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The Ban on Distracted Walking: A Misstep in Addressing Pedestrian Fatalities

Distracted walking – i.e., texting while walking and using mobile devices while crossing a roadway – could soon be outlawed on the streets of New York. While some appreciate the proposed bill, a majority of the residents shake their heads in disagreement. Street safety advocates say the bill is “misplaced”, “car-centric”, and does not address the real reasons for pedestrian fatalities. And they’re right. A ban that puts the onus on pedestrians, and not the drivers who are actually the danger, is silly. Silly!

Distracted walking cartoon
Texting while walking — the proposition is not a walking joke.

The New York City Department of Transportation Report covering 2008 to 2012 shows that dangerous driver choices cause 53% of pedestrian fatalities. Thirty percent come from risky pedestrian choices, and the remaining 17% as dangerous choices by both driver and pedestrian. A Distracted Walking Bill is an overreach, according to New York City residents. Surely, texting while walking needs to be controlled. But is legislation against distracted walking the appropriate route to take?

Statistics on Distracted Walking

Due to the growing incidents of distracted walking injuries, it is necessary to have regulations. These should curb people’s excessive preoccupation with mobile devices. According to research by Ohio University, the number of casualties from distracted walking has gone up from 256 in 2005 to 1500 cases in 2010. ER doctors think that the numbers could be higher since there is no report of all injuries. Validating the dangers of distracted walking, The National Safety Council has added distracted walking in the list of unintentional death and injuries.

New York isn’t the first city to turn its attention to texting while walking. In 2017, Honolulu implemented Bill 6 or the Distracted Walking Law. The high rate of pedestrian getting into accidents in crosswalks was the reason for the enforcement of the law. In another case, the southern California town of Montclair seeks to get its citizens’ attention by imposing steep fines for distracted walking. A penalty of $100 for initial violation, $200 for the second, and $500 thereafter. The Utah Transport Authority (UTA) is also imposing a $50 fine on pedestrians approaching railroad tracks while using mobile devices.

Risking Safety with Mobile Devices: Message Notifications Can Wait

As mobile technology moves forward, new features and enhancements are making it more challenging to take our eyes off our devices. The danger in texting while walking is the person’s limited line of vision. With inattentional blindness, pedestrians were seen walking toward lamp posts, collide with other people, veer off the course, and step into busy traffic. In New York alone, 4000 pedestrians experience serious injuries, and more than 250 people die in traffic crashes every year. Whether you are behind the steering wheel or a pedestrian crossing a roadway, safety is of paramount importance. While on the road, one must remember that message alerts or social media notifications can wait.

New York’s Vision Zero: Model Collaboration for a Safer City

Public dialogues, law enforcement, improved street design, and legislation rolled out within a 6-year plan make up New York City’s Vision Zero Plan. Through this initiative, the local government of New York aims to make the city a safer place for everyone. Businesses and members of the private sector are making bold contributions to achieving this goal.

Roundtable discussions are happening between the government and truck fleet organizations in New York. These include  the Teamsters and NYS Motor Truck Association. There’s a sharing of best practices and information on road safety through outreach programs among members, employees, and customers. Honda, Toyota, and Ford also spearheaded educational initiatives to provide traffic safety programs with school-age kids. Innovation on vehicle design is also another consideration in terms of public safety. FedEx and Duane Reade, for instance, have been using high visibility/reduced blind spots vehicle in their NY operations. With these initiatives, New York has been making significant steps in preventing injuries and keeping the streets safe for pedestrians.

Making Cities Safe and Vibrant

Not everything can be legislated. Add the fact that even with the presence of pertinent laws, there is no guarantee of enforcement. There is a requirement for a massive education campaign for a public health and safety program to succeed. A cultural shift is also necessary – which can be achieved with buy-in from all sectors of the society.

A reliable and safe public space for the city’s inhabitants is not an option. Cities that provide safe, walkable and livable public spaces for its inhabitants are increasingly more successful and more vibrant. While it is true that everyone has the responsibility to keep roads safe for everyone, legislation that pins the blame on a pedestrian is not only misplaced but inequitable.