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“Smartphone Zombies” in Danger

Xi'an, China —(Map)

Most people know that using a cell phone while you drive is dangerous. But what about when you walk? Every year, tens of thousands of people are hurt or killed because they are using cell phones while walking.

After cell phones became popular, people noticed that there were more car crashes caused by drivers using phones. It took a while for the laws to catch up. Now it is against the law for drivers to use cell phones in 16 US states. 38 states have a similar rule for new drivers. Texting while driving is against the law in 47 states.

People staring at their smartphones while walking.
People staring at their smartphones while walking.
In China, they call them the “heads-down tribe”.
(Source: Ccmsharma2, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Now people are starting to notice the problems caused by people using cell phones while they are walking. People are walking while looking at the screens of their phones – making calls, sending messages, watching videos, or playing games. They don’t pay attention to what is going on around them.

Some people call this “distracted walking”. Other people call them “smartphone zombies” (or, in Germany, “smombies”). In China they call them the “heads-down tribe”. ( A tribe is a group of people that are related in some way.)

Achtung! Smombie! ("Caution! Smombie!") This sign in Germany warns people to look out for "smartphone zombies".
Achtung! Smombie! (“Caution! Smombie!”)
This sign in Germany warns people to look out for “smartphone zombies”.
(Source: A_Peach, via Wikimedia Commons.)

Now, for the second time, a city in China has created a walking path just for people who are using cell phones. The new path is in the city of Xi’an.

The brightly colored path is about 300 feet (100 m) long. The path is meant to give cell phone users a place to walk without having to worry about the traffic around them. In 2014, the city of Chongqing in China created a shorter walking path for cell phone users.

In Xi’an, China, they have created a special path for cell phone users.

Some people support the idea. They feel like it will keep cell phone users safer. Other people don’t like the idea. They think it encourages people to do something that is not safe.

Many people wonder how cell phone users will keep themselves on the path, when they are already having trouble walking safely.

These are problems that governments around the world are thinking about. In Germany, several cities have put traffic lights in the ground so that walkers looking at their cell phones will know when it is safe to cross the road.

Sign warning walkers to look up as they cross they road, Amsterdam.
Sign warning walkers to look up as they cross they road, Amsterdam.
(Source: Yerpo, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Other cities, such as Amsterdam, have printed warning signs on the ground so that walkers on phones can see that they are about to cross the street.

Many towns around the world have made it against the law to use cell phones while walking.

It is surely a problem that governments will continue to work on, because the dangers are so great. In China, every year, about 68,000 walkers are killed. In the US, 16% of the people killed in traffic accidents are walkers. And the numbers keep going up.

Sign saying "PAY ATTENTION WHILE WALKING" in Seoul, Korea.
Sign saying “PAY ATTENTION WHILE WALKING” in Seoul, Korea.
(Source: Robin van der Vliet, from Wikimedia Commons.)

For now, cell phone users should remember that just because they are moving very slowly does not mean that they are safe. The heads-up tribe has a much better chance of crossing the road safely than the heads-down tribe.


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