​War on distracted walkers: Israel moves to ban headphone use at crosswalks

​War on distracted walkers: Israel moves to ban headphone use at crosswalks
Israel’s Knesset is expected to vote on a bill prohibiting pedestrians from using headphones while crossing the street.

The bill, initiated by Hamad Amar of the Yisrael Beiteinu, a secular right-wing nationalist party, would make it a crime to cross the street with headphones on. Approved on Sunday by the Ministerial Committee, the legislation is set to be voted on by the Knesset, Israel’s legislative body, in a preliminary vote on Wednesday.

Amar, chairman of the Knesset Lobby for Road Safety, explained that the proposed legislation will prevent injuries and deaths among pedestrians distracted by their phones or iPods. The bill specifically prohibits the use of mobile phones or headphones attached to any device that emits sound while crossing