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Concept art of smart crossing across street

Smart road crossing warns drivers about phone-fixated pedestrians

Image credit: Tom Nicholson/Direct Line/PA Wire

A prototype ‘smart crossing’ capable of warning drivers when distracted pedestrians step out in front of traffic has been set up on a road in South London.

The smart crossing has LEDs embedded into its surface. These respond to the movement of pedestrians, as monitored by cameras. When a pedestrian begins to cross the road unexpectedly – for instance, when they are using their smartphone and step into the road while traffic is still passing – a thick red line of chevrons lights up across the road.

A prototype of the new crossing has been installed near Mitcham in South London.

The crossing has a number of other smart features, such as widening when a large group of people are waiting to cross and providing extra warnings to cyclists when crossing pedestrians are hidden from sight by other vehicles. This will be a relief to people who worry about being flattened by speeding bicycles while walking to work, especially in light of the recent fatal collisions between cyclists and pedestrians in London.

According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel, nearly 1.3 million deaths occur due to traffic collisions every year, mostly in developing countries. In the UK alone, 20 serious incidents occur on pedestrian crossings in an average day, according to data from the Road Safety Analysis and the Transport Research Laboratory.

“The pedestrian crossings that we use every day are about 50 or 60 years old; it was designed for a different idea of a city,” said Usman Haque, co-founder of Umbrellium, which developed the smart crossing in a collaboration with Direct Line, in a statement to the Press Association.

“We’re trying to update it for the 21st century with a crossing that deals with the fact that people are on mobile phones and they might not be looking up, vehicles might be coming more often, there might be pedestrians suddenly coming out at the end of a film [from a cinema] needing to cross.”

“This is trying to perform like a traditional crossing, with the difference that it responds in real time.”

Haque said that the cost of upgrading every pedestrian crossing to a smart crossing had not been analysed, although the installation was ready to be built and deployed now.

In September, Suqian in China's eastern Jiangsu Province became the first town to install a smart pedestrian crossing. Although a different model from the prototype in South London, it works to a similar principle. When pedestrians begin to cross, LED lights in lines on either side of the crossing begin to flash, and a sign saying "Yield to pedestrians" is illuminated.

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