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Smartphone zombies wreak havoc on cities

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Smartphone zombies wreak havoc on cities
Photo: DPA.
11:52 CEST+02:00
Pedestrians with their eyes glued to their smartphones pose a serious danger to traffic in European cities, according to a new study.

Whether it's to answer a new WhatsApp message as soon as possible (God forbid the sender think you're too busy or dead to answer them within a millisecond), or to alert the world of your latest foodie indulgence (#blessed), looking down at your smartphone while walking can actually be quite a hazard.

That's what a new study from Stuttgart-based DEKRA accident research group shows in their analysis of 14,000 pedestrians across six European capitals.

Roughly one in six pedestrians hypnotically tune into their phones and out of the real world while crossing the street, DEKRA found. Most pedestrians observed were texting, while others were plugged into headphones, making calls, or both texting and making calls at the same time.

Stockholm had by far the worst smartphone abusers with 23.6 percent, or nearly a quarter of people on foot distracted by their phones while crossing through traffic.

Amsterdam on the other hand had the lowest number of "smombies" (smartphone zombies) at 8.3 percent of pedestrians, while Berlin fell somewhere in the middle at 14.9 percent.

Walking, talking, texting hazards

But smartphone addicts don't just look ridiculous - they also can cause real danger.

One in ten traffic fatalities in Germany are caused by inappropriate pedestrian behaviour, according to the Federal Statistics Office.

About half of these cases involved pedestrians failing to pay attention to cars on the road.

Even though children are a common cause of accidents, DEKRA said they believe there are a large number of unreported cases in other age groups that are linked to smartphone-related distraction.

Across the European Union, 22 percent of those who die in accidents are pedestrians. In Germany, 70 percent of pedestrians killed are in towns and cities.

DEKRA said their analysts often observed "extreme" forms of distractions in traffic crossings.

"One thing that was observed repeatedly was groups of young people looking at a smartphone together while crossing the street. In one case, the entire group actually collided with a cyclist," said DEKRA management board member Clemens Klinke in a statement.

"One incident in Stockholm made a particular impression: A young girl stood in the middle of the road, got her cellphone out and started texting. It wasn't until a bus driver sounded his horn that she realized where she was standing and moved on," Klinke explained. "The teams from our Accident Research unit constantly observed situations like these."

Younger cell phones users were more prone to being a "smombie" (smartphone zombie) than older users in the new study, with more than one in five (22 percent) of 25- to 35-year-olds interacting in some way with their phones on pedestrian crossings compared to the average of 17 percent.

Surprisingly, the youngest demographic analyzed had a lower rate of cell phone use compared to the older Millennials, at 18.8 percent for 15- to 25-year-olds, though this was still higher than the average across all age groups.

The sight of cellphone-obsessed citizens strolling through the hustle and bustle of everyday life has become all too common in Germany, reflected in how German youngsters voted "Smombie" the hippest word of 2015.

But actually being one is not so hip, as the DEKRA study warns, as it can lead to hip replacement - or worse.

"When you are in among road traffic as a pedestrian, you should keep your undivided attention on the traffic in the interest of your own safety," said Klinke from DEKRA in a statement.

"After all, as an unprotected road user, you face a much higher risk in the event of an accident. And distraction caused by smartphone use should never be underestimated."

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