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Can A New App Thwart The Texting Zombies?

Dashed Arrow Scott Lynch

According to DOT data, dangerous driver behavior, including cell phone use, is the primary cause or a contributing factor in 70% of pedestrian fatalities. The NYPD credits "driver inattention" as being responsible for roughly a third of all collisions. AT&T understands that this is bad, which is why they commissioned Werner Herzog to make this gut-wrenching documentary about texting and driving. But now AT&T is focusing on pedestrians who use their cell phones in the street, and has commissioned a contest to combat the problem…with cellphone apps.

The short report [PDF] that accompanies the announcement for the competition stresses that "vehicle-pedestrian crashes are overwhelmingly attributed to driver-caused hazards," but then cites a study that states from 2008 and 2011, "about 8 percent of both pedestrians and cyclists said they were injured while using an electronic device, including a cellphone or music player." Other studies show that the risks are higher for children, who are "less attentive" and more likely to fall into an open manhole mid-Snapchat.

A similar 2012 study examined the ways in which gait velocity and trajectory changed for walkers when interacting with the screen on a mobile device. This small-scale experiment measured the movement of 33 university students as students texted on smart devices while moving through an obstacle course. The participants who texted while walking moved 33 percent slower and deviated from their intended course 61 percent more often than those who did not use their phones.

None of this is surprising. Texting Zombies are a scourge worse than games of Sidewalk Chicken and (arguably) Sidewalk Cyclists.

But can we app-develop our way out of this problem? The preliminary results aren't encouraging. The report cites apps like Type n Walk, before stating the obvious: "pedestrians still must look up to see obstacles."

There are a few sentences on "wearable devices" and swiping emojis instead of typing them before we get to the "most promising traffic safety technology," which is a General Motors device that "communicates with smart phones within 200 yards." Using WiFi.

How about an app that flashes YOU ARE 30 SECONDS CLOSER TO DEATH PUT ME DOWN & SET YOURSELF FREE after every 30 seconds of continuous texting? Or you could just refrain from using your cellular phone in the street.

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