For a generation that is perpetually looking down at their mobile phones, new LED strips embedded in the pavement of two pedestrian crossings could just be the way forward to get more people aware of road safety.
The Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced yesterday that it will be putting the new road-crossing feature on a six-month trial at two locations before deciding whether to roll it out at other crossings.
The LED strips are at the junction of Buyong Road and Orchard Road, near the Istana; and the Victoria Street crossing outside Bugis Junction. The LEDs - which are visible in bright daylight - will go from steady green to flashing green to steady red, mimicking the sequence of the traditional Walking and Standing Man signals at pedestrian crossings.
The LTA said it picked the two locations because "they are near popular amenities frequented by a high volume of pedestrians across different demographics, such as youth and elderly pedestrians". A pair of strips at each crossing costs $10,000 to $13,000 to install.
The authority said the trial will allow it to gauge whether they are suitable for Singapore's weather conditions. It will also be seeking the public's opinion on their effectiveness.
Nanyang Technological University senior research fellow Gopinath Menon said: "Anything that helps to improve pedestrian safety is welcome. Today, people's eyes are glued to their mobile devices, and not looking up. So this is especially useful for them."
According to the Traffic Police, the number of injuries and fatal accidents involving pedestrians has been creeping up.
Last year, the figure rose by 5.4 per cent from 2015 to hit a four-year high of 1,030. Of the lot, 48 were fatal, making up more than one-third of all fatal road accidents.
The elderly make up a sizeable proportion of the statistics. Since last November, the Traffic Police have been working with more than 100 Senior Activities Centres and Senior Citizen Corners to educate senior citizens on road safety.
But while the new feature will make it easier for all pedestrians to notice when it is safe to cross the road, it could especially be useful in the battle with "smartphone zombies". The term is used internationally to describe people who walk with their heads down, eyes glued to a mobile device. It is a problem that major cities around the world are trying to cope with.
Seoul has put up crossed-out signs of a walking man looking at a phone in his hand with the words: Stay safe when walking. Antwerp, in Belgium, and Chongqing, in China, have set up "text-walking lanes" so that smartphone addicts would not bump into other pedestrians.
Augsburg, in Germany, installed ground-level traffic lights at two tram stations last year. In the town of Rexburg in Idaho, people caught crossing a street while texting face a fine of US$50 (S$ 70).
In Singapore, the LTA has also taken steps to enhance safety at pedestrian crossings. Since 2013, it has introduced 13 bicycle crossings in towns such as Tampines, Simei and Sembawang so that cyclists can ride safely across roads separately from pedestrians.
Most pedestrians were unaware of the LED strips when they came into operation yesterday afternoon. But sales executive Nazhiim Rosli, 22, spotted it. "It's a good feature," he said.
Singapore Road Safety Council chairman Bernard Tay said he was heartened by the initiative. But he added: "Pedestrians should still take responsibility for their own safety and watch out for oncoming vehicles."
What other countries are doing to keep 'smartphone zombies' safe. http://str.sg/465S