Your days of saying hello to people via your smartphone in the Aloha state are numbered – that is, if you are crossing the street at the same time.
Pedestrians who are looking down at their smartphones or their other gadgets or texting while crossing the street will soon face fines in Honolulu, Hawaii in late October, as the area becomes one of the first major cities in the United States to pass legislation aimed at reducing instances of injuries and deaths due to inattentive road movement or “distracted walking”.
The measure is the state’s answer to the accidents that a “smartphone zombie” usually encounters, which include stepping into oncoming traffic or coming into face-first contact with a stationary object.
Starting Wednesday, October 25, pedestrians in Honolulu can face fines from $15 to $35 and up to $99 for recurrent violations based on how many times they were caught looking at a phone or swiping a tablet device while crossing the street, Honolulu Mayor Kirk William Caldwell said in an interview with reporters as they converged near one of the city’s busiest intersections on Thursday, July 27.
“We hold the unfortunate distinction of being a major city with more pedestrians being hit in crosswalks, paritcularly our seniors, than almost any other city in the country,” Mayor Caldwell said, after signing the bill that was passed in a 7-2 vote by the city council earlier this July.
“Sometimes I wish there were laws that we didn’t have to pass – that perhaps common sense would prevail, but sometimes we lack common sense,” Caldwell added.
For his part, Honolulu City Councilman Brandon Elefante said there is growing concern for people “who were using electronic devices and not really paying attention while crossing the street in a major highway section. This issue has been a growing concern as technology has advanced and the main driving point is safety. Having a law like this will help people become more aware.”
The new legislation exempts people who are making emergency calls, for instance, to 911. The measure also puts a $130 fine for people who will be caught jaywalking, whether or not they did it because they were distracted by their phone.
According to a University of Maryland study that was published in 2015, over 11,000 injuries were caused by phone-related distraction while walking in the U.S. between 2000 and 2011. Because of these findings, Itasca, Illinois-based non-profit organization National Safety Council added “distracted walking” to its yearly report of the biggest risks for unintentional accidents, injuries, and fatalities in America.
“Cell phones are not just pervading our roadways but pervading our sidewalks too,” council spokeswoman Maureen Vogel said in a phone interview on Friday, July 28. (Related: NY lawmaker wants to ban use of cell phones and iPods in crosswalks.)
The campaign to deter the prevalence of accidents involving phone-obsessed people has already been in place in Europe before this major announcement. For instance, London authorities have placed padding around their lampposts to soften the blow for distracted pedestrians who might bump into them.
Last year, the city of Augsburg in Germany placed traffic signals into the ground near tram tracks to aid people who are looking down while crossing the street – presumably those who are doing something with their mobile gadgets while at the same time trying to get to the other side of the road – and helping them avoid injury.
Critics of the new legislation said it curtails personal freedoms and can be considered as government overreach, with private citizen Ben Robinson saying in a written testimony to the council: “Scrap this intrusive bill, provide more education to citizens about responsible electronics usage, and allow law enforcement to focus on larger issues.”
For his part, City Councilman Ernie Martin said, “Given the issues that Honolulu faces, such as homelessness and our rail project having a $3 billion deficit, there are more pressing matters that I’d prefer for us to focus on. I’ve always been very careful not to include legislation for issues that could be addressed through other means.”
According to data from the Governors Highway Safety Association, Hawaii ranked in the number 17th state for pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people in 2015.
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