Something more than a few of us have probably been guilty of at least once in our lives is having our heads buried down in our phones while we’re walking in a public place. In Hawaii, a new law means you can be fined up to $99 if you’re caught staring at a screen and walking on city streets – not just for those using smartphones, but tablets and video games, too. Nicknamed the “smartphone zombie” law, the Distracted Walking Law applies to device-using pedestrians in Hawaii’s capital city, Honolulu. This is the first law targeting distracted walking to increase road safety to pass in the United States.
Pedestrian deaths nationwide are on the rise, with the Governors Highway Safety Association reporting an 11 percent increase year-over-year in 2016, citing smartphone technology usage as a contributing factor. Looking at a screen while walking poses risks including:
- Walking into oncoming traffic
- Not noticing a car turning into a crosswalk
- Moving in front of a cyclist
- Crashing into another pedestrian and causing a fall
- Having a delayed reaction time when danger strikes
People who text and walk are about four times more likely to engage in at least one dangerous action, such as not looking both ways or jaywalking, and they take nearly 20 percent longer to cross a street than a non-distracted pedestrian does, reports The New York Times. Not only does staring at a screen while you’re walking endanger you, but it can cause catastrophic events around you if you collide with someone – or a vehicle.
The new distracted walking law in Honolulu places the burden of road safety on pedestrians, as well as drivers, and makes an exception for pedestrians who are using a cell phone to call emergency services. It will be interesting to watch how Hawaii’s new law enforcement affects pedestrian accident and death statistics, and if other states follow suit.
While Honolulu is the first major American city to enact a law against texting and walking, several places throughout the globe are already combating the dangers. Some actions that may make their way State-side some day include:
- In certain parts of the Netherlands, Russia and Germany, embedded LED lighting strips alert pedestrians when traffic lights are changing, so those looking at their smartphones are still alerted
- Chongqing, China, has “smartphone lanes,” which are differentiated from non-distracted pedestrian lanes
- India has “no selfie zones” to prevent deaths from stampeding
In the U.S., several communities including those in California, Idaho and New York remind walkers about the importance of paying attention to where they’re going, through signage and community outreach. At least 10 states have debated legislation regarding distracted pedestrians and bicyclists.
Device usage while walking isn’t just dangerous for pedestrians. Using a smartphone while driving can have dire consequences. Already, 47 states as well as the District of Columbia and U.S. territories ban text messaging by drivers.
The Federal Communications Commission reports there are about 8 deaths and nearly 1,200 injuries a day in accidents caused by distracted drivers in the United States. A driver who is traveling at 60 mph and takes their eyes off the road for 1 second can travel nearly 90 feet, making the risk of a deadly accident more likely than some would think.
When Texting While Walking Becomes a Legal Issue
Each state has different stipulations regarding pedestrian rights in accidents. Pedestrians who are distracted by smartphones don’t just pose a danger to motorists. They can also cause serious accidents with other pedestrians, as well as cyclists, children and other parties.
While pedestrians often get the right-of-way when they’re around vehicles, there are laws they must follow in order to create a safe environment for drivers, too. For example, in Alabama, drivers must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians crossing roadways in a crosswalk when traffic control signals are not operating. However, pedestrians break the law whenever they leave a curb or other safe place, enter the path of a vehicle, and become a hazard. In this case, if a pedestrian is looking at a device and heads into traffic, the situation may be deemed negligence on the part of the pedestrian. If serious injuries were sustained on behalf of the driver, pedestrian or other parties, their use of a device becomes an important aspect of a possible claim.
The best way to stay safe is to be aware of the rise in pedestrian fatalities and injuries, many of which are caused by device usage. As a driver, understand that pedestrians may not be paying attention, and employe safe driving behavior at all times. As a pedestrian, know that even if you don’t get fined for device usage while walking like you would in Honolulu, you could cause a serious injury or even death by distractedly walking.
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