The AA has issued a press release warning about the “smombie”, or smartphone zombie.
AA president Edmund King 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.”
Naturally, the mainstream media will use this press release to point the finger of blame at pedestrians and cyclists who listen to music – or podcasts – on the go. There will likely be little to no mention of motorists who do likewise.
In the release King defines smartphone oblivion as “when we walk into traffic; don’t hear the truck or drive cocooned from the outside world.”
The release adds that drivers should not “wear headphones at the wheel.” But it does not say motorists should drive in silence, which would be the logical extension of advising pedestrians and cyclists to walk or ride in silence.
On the plus side, and yet nothing at all connected with the aural matter in hand, the AA's press release also advises motorists to “slow down in areas frequented by pedestrians and cyclists.” This might be another part of the press release that doesn’t make it into the mainstream media coverage of the “smombie effect”.
In 2012 Ride On magazine of Australia discovered that cyclists listening to music or podcasts while riding hear more ambient traffic noise than motorists listening to an in-car stereo or even listening to nothing at all. Cars - with windows up - are inherently sound-proof.
Equipped with a decibel meter ("and a synthetic model ear specifically created for us by our regular collaborator at RMIT Industrial Design, Dr Scott Mayson") Ride On magazine measured the traffic noises that could be heard by cyclists wearing ear buds and motorists listening to music or no music at all.
"With the ear-bud in our synthetic ear but not playing music, we measured the ambient traffic noise at 79dB. With the in-ear earphones, the traffic noise was 71dB," stated Ride On.
King first complained about “iPhone zombies” in 2009. The AA warned of loud music in cars in 2011. A release said: "Drivers listening to music with a fast beat may be twice as likely to go through a red light and have twice as many [crashes], while a study in Canada found that loud music can affect reaction times by up to 20 percent."