Technology is wonderful, isn’t it? Every day there seems to be some new breakthrough or advancement to improve our lives. We’re talking great achievements for treating cancer, making transportation safer, and ways to defend our nation. But every now and then, a new piece of technology surfaces that makes us go “hmm” and scratch our heads in bewilderment. Today, that lucky item is a device to text pedestrians as they prepare to cross a street so that they will look down at their phone to read a message to tell them not to look at their phone while crossing the street.
Technology That Makes You Go “Hmm”
Distracted pedestrians are a growing problem in the U.S. and The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is conducting a study to see how to stop people from using their phones while crossing streets. NIH is spending more than $170,000 for this study, which is being conducted by the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
The NIH grant claims that more than 4,800 American pedestrians die each year and that number continues to climb:
One hypothesized reason for the increasing trend in pedestrian injuries and deaths is the role of mobile technology in distracting both pedestrians and drivers. Existing behavioral interventions to reduce distracted pedestrian behavior are few. We propose to develop and then evaluate Bluetooth beacon technology as a means to alert and warn pedestrians when they are approaching dangerous intersections, reminding them to attend to the traffic environment and cross the street safely rather than engaging with mobile technology.
So how will this nifty device work? First, consumers will need to download the app to their cell phones, so it will only work for those who want to be notified they need to pay attention before crossing a street. Next, a beacon is set at chosen intersections to be placed on a light or traffic pole. That beacon will send a signal to cell phones with the app in close proximity.
According to the grant, the consumer will have the choice of how they would like to be alerted. They can choose either a text message, a sound, or to have their phone screens frozen. Personally, I think a loud, blaring fog horn or train whistle would work better than a text message. A frozen screen may only cause more problems since those who choose that option are more likely to be distracted by their phones suddenly refusing to work.
Do we have a problem with distracted pedestrians because of cell phone usage? Definitely. This is especially true with the teenagers and millennials who believe they are invincible and entitled – every car should stop for them, no matter what. Games like Pokémon Go certainly add to the problem. Such a clever idea to send people rushing around town, staring at their phones to get clues to find prizes. How many of these gamers stepped out into oncoming traffic to claim their silly collections?
The danger is clear. A couple of years ago, a 15-year-old girl was killed in front of my mother’s home because she was looking down at her phone and stepped off the curb into oncoming traffic. The city put up a stop sign there as if that would do any good. It’s not a busy residential intersection to begin with. The problem was that the teen was preoccupied with her phone and didn’t bother to look for traffic first.
The question is: Will this beacon help prevent such distracted behavior? It’s hard to tell. For example, how much warning will it provide? Will the alert come as they are stepping out into the street, seconds before, or several feet before the intersection? If the warning is too far out, dedicated texters will try to get that last message or tweet in before getting to the intersection and the alert may do no good.
The study will be focused on university students – assumedly they are the most distracted – over a 12-week period. The study will also collect information from its participants such as what they do when they approach intersections – continue to text, put their phone in a pocket, or turn it off, for example. If successful, it would be feasible to assume the program will grow and become popular around areas that often see heavy traffic.
While it is a good idea – to some degree – it is also a troubling one. Our society is rapidly being led to a place where they cannot take a breath without first being told to do so, and then how to do it. It seems we have an app for just about everything in our lives. How in the world did our ancestors survive without all of this necessary technology?