“N.J. lawmaker wants fines for ‘distracted walking’”

A bad idea, seen previously in proposals in New York and elsewhere, won’t go away: “The measure recently introduced by General Assembly member Pamela Lampitt (D) would ban walking while texting and bar pedestrians on public roads from using electronic communication devices that are not hands-free. Violators would face fines of up to $50, 15 days imprisonment or both, which is the same penalty as jaywalking.” While no states appear to have passed such enactments yet, New Jersey isn’t the only state where they’re being floated: “For instance, a bill pending in Hawaii would fine someone $250 for crossing the street with an electronic device.” [Bruce Shipkowski, AP/Washington Post]


  • A much more direct proposal, which might have much of the same effect. Anybody injured in a collision, auto accident, or the like while walking and texting shall be deemed as having been 100% negligent. End of litigation for damages, end of calculation of relative negligence. Hopefully, end of texting while walking.

    Of course, in a collision between two textwalkers, the options would be no damages possible, or – in that case, an evaluation of relative negligence.

    None of this would affect criminal liability for, e.g., unsafe driving when striking said textwalker.

    • I see no reason to pass such a law. Most injuries from distracted walking are due to a fall or striking a motionless object. Collisions between two pedestrians do not generally produce serious injuries, collisions with a building are fairly obviously the fault of the pedestrian, and collisions between pedestrians and vehicles can just use the current rules of the road. And what if, instead of texting, you were writing a note? Is that any better? What does texting, or electronics in general, have to do with it?

      And I’m still trying to figure out why “hands-free” matters for pedestrians. For drivers it might make sense because they might suddenly need two hands on the wheel. But do they think a pedestrian will be able to ward off a car with their bare hands?

      • David C,

        I am not sure of a solution here, but just yesterday on this very website there is the story of a Georgia woman who was walking along with her head down, looking at her cell phone and ran into the ladder of a bucket lift truck extended across the sidewalk.

        The area was marked off with cones and the ladder / arm was painted orange.

        The jury awarded $161k, assigning 8 percent of the blame to the woman and the remaining 92% to the company which owned and operated the bucket truck.

        To add insult to injury, the award was 7 times what the woman and her lawyer asked for.

        Companies and people should not have to pay for the idiocy of other people’s stupidity, ignorance and negligence. Maybe a law saying “if you walk into a stationary object, that is on you” would help.

        If you are saying that no one would ever award a judgement to a person who walks into a stationary object, this case refutes that belief.

        • I missed that one. It does appear to be ridiculous. Was there some reason for this, like the defendant’s lawyer cursed out the jury in the closing arguments, or some fact not mentioned?

          Maybe a law saying “if you walk into a stationary object, that is on you” would help.

          I *guess* we can pass a law each time a jury does something stupid. But what if the facts were different? What if there were no cones and no bright orange paint? And, of course, you’re proposing a second law – the first one proposed would be about texting, and yours is about colliding with stationary objects. I hope we can agree that if the bucket had suddenly swung out over past the marked-off area and struck someone from behind, whether or not they were texting should not matter when determining liability. And I hope we can agree that if someone left an unmarked manhole cover open, they should be at least partially responsible even though the threat is stationary.

          Which is worse… juries having no discretion, or juries sometimes abusing that discretion?

          • David C,

            You are correct that if the company did something outside of the law, OSHA regulations or state workplace regulations that they should share some responsibility when someone is injured.

            I guess I wonder where is a “safe harbor” for companies that do everything right and comply with the rules and laws and yet some oaf manages to get injured by the person’s negligence and stupidity?

            And yes, we agree on the stationary manhole, etc. (And my point about “walking into something stationary” was within the context of “with your head buried in the phone.” I apologize for not making that clearer. )

            Finally, I think your last sentence presents a false choice as the third choice is a judge saying “get the stuff out of here as there is no case to begin with.”

            Just because someone is injured does not mean the party with deep pockets is at fault.

  • “Distracted pedestrians, like distracted drivers, present a potential danger to themselves and drivers on the road,” Lampitt said. “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.”

    I must disagree. If you are a pedestrian crossing the road at a signal, all you have to do is glance up, see the “walk” signal, and proceed. Drivers must yield to you. And if they do not, the primary danger is to that person, not to others. This is not the same as a distracted driver who might have to yield to, for example, a pedestrian, and who can very easily kill others.

    In reality this is a dangerous mindset to have. You should be aware of your surroundings while crossing, for your own safety. But it’s for YOUR safety. Government shouldn’t be charging you money for endangering yourself.

  • I live in upscale urban city with poor parking where people walk everywhere. People crossing the street glued to their phones is becoming a problem. I once saw a man on his phone pushing a stroller walking against the light in a busy intersection without a care in the world. Luckily all the drivers were watching him. Personally I keep my head on swivel when crossing the street because I assume every driver is also texting. I don’t know if criminalizing walking and texting is the answer but something is needed to combat the stupidity.

    • ” I don’t know if criminalizing walking and texting is the answer but something is needed to combat the stupidity.”

      No, something does not need to be done.

      Protecting people from the consequences of their own stupidity only encourages more stupidity.

      Trying to prevent people from doing stupid risky things, is a game of whack a mole that can only be won by a totalitarian police state.

  • If someone were cited, would The charge go on the person’s permanent record?

    I think this kind of piffle is just another factor eroding respect for the law. And for lawmakers.