We all know distracted walkers — you know, the folks who can’t look up from their smartphones for long enough to watch where they’re going. Now a New Jersey lawmaker wants these walking hazards to be subject to tickets — and possible jail time.
New Jersey Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, a Democrat, introduced the legislation last month that would slap a $50 fine and possible jail time on pedestrians who text while crossing the street. She points to the increased prevalence of pedestrian vs. car collisions involving people using cellphones while walking.
Under the bill, anyone found guilty of using a handheld phone while crossing the street would face the same penalty as jaywalkers, with half the fine going to educational programs on the dangers of texting while walking. Persistent offenders could face 15 days in jail.
“I see it every single day,” Lampitt said. “Maybe they will think twice about it.”
New Jersey had the 10th highest pedestrian fatality rate nationwide in 2014 — at 1.88 per 100,000 — according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. New Mexico, Florida and Delaware had the highest rates. New Jersey has had 33 pedestrian deaths in 2016, and had 170 in all of 2015.
Nationwide, there were as many as 2 million pedestrian injuries related to cellphone use in 2010, and pedestrian deaths tripled between 2004 and 2010, according to the GHSA.
“Of particular concern were the 170 pedestrian fatalities, which represent nearly 31 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities,” said New Jersey’s Department of Law and Safety. “When compared to the national average of 14 percent, New Jersey is clearly overrepresented and must continue to take action.”
One New Jersey doctor was candid about the potential impact of texting while walking.
“This is an intoxicant,” said Dr. John D’Angelo, head of emergency medicine at Trinitas Regional Medical Center in Elizabeth, N.J. “It’s worse than alcohol or drugs for drivers and pedestrians. They’re less aware [of what’s going on around them].”
But Lampitt’s measure faces many hurdles. Similar measures have failed in Arkansas, Nevada and New York. “If it builds awareness, that’s OK,” she said.
In Philadelphia, the problem of distracted walkers is a big concern, as well.
In 2012, then-Mayor Michael Nutter played an April Fools’ Day prank to draw attention to the danger of inattentive pedestrians. But he said it was no laughing matter.
Lines on some sidewalks near City Hall designated part of the pavement as “e-lanes” suitable for chronic texters and digital music aficionados through the end of the week.
The lines, signage and sidewalk graphics depicted a pedestrian peering down at a hand-held device.
A bogus video released for the new lanes showed Nutter being cut off mid-interview by an oblivious pedestrian, played by Streets Department Deputy Commissioner Steven Buckley.
“Sidewalk safety is important,” Nutter noted just after his mock interview was disrupted. The video also featured a rowdy band of anti-texting protesters.
But not everyone is concerned the problem is that serious or if it is possible to enforce.
USA Today put the question to its Tech Roundtable and got some pushback.
“What’s next — we can’t eat while we’re walking?” asked Rick Patri on last week’s #TalkingTech Roundtable podcast.
Panel member Garrett Henricksen called the idea of the law “ridiculous. How are you going to monitor so many people? We should pay attention to real criminal activity.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.