If you think that cell phones don’t ruin our behavior, then think again. In Germany, the problem has gotten so bad that one city has installed new traffic lights in the ground, so pedestrians are sure to see it even they are looking down at their screens.
Germans take their traffic lights seriously. Really seriously. People will wait at a red pedestrian crossing light to cross the road, even when there are no cars visible in either direction. It even happens at night, and even in Berlin (where I live), the capital city with 3.4 million inhabitants. So the officials in the city of Augsburg took it equally seriously when citizens started to wander across the road against the lights, without even looking up from their cell phones.
To help remind young Germans of their civic duty, Augsburg has installed new lights at two tram crossings. The red LEDs are embedded into the pavement and flash in an attempt to wrest their attention from WhatsApp, or whatever it is the kids are into these days. The crossings are both near the local university. According to Germany’s N-TV, the idea came after a 15-year-old girl was killed by a tram. Police reports say she was distracted by her phone at the time.
The Augsburg authorities have called the floor-mounted lamps Bompeln, a contraction of Boden Ampeln, literally floor traffic lights. Yet despite this super-cool coinage, the kids aren’t impressed. "Until now, I didn't even notice them," said one young local when asked by the newspaper.
Added safety measures at tricky crossings are great, and much better than New Jersey’s attempted ban on texting while walking. But these are just kids being kids. Germany’s real problems will only start when the adults ignore the crossing lights. If the grown-ups start thinking it’s okay to cross an empty street without getting permission first, the country is doomed.