The US state of New Jersey may keep the inattentive amongst us from walking into brick walls or plunging into manholes, daggnabit, even if it has to throw us in jail or fine us to get the point across.
The Associated Press reports that it’s going to do this – in theory, at least – by banning walking while texting.
A new measure recently introduced by New Jersey Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt would ban distracted walking, forbidding pedestrians on public roads from using electronic communication devices unless those devices are hands-free.
The potential penalties for violating the ban: fines of up to $50, 15 days imprisonment, or both – the same penalties handed out to jaywalkers.
As one of the majority of people (53%, according to the Pew Research Center) who’s walked into something (I admit: it was a pole) while texting, my mind turns all cartoony at the notion of distracted walking.
Imagine putting a phone into the paws of Wile E. Coyote: he’d be texting the Road Runner about dinner plans all the way down to the inevitable “Splat!” at the bottom of the mesa.
Reality is a lot nastier than that, of course.
And the reality is that pedestrians engrossed in their mobile phones are involved in a growing number of injuries in the US, as studies have shown and as Assemblywoman Lampitt brought up in her discussion with the AP about her bill.
An annual study from the Governors Highway Safety Association found that an estimated 2,368 pedestrians were killed in the first half of 2015: an increase of 10% over the same time period the previous year.
A report from the National Safety Council found that distracted walking incidents involving mobile phones accounted for an estimated 11,101 injuries from 2000 through 2011.
Most people were talking on the phone when they were injured. Twelve percent were texting. Nearly 80% of these pedestrians hurt themselves by falling, and 9% by walking into something.
It’s not like other places haven’t tried to outlaw distracted walking. But so far, bills introduced in states including Arkansas, Illinois, Nevada and New York have all failed.
The AP quotes Douglas Shinkle, transportation program director for the National Conference of State Legislatures:
Thus far, no states have enacted a law specifically targeting distracted bicyclists or pedestrians. [But] a few states continue to introduce legislation every year.
As the AP reports, one bill pending in Hawaii would fine someone $250 for crossing the street while using an electronic device.
Short of outlawing the palm-warmers of the phone-addicted, some places have tried to get creative: Antwerp in Belgium, Utah Valley University, and the Chinese city of Chongqing have all painted lanes on sidewalks for the texting walkers among us.
Other places, such as London, (unfortunately, not my home town of Boston) have tried padded lamp posts to soften seemingly inevitable collisions between distracted pedestrians and inanimate objects.
Idiotic people like me need to be protected, Lampitt said. And London’s approach – that of upholstering the landscape so as to sequester us in padded safety akin to a bouncy castle – isn’t really good enough, given the danger we pose to motorists as well as to ourselves.
Distracted pedestrians, like distracted drivers, present a potential danger to themselves and drivers on the road.
An individual crossing the road distracted by their smartphone presents just as much danger to motorists as someone jaywalking and should be held, at minimum, to the same penalty.
A hearing on the measure hadn’t yet been scheduled as of Monday.
But while we wait to see if the bill passes, I’d just like to say thank you, Assemblywoman, from the 53% of us who’d still likely be better off encased in pillows.
Image of Woman walking and texting courtesy of Shutterstock.com
29 comments on “It may soon be a crime to walk and text in New Jersey”
This is no different from the specific laws that target use of electronic devices in cars. There has been reckless driving laws on the books for years, and yet we needed laws that targeted cell phones; preposterous. Now we need laws that target those who would walk indiscriminately with a cell phone. So tell me: if I am using Google Maps or other GPS and am following a route, am I breaking the law? What if I tap my iWatch or FitBit, am I getting a ticket? What if my phone rings as I walk… and I touch my BT earpiece… what then?
This is all nonsense.
It feels a bit unnecessary, because there are already laws that criminalise putting others at risk on the roads and footways.
OTOH, it’s a lot easier to do something about dangers like this if there are statutes that simplify prosecution (and perhaps offer ways in which offenders can “decriminalise” themselves by not going to court and formally being charged and perhaps convicted, but instead paying an expiation of guilt fine, with no conviction recorded).
Many jurisdictions have done this, with positive results, for offences such as food hygiene, speeding and parking. So you may not like it, but to dismiss it as “all nonsense” because you might have to change your own potentially risky behaviour very slightly (e.g. by memorising the street name where you will next turn left and keeping your eyes on your surroundings instead of glueing your eyes to your phone as you walk)…
…is a bit anti-social, wouldn’t you say?
I take your point, but disagree with your conclusion. I am unaware of any case where a ‘distracted walker’ has caused death or other severe injury of another (to themselves, yes); rude and/or distracted walkers (with or without devices) bump into and knock down people in any given city on any given day. This is greatly different from the food hygiene and speeding examples you cited.
