- A lawmaker in the New York State Senate introduced legislation to prohibit pedestrians from operating a portable, electronic device while crossing a roadway, except during an emergency. The proposed bill by state Sen. John Liu, D, covers mobile phones, laptop computers, pagers, electronic games and other similar devices that compute or send and receive communications.
- Per the legislative language, "using" a device means in a visual manner — such as texting, gaming or taking and sending photos — that could prevent the pedestrian from seeing and being aware of their surroundings. Pedestrians could still talk on the phone when crossing the street. A first violation would incur a $25-$50 fine; a second violation within 18 months would incur a $50-$100 fine; and a third violation in the same time period would incur a $50-$250 fine.
- The legislation has been sent to the transportation committee for consideration.
For years, road safety messaging has been mostly targeted at motorists, urging them not to drink and drive or drive while texting. But a rise in pedestrian deaths in recent years has safety advocates taking note of an increase in another phenomenon: distracted walking. Groups like the National Safety Council (NSC) urge pedestrians to follow the "Head Up, Phone Down" mantra to avoid injuries to self or others. NSC says people should always keep their devices put away when they're walking, not just when they're crossing the street.
Some cities have caught on to the danger of distracted walking and have outlawed using devices in crosswalks or anytime pedestrians cross a street. Honolulu became the first U.S. city to do so in fall 2017. And New York legislators introduced distracted walking legislation last year as well, but it lost momentum and died in committee.
Some safety advocates say distracted walking legislation is car-centric and puts too much responsibility on pedestrians, who tend to be the victims. Vehicles are the main cause of pedestrian deaths because of the difficulty of a human escaping unscathed from a collision with a two-ton vehicle, even if the vehicle was traveling at a low speed. Therefore, many safety advocates prefer not to enact distracted walking legislation because it creates a culture of "victim blaming."
Enforcement can prove challenging for distracted walking legislation. Law enforcement agencies already report being stretched to their limits, and adding another common human action that they have to police could further stretch resources. Thus, it's often implied that such laws do not take priority and police prefer to dedicate more time to other duties, such as preventing or solving violent crimes. Some people also worry about subjective policing and officers engaging in racially discriminatory enforcement practices.
The effectiveness of distracted walking laws is still up for debate. In less than a year, Honolulu police issued 114 citations for distracted walking; police issued nearly 5,000 citations during the first five months of Honolulu's ban on motorists using mobile devices, reports Honolulu Magazine. But Honolulu's pedestrian deaths doubled from 13 to 26 in the year following the distracted walking law passage, according to the Honolulu Star Advertiser. Even NSC notes that more than half of distracted walking injuries happen inside the home and not on public streets. Still, the organization says distracted walking is a growing problem and pedestrians put themselves and others at risk when they lose focus by looking at digital devices.