The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Clueless smartphone users keep walking in front of trains. So this streetcar got creative.

These new red lights are designed to better alert smartphone users of approaching streetcars. (Thomas Hosemann/SWA)
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A German streetcar system has installed flashing lights in the ground at two stations to better alert pedestrians focused on their smartphones of approaching trains.

The Augsburg stations already had pedestrian signals with the traditional “walk” and “do-not-walk” instructions. But those signs are located about 10 feet off the ground, and the gaze of pedestrians has steadily moved downward as they stare at their phones.

“It’s a problem all over the world,” said Jurgen Fergg, a spokesman for Stadtwerke Augsburg, which operates the Augsburg streetcar system. “People look at their cellphone and ignore traffic or the lights, so accidents happen.”

Stadtwerke Augsburg decided it had to act following a 2015 incident in which a girl staring at her smartphone was struck by a streetcar at a station.

The new red lights blink when a streetcar is approaching, resting in the station or departing. The hope is that the lights will catch the eyes of preoccupied pedestrians.

Pedestrian safety is increasingly a concern around the world. In the United States, pedestrian fatalities jumped by 10 percent in 2015, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. This is the largest year-to-year increase in such deaths since national statistics have been recorded.

Emergency room visits from distracted pedestrians have also grown steadily as mobile devices have become more common.

Stadtwerke Augsburg debuted its new lights last week as a test. If they’re a success, more lights will be installed throughout the system.

Related: Eyes down, minds elsewhere, ‘deadwalkers’ are among us