrian scrambles, on Alameda’s main streets. Such crosswalks have long been used in San Francisco and Oakland. The idea is to allow pedestrians to cross in all four directions at the same time while all vehicular traffic is stopped.

Alameda has attempted installed flashing footlights on the streets when pedestrians pushed a button. The idea was to alert drivers of the crossing pedestrian. However, the lights do nothing to alert the distracted walker from accidentally walking into traffic.

Here is what Apple is considering. In 2014, it filed a patent for technology to reduce distracted walking accidents. The technology uses the phone’s camera to project a video image of what is directly in front of the pedestrian as he walks. Text massages are superimposed over the video image so people can see what is in front of them while they walk.

Is embedding the sidewalks the proper response to reduce these type injuries? Should people just be better educated and use common sense when holding their devices? Should it be the responsibility of the cell phone makers to make their phones safe so their users aren’t injured by using the devices as they are intended to be used? This seems like one of those safety problems caused by new technologies which will probably need a coordinated response from cities, phone manufacturers, and the users themselves.

Resources:

A German city embedded traffic lights in its sidewalks to protect distracted texters, Tech Insider, April 29, 2016

Distracted walking injuries while on the phone more than doubled since 2004; could be twice as high by 2015, Medical Dailey, June 19, 2013

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