So we’re now legislating to correct the behaviors of a subset of the population who can’t manage to walk and chew-gum (er, text) at the same time? What’s next? Mandated stretches to prevent neck strain? Hang-nail policing?
Regarding my potentially risky behavior: the times when I use my device while walking always involves me stopping — I apparently lack the motor skills and sharp eyesight that would enable me to do so on an iPhone 4. That being said, my criticism is more about an over-reaching government, which I do consider unwise and nonsensical.
I agree with you, this law is ridiculous.
I can imagine the next “great” idea. We forbid bycicles, because people who fell from them get injured.
That’s a silly analogy. The analogy is that if you ride your bicycle without due care and attention in a way likely to put *other people* at risk, you shouldn’t be surprised if you get a $50 fine, and you should probably just pay it.
This law isn’t about protecting you from being run into by me. It’s about me not flat-spotting $20’s worth of rear tyre every time a cellular solipsist wanders out in front of me. (And then shouting at me for riding with due care and attention on Her Majesty’s Highway. They’re shouting, of course, because their cranked-up headphones impair their hearing as much as the screen distracts their vision.)
I understand your points (the tyre and the drunk-driver analogy), but trying to mandate good behavior is a poor excuse, in my mind, of another layer of government.
I invite you to the last word.
I guess you’re against jaywalking fines, then?
+1 for the absolute alliterative apex we’ve witnessed all week
I am more bothered by the vague laws about putting people at risk than the specific bans on dangerous acts. What is putting someone at risk? If I stop to fasten my shoelace am I putting people at risk by being an obstacle, or if I don’t does that make me a hazard because I might trip and fall into someone? Clarity is necessary in order to be able to obey a law.
… Well, clarity and velcro shoes certainly help, anyway.
What is ‘distracted walking’ anyhow? Changing a tune on my iPod? Looking at my watch for the time? Staring up at a building I never noticed before? It’s a shame that elected officials think they have to write laws for stupidity, and that courts have to try cases because of those laws. Fortunately attempts have already failed in the liberal nanny states. Frankly if you’re for this law, you most likely are part of the problem, so just put your devices away.
This is actually a very good point. Yes, even as it stands this law is too vague.
I’ll not claim texting makes concurrent activities safer; it’s clearly a distraction. I also recognize the need for ‘helping’ some people realize that fact and how soberingly true it can be. However, no law makes foolish people less foolish.
I’ll wager the folks who frequent this site are statistically brighter than the average netizen, so I’m somewhat preaching to the choir (an idiom I never fully liked).
Any distractive act can be mitigated by someone sufficiently intelligent enough to recognize it as a distraction and wise enough to adjust their behavior to minimize the resultant risk. This includes countless activities beyond the most obvious:
1) chewing gum while walking
2) texting while driving
3) playing Angry Birds while skydiving
Pedestrians who truly manifest the ultimate description of clumsy must choose to not chew–at least in Times Square or Piccadilly Circus–or bask publicly in the occasional humiliation of kissing a wall.
We’ve each been behind the wheel when a bad song hits the stereo. The difference between us and the people who need padded light poles is that in busy traffic we wait for a gap, tolerating a few seconds of a crappy song before taking eyes off the road long enough to switch the station. Of course less cognizant drivers immediately pounce upon aural relief, at times with heavy cost.
Whether or not we choose to call it Darwinism, smart drivers continually survived this periodic crisis unscathed long before steering wheels featured thumb buttons for volume and CD track–because if you pull the rubber band below 2000 feet instead of the rip cord, you conclude your contribution to the gene pool.
There’s an an interesting parallel with people ignoring computer security here. The issue is not so much what you bring on yourself though self-absorption but what your technosolipsism brings on innocent people around you whose security you jeopardise along the way.
Great and perceptive point–particularly relating with security implications of a Linux/Mac zealot blindly insistent that not only they could never contract malware but that it’s not their issue even should some WinCrap traverse them. I can argue with neither the metaphor nor its base–nor do I wish to. I nearly missed the 21st century when a young driver traipsed through a flashing red light and ensured my motorbike would never again roll in a straight line.
I’m well aware of the shared risk–that I’m taking my own life into my hands along with everyone else’s whom I see (and don’t), and I hold high respect for that responsibility.
My main point by comparing phone to radio–which we’ve all used while driving: the (not-so-simple) trick is preventing one’s device from overtaking one’s omniscience. To ward off a bad song, astute mini-analysis of the road ahead will green light [har] a .8-second lapse in vigilance while the driver takes eyes off the bumper ahead and lunges for program button #3.
Granted, the perceived urgency in most cases far surpasses the true urgency–ahh, human nature. I doubt that listening to the wrong song also has ever resulted in a highway fatality. However we are creatures of instant gratification with no abatement in sight, and the perceived urgency of “wrong song” has likely killed hundreds over the years.
I use voice while driving, but the above logic can be extended to calls, texts, and even email. PROVIDED that the brain doesn’t acquiesce to The Lure Of The Shiny Screen, one could theoretically write a two-paragraph email over the course of 30 miles in sporadic, half-second spurts. Proofreading would be a cumbersome luxury, but I suppose expediency would trump accuracy in those cases–and yes I agree: pulling over for 90 seconds to compose the selfsame email would alleviate the recklessness and result in a less stressful drive. Again, exhibit A, human nature.
But taking that same logic to an arena where it carries slightly less potential to murder a dozen people, walking in a straight line while giving a moderate-but-reasonable quantity of attention to a phone should be exponentially easier. I now heighten both my point and the point I give the appearance of arguing against.
counterpoint: I don’t aim to endorse texting (or emailing, shaving, applying make-up, napping) behind the wheel; no doubt the aforementioned solipsists have similar thoughts to mine above yet underestimate their powers of focus and lose track of their own half-second intervals, banging into poles, falling into holes, depriving drivers of control.
I merely wish everyone could be trusted to remain cognizant of their attentive and observational limits and abide within them–which would render this law redundant. While some ideals are unattainable those like this should be patently easy. The fact that they can’t (and it isn’t)…brings us full circle back to the creation of laws like this (and most others) in the first place. I’m not so much campaigning against the law as lamenting that we collectively need it.
Well, when common sense doesn’t prevail I guess you can always try legislation.
Something tells me it will be ignored just like texting-while-driving laws. The addiction is that strong.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, people said the same thing about bringing in statutory alcohol limits and roadside breath testing. There were already laws criminalising “drunk in charge of a vehicle,” so why have explicit limits on blood alochol percentage when everyone’s tolerance for booze was different?
Fast-forward to the 2010s and drink-driving, at least in some countries, is now widely recognised as an unacceptable risk to everyone else’s safety, and has not only been greatly reduced, but also become socially unacceptable.
If every drink-driving arrest still ended up in a complex, he-said-she-said argument over just how impaired a driver had been compared to some notional standard of sobriety, I doubt we’d have had that outcome. We’d still have a “not quite bladdered enough to get busted” culture, wouldn’t you say?
Come on, Duck. That must be the worst analogy you have ever offered.
Actually, that’s not really an analogy. It’s more of a straight comparison.
Another comparison is how people in the 1980s said we didn’t need computer misuse laws because we already had general laws that could be applied, such as trespass, criminal trespass, and so on. But sometimes, the more general laws just don’t fit because they end up awash in legalistic loopholes, meaning we end up trying to wedge a law from one area into another where it doesn’t quite fit. (A bit like how what most people still call “car theft” doesn’t quite fit the criminal charge known as “taking without consent.”)
Good point. New Jersey is one of the leading states years ago to enact prohibitions for using devices while driving. I drive 30 miles each way on NJ highways daily, and I can tell you my daily experience is that law has either no effect or is not being enforced.
How about an alternative law where it’s legal to text while walking only while wearing a bright yellow helmet? It would be interesting to see who would be willing to wear one in order to be able to do it legally. It would also make distracted walkers easier to spot by motorists.
Lol I love that image!
as much as that’s funny, why should I be responsible to look out for idiots with the helmet on if they can’t watch where they are going.
because even if they *do* carry a Walker’s Insurance policy, wrangling with them for months over the damage to your fender is maddeningly futile, and even if you count your time spent as free (which the opposing insurance company will), your ultimate payout will never exceed 90% of the cost to repair your own vehicle. :-/
…Meanwhile, carrying a loaded assault rifle is apparently OK.
I was in New York as part of the bicentennial celebrations of their independence in 1976 – and boy, am I pleased they’re independent!
New York isn’t independent.
Trying to legislate stupid out of humans reduces the number of law-biding citizens. Enforce existing laws, teach compliance by setting precedence. Be a role model. See something, say something.
Yet another reason why I refuse to set foot in New Jersey. The mindset is that everything is illegal unless government allows it. They are welcome to live in the roach motel of their own making. I am never, ever, going to allow myself to come within the jurisdiction of such people, nor allow them to tax a penny from me.
I think the the thinking is that we’re going to have “human” laws. ie., we’ll let you smoke, but since humans are emotional and get angry and do dumb stuff like blow smoke at people or just abuse the privilege in restaurants or bars, smokers get kicked out and a law was made.
Not quite the same. As a nonsmoker I was never given the option for a section of a restaurant where I was able to enjoy my food without smelling smoke from the other side of the room/bar/building–that stuff is pungent.
No way to have a true (non-)smoking section without hermetically sealing one side from the other, which would require duplicate cooks/bartenders/cash machines/et cetera.