Use of mobile phones while driving is one of the major risk factors for our safety. In Italy, the number of deaths due to car crashes during the first 8 months of the year reached 1.159 cases; in most of them, the reason was drivers’ bigger distraction, first of all due to an improper use of mobile phones. Car users text, send emails, and even take selfies.
The syndrome that torments us has a name: it is called “FOMO” (Fear Of Missing Out): in short, fear of being cut off. On average, we check our mobile phones 150 times a day, once every six minutes. And we do so also in our cars while driving, on bikes, motorbikes, hence the problem is no longer only psychological. Distraction, as already said, is the first cause of car crashes in Italy (16.8% according to data provided by ACI/ISTAT). 12.4% Of the motorists have been caught driving with a smartphone in their hand, whereas one out of four young people admits (s)he takes selfies, chats and navigates at the wheel and even at the handlebars. A slap in the face of basic safety rules.
Yet this is not the last risk extreme. The number of car crashes around the world is growing, with consequences – which are often dramatic – concerning the use of smartphones while walking. Eyes glued to the small screen, hands busy on the keyboard, and as far as the youngest ones are concerned, also earphones: isolation and distraction are total.
This is why police in Lausanne, Switzerland, has thought about producing a video to illustrate to the youngest the degree of danger of what they “normally” do. It shows a young man immersed in his thoughts who is walking on the streets of a town till he reaches a fatal crossroads. Right afterwards, we see people’s despair and an employee of the funeral home who comments on what happened. A true slap in the face of the superficiality with which we resolve the problem.
If we reflect on this ad, we notice that it goes beyond the description of an incident. It shows how technology, which is obviously a sign of progress and has an endless positive potential, can be harmful if we misuse it. It is true for road safety and human relationships which are more and more rarefied and virtual. Friendship and love, especially between young people, do not require direct relationship between two people anymore, but is mediated by electronic devices. Just think about the paradox of voice messages sent one after another instead of making a phone call to arrange an appointment.
And there all sorts of things hiding in the virtual world, even of the most evil kind, offered to children and young people behind a screen, giving them the illusion of being able to control those things with a simple click. But this is not the case and our boys and girls are likely to crash: in the streets or on the roads of the Web.
Returning to the risks of walking distracted by a mobile phone, in Washington, on the sidewalk of 18th Street Nortwest, was created a lane dedicated to those who use their smartphones so much, that they are unable to stop looking at them while walking. It is not a real initiative of the city hall, but an experiment conducted by National Geographic, which is working on a TV-series on human behavior.
In China, on the other hand, they are actually doing it. In Chongqing City, in the south-east of the Sichuan Province, was created the first path for smartphones. Their main goal is to avoid incidents caused by distraction.
The sidewalk is divided into two parts: one for walkers using smartphones, the other one for pedestrians who prefer to watch their step. A warning was printed on the lane for smartphone users: “Walk over here at your peril!”. There are numerous arrows drawn on the asphalt in order to guide the pedestrians as they are looking at the displays of their phones, since their head is supposed to be tilted down.
According to a research conducted by the Ohio State University which was published in the journal Accident analysis and prevention, road incidents involving pedestrians who were sending text messages or talking on the phone in the US have doubled from 2005 to 2010; and the data provided by this research are sadly already “outdated”, given the exponential spread of multimedia phones.
These data were confirmed also by a Ford research, conducted on a sample of over 10,000 European citizens. It showed that most smartphone users, especially young people between 18 and 24 year old, an age group in which incidents are the leading cause of mortality, do not stop using them when they cross the streets. According to statistics, between 2003 and 2013, 85,525 pedestrians died on the European roads. To paraphrase an old advertising of the Italian national telephone company, a call … shortens your life.