Beware the march of the ‘smombie’ - the smartphone zombie and the walking wi-fi dead

72% drivers ‘often see pedestrians step into the road when distracted’ by a smartphone

Almost three quarters (72%) of drivers say they often see pedestrians step into the road whilst distracted by their phone, according to new AA/Populus poll of 24,070 members.

The poll also found:

- 70% when driving often see pedestrians distracted by their smartphone, step into the road

- 66% when driving often see pedestrians wearing headphones, step into the road

- 78% of young drivers claim to often see pedestrians step into the road whilst distracted by their phones.

- Pedestrian phone distraction is most likely in London (80%) and least likely in Eastern England (67%), South West (68%) and Wales (69%).

‘Smombie’ fact file:

The AA president first raised the issue of “iPod Zombies’ in 2009. The phenomenon has moved with the technology and the zombies have transformed into “smombies” or smartphone zombies – a term first coined in Germany.

In Antwerp, Belgium, special ‘text walking lanes’ have been introduced for those using mobile phones. In San Francisco some parks have been designated phone-free areas.

An US study quoted in the BMJ, showed a three-fold increase in the number of deaths involving pedestrians wearing headphones.

Pedestrians accounted for three quarters of the increase in fatalities in Great Britain between 2013 and 2014. Pedestrian fatalities increased by 12 per cent from 398 in 2013 to 446 in 2014, according to Government figures.

AA patrols have also reported an increase in the number of 'zombie pedestrians' and joggers oblivious to traffic around them as they cross busy roads. It is thought that pedestrians’ lack of attention may be a factor in some of the 446 pedestrian deaths in 2014.  Previous analysis from AA Insurance shows that pedestrian 'inattention' could be the cause of 17 collisions each day.

More than half of AA Insurance claims involving a collision with a pedestrian include causes such as:

- ‘Person on phone stepped out, wasn’t looking’

- ‘Pedestrian just walked out’

- ‘She looked the wrong way’

- ‘He walked into the side of the car’

It is now a common sight to see more people using communication technology on the move:

- The businessman crossing city streets checking emails

- The tourist finding best hotels on the latest app

- The cyclist or jogger getting carried away to Adele

- The company car driver plugged into Jonas Blue & Dakota’s ‘Fast Car’

Use of such technology on the move can lead to 'unintentional blindness' or 'divided attention' which poses great risks for road safety.  The AA is particularly concerned at reports from patrols of people broken down on the hard-shoulder of motorways, pacing backwards and forwards whilst using mobile phones.  This is incredibly dangerous with juggernauts passing just a few feet away. 

Edmund King OBE, AA president, said: “We can’t stop the march of technology but we need to halt the pedestrian, cycle and driver zombies.  Whether on two feet, two wheels or four, too many people are suffering from Smartphone Oblivion.

“When on the move our brains have much to take in and using technological gadgets means that we can’t always concentrate on so many things at once.  

“This is when we walk into traffic; don’t hear the truck or drive cocooned from the outside world.

” Our research suggests this problem is growing so we all need to use common sense to ensure that technological cocooning doesn’t endanger our lives or the lives of others.”

AA Insurance reports that more drivers making claims for minor shunts are citing 'podestrians' or ‘Smombie pedestrians’ as the cause.  The AA advises drivers not to wear headphones at the wheel and to be extra alert and to slow down in areas frequented by pedestrians and cyclists.

The AA also advises those who use headphones or earphones on the streets to ensure that the volume does not override their other senses.