Imagine a world in which so many people are so obsessed with their smartphones that they can no longer walk between places without focusing all of their attention on their mobile device. It’s not so hard to imagine, actually, as it’s become such a problem that the world’s most populous country is now having to make significant infrastructural changes to accommodate such behavior.
Walking and using a smartphone has reportedly become such a problem that the World Health Organization has now classified it as “distracted walking,” a legitimate safety concern in China where the annual number of traffic-related deaths is staggeringly high. A precise number is not known.
It certainly doesn’t help that China requires individuals who hit and kill a pedestrian with their car pay a one-time fee of between $30,000 and $50,000 USD. While that’s pricey, as it should be, it’s not nearly as expensive as the alternative: should the pedestrian survive, the driver must cover the cost of their care until they’re completely healed. It has resulted in situations where Chinese drivers actually try to finish off the people they hit rather than help save their lives.
Now, the message from the managers of Bairui Plaza, a massive shopping mall in the city of Xi’an, is that if you can’t stop walking and texting, you might as well try and protect the people engaging in such dangerous behavior. That’s why they’ve set up colorful pedestrian lanes reserved for people walking and using their mobile devices.
“We are not actually advocating for pedestrians to look at their phones,” notes Cao Hanjia, a spokeswoman for the mall. “But we can’t regulate people’s activities and tell them, ‘You’re not allowed to look at your cellphone while walking.’”
The pedestrian lanes do warn smartphone users to look up periodically and try not to focus too much attention on their mobile device. “Please don’t look down for the rest of your life,” one lane reads. “Path for the special use of the heads-down tribe,” another says.
This isn’t just a problem for China, however. Two years ago, the German community of Augsburg built traffic lights into the street so that people walking and texting would notice when it was unsafe to cross the street.