|▲ A sign which cautions smombies in the street|
Have you ever come close to bumping into a car because you were so absorbed in your smartphone? People who often have experiences like this are referred to as smartphone zombies or Smombies. These days we can see smombies everywhere as smartphones have become an essential IT machine for functioning in our daily lives. However, with this new dependence on smartphone technology, has emerged the risks associated with being a smombie. Smartphone zombies are at high risk for traffic accidents because they are unaware of their surrounding environment while they are focused on their devices. In other words, their addiction to their smartphone may in fact be life threatening.
|▲ A slogan which explains the stem of 'smombie'|
These days a smombie is regarded as a ticking time bomb as the number of traffic accidents resulting from smartphone absorption have been increasing dramatically. The Korean Transportation Safety Authority published a study about the risks associated with walking while using smartphones. They found that traffic accidents that involved smartphone use have multiplied by about 1.94 times over the last four years. A Hyundai Marine & Fire Insurance Co. Ltd-affiliated organization, which has a laboratory studying traffic and the surrounding climate environment, also found similar results. According to this organization, traffic accidents which involved smartphone use grew from 437 cases in 2009 to 1,111 cases in 2014. This means that accidents involving smartphones have increased about 2.5 times over the last five years.
The number of vehicle related deaths involving pedestrians per 100,000 people is 3 times higher in Korea than other countries in the OECD. Korea recorded 4.3 people per 100,000, while the average for OECD countries was only 1.4 people. It is clear then that the smombie has become a serious social problem in our country. In an on-the-spot survey of the smartphone usage behaviors of youth in their 10s and 20s were found to be remarkably dangerous. They reported sending messages and listening to music while walking the streets. 45.9% of them were operating a smartphone while walking on sidewalks, and 24.2% of them reported using their devices while on the crosswalk.
|▲ A man who is using phone in the street|
To complicate matters, most smombies read news articles, watch entertainment programs, or watch dramas with their earphones in. However, concentrating on the sounds they hear through their earphones and not taking their eyes off their devices even when disembarking a bus or train means that many people are walking into each other than they did before. You can see this in neighborhood green spaces, on trail walks, or even crosswalks.
So how dangerous are the actions of smombies? According to a Road Traffic Authority’ study on the effects of audio equipment on traffic safety, pedestrians who listen to music or watch their smartphone while walking, move at an average rate of 1.31 meters per second, while those that concentrate instead on walking record an average speed of 1.38 meters per second. This means that unfocused pedestrians react slower to warnings such as a car horn honk. To take a closer look at the problem, adult males and females in their 20s and 30s were asked to walk while concentrating on a smartphone. 55 percent of them were unable to react quickly to a warning horn.
|▲ A sign which cautions smombies in the street|
The Dankook Herald (DKH) interviewed a specialist in road traffic, Mr. Oh, in order to learn more about the so-called ‘Smombie’. We asked Mr. Ooh about the correlation between the Smombie and age. “According to the ‘Study on the Dangers of Smartphone Usage While Walking and Pedestrian Safety’, teenagers and young adults in their 20s are most likely to be endangered from smartphone usage while walking. Recently, their numbers have risen the most of all age categories, presenting an even bigger danger to their demographic. We need to recognize the necessity of tackling this problem as it has become a bigger issue,” he said. Moreover, “This problem is not limited to traffic situations, but also to factory workers. Nowadays, they too are very prone to look at their smartphones while they are in the process of doing mundane repetitive work. As a result, mistakes are made and no matter how small, they can lead to bigger accidents downstream and even loss of life. Using smartphones in these situations means workers are being inattentive, and the possibility of fatal accidents occurring in the factory rises,” he added.
We asked him what measures are needed in order to solve these problems. “Strong action must be taken. In my opinion, the primary thing we can do it ensure worker safety by implementing technical measures first. These measures can prevent accidents, rather than act as a mere warning to users. We are conducting studies about how to reduce accidents by using communications technology between vehicles, vehicles and infrastructure, and vehicles and smartphones. The study we are working on deals for example, with accident prevention technologies that address a person walking in the blind spot of a passing car, while looking at their smartphone. Even if the driver is unaware of the pedestrian, the car would communicate a warning to both the smartphone user and the driver via a pop-up alarm, thereby preventing accidents,” he said of the study.
He finished the interview by saying that, “smartphones have made our lives a lot easier. However, excessive use of smartphones is not only bad for the user’s health, but also comes with a higher risk of being involved in accidents. He added that, “Many people prefer to communicate with their friends via their smartphones than actually talk to them in person. So a more reasonable usage of smartphones can benefit not only the user’s health and safety, but can also have a positive impact on one’s social relations.”
|▲ An animation that those who are using smartphones in streets are similar with zombies|
Advanced civilization is helping us lead more comfortable lives. However, smart technologies can come back to hurt people. We should be careful when we use smartphones on the road or even in other places. People should pay more attention to their surroundings, so they can reduce the dangers they face. The more people use smartphones, the more they put themselves at risk. We need to shift this use to being safer and more productive, so we can continue to reap the advantages they offer.
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