Padova Has Inaugurated an Anti-Smartphone Crosswalk. Will it Catch On Around the World?

| Wed, 09/06/2023 - 14:25
Traffic light

Many cities and countries have banned texting while driving, but comparatively little’s been done about texting and strolling — and the very real risk of stumbling into oncoming traffic. Padova, however, is rolling out an experiment designed to educate phone-glued pedestrians. 

Under the guidance of local company La Semaforica, the city recently installed a brand-new anti-smartphone warning system at a particularly busy local crosswalk in the Prato della Valle area, alerting distracted walkers of oncoming traffic. It’s reportedly the first of its kind in the world.

How it works

The traffic lights — only two for now — embrace a new model that looks likely to catch on in other locations. Customary green, yellow and red icons of a stylized walking man still appear. But when there’s oncoming traffic, a flash of red is projected downward onto the zebra crosswalk’s first stripe.

Even the most dedicated scroller-strollers couldn’t get a more blatant warning.

A statement released by the city of Padova suggested that the new system wasn’t designed to enable the habit, but “to alert [absent-minded pedestrians] of the dangerous nature of their behavior.”

Padova’s Councillor for Mobility Andrea Ragona noted that the traffic light system itself hasn’t changed, keeping in compliance with the Italian Highway Code. “Just this small device has been added [...] It’s created a virtual barrier that will attract the attention of even the most careless,” Ragona said.

While the particulars of the approach are new, Padova is not the first city to implement anti-smartphone pedestrian safety measures. Back in 2016, the German city of Augsburg installed pavement-embedded traffic lights. A year later, a law took effect in Honolulu that banned use of any hand-held mobile device when crossing the street.

The city of Padova has not yet confirmed whether the initiative will be rolled out in additional local intersections, but reported an early wave of positive reactions from pedestrians in late August.