“Calling All Smombies and Pedtextrians”

“Calling All Smombies and Pedtextrians”

Nominated for The Planning for Sustainable Land Use and Transport Award


Adrian Garcia, AECOM, Richie Fraser, AECOM


With Smartphone penetration reaching a peak, this paper will explore the implications of the ‘smartphone oblivion’ on road safety, and in particular the dangers associated with ‘distracted walking’.


Einstein remarked, "It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity". This sentiment holds true in the context of smartphones with little question that we are increasingly becoming slaves of such devices.

Recent reports show that Smartphone penetration in the UK is reaching a peak. This paper will explore the implications of the ‘smartphone oblivion’ on road safety, and in particular the dangers associated with ‘distracted walking’. Despite the rise of the smartphone and its pedestrian safety implications, little is known on this topic with historic research focused on the dangers of in-vehicle distractions. Inattentive pedestrian behaviour can manifest itself in various forms, ranging in severity from eliciting the scorn of other people they collide with to potentially fatal incidents such as walking into the path of cars and trains. The British Automobile Association (AA) recently reported a 12% increase in UK pedestrian fatalities between 2013 and 2014, and suggested distracted walking may be a factor. In line with this, it is estimated that incidents associated with distracted walking in the United States have increased by over 1000% since 2005, resulting in more injuries per mile than distracted driving. Moreover, it is anticipated that these figures could be even higher, with research suggesting that pedestrians do not tend to report the real reason for these type of accidents, while distracted walking is not specifically identified as a causal factor in the police’s accident reporting system.

Wider research also suggests distracted pedestrians – also known as ‘smombies’ / ‘pedtextrians’ – are more likely to walk slower, change directions more frequently, and are less likely to acknowledge other people, exposing them to a greater risk of having an accident.

This paper will present the results from a literature review and primary research on this subject matter, focusing on:

• The rise of smartphones and their road safety implications;

• Reporting on research undertaken, comprising literature review and interactive exploration of case studies from around the world, including examples drawn from countries across Europe, that seek to raise awareness of the dangers of distracted walking;

• Initial results from a pilot primary research study prepared to support this paper comprising a pedestrian video survey carried out in December 2016 in Glasgow city centre, undertaken to develop a better understanding of the most frequent and relevant type of behaviours, distractions and incidents associated with the use of smartphones in a local context.

• Looking to the future and how traditional approaches to transport planning are being shaped by this new transport user – the distracted pedestrian – and how this could be incorporated to support wider road safety aspirations, including pedestrian casualty reduction.

Finally, the paper will consider how results could be applied and implemented as part of a road safety campaign designed to raise awareness of the dangers of distracted walking and in doing so increase the safety of vulnerable ‘distracted pedestrians’, an issue which is the subject of current discussions with the Scottish Government’s road safety agency, Road Safety Scotland.

(While we have proposed this paper under the category ‘Resilience of cities - security, safety and the effects of weather’ due to the innovative nature of our research, we equally believe that this paper would transcend numerous subject categories related to ‘equity in transport’, ‘lessons to be learned from innovation’ as well other more general transport planning topic areas around pedestrians, travel behaviour change and road safety.)


Association for European Transport