Texting while walking may soon be illegal in the state of New Jersey, if Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt has her way.
Under the proposed legislation, pedestrians would face $50 fines or 15 days in jail: the same penalty as jaywalking in the state of New Jersey. Half of all of the fines’ proceeds would go towards pedestrian safety education.
“Distracted pedestrians, like distracted drivers, present a potential danger to themselves and drivers on the road,” Lampitt tells ABC News. “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.”
According to an annual report released by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) earlier this month on pedestrian fatality, 2015 saw a 10 percent increase in pedestrians fatalities compared to a simultaneous four precent decline in overall traffic deaths during the same time frame. In the first six months of 2015, 2,368 pedestrians were killed by vehicles.
“We are projecting the largest year-to-year increase in pedestrian fatalities since national records have been kept, and therefore we are quite alarmed,” Richard Retting from Sam Schwartz Consulting says in a GHSA press release. “Pedestrian safety is clearly a growing problem across the country.”
And while GHSA credits more ‘crashworthy’ cars for decreasing the rate of passenger fatalities, cellphone-distracted pedestrians are responsible for the higher rate of pedestrian fatalities. Lampitt cited a National Safety Council report in her proposal that says cellphone distraction accounted for about 11,101 injuries between 2000 and 2011.
But if Lampitt’s bill is to follow in the footsteps of other similar initiatives around the country, it won’t go much farther. In 2012, the Utah Transit Authority proposed an ordinance that would fine cell phone usage while crossing rail tracks.
“When the Utah Transit Authority adopted an ordinance barring pedestrains from using cellphones, headphones or other distracting electronic devices while crossing the tracks of its light rail system on the streets of Salt Lake City, subject to a $50 fine,” explains Joan Lowy of the Associated Press. “[T]he Legislature refused to make it a statewide law.”
Similar bills have also failed in Arkansas, Illinois, and New York. Hawaii’s proposed legislation – which would fine a pedestrian $250 for texting while crossing the street – is still pending. Opponents say it is not the government’s responsibility to monitor cellphone usage and such restrictions would distract police officers from other, more pressing matters.
Some opponents even cite studies, such as a recent report by scientists at Texas A&M, that found distracted walkers focused on their phones were more accurate when completing an obstacle course than their non-phone wielding opponents.
But Lampitt says the state has to do something to penalize such “risky behavior.”
“People think they can do it, that they are somehow better,” Jack Nasar, an Ohio State University professor and expert on environmental psychology, tells the Associated Press in reference to multitasking while on a cell phone. Nasar conducted a study on campus intersections and found that people talking on cellphones were significantly more likely to walk in front of cars than pedestrians not using phones.
“People really need to be aware that they are impacting their safety by texting or talking on the cellphone” while walking, adds associate physical therapy professor Eric Lamberg who contributed to Nasar’s study. “I think the risk is there.”
Banning phone use while walking may not be taking off, but texting while driving is now illegal in 46 states. Which, say some ban proponents, may be a telling sign for the future.
"We are where we were with cellphone use in cars 10 years or so ago," Jonathan Adkins, deputy executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, tells the Associated Press. "We knew it was a problem, but we didn't have the data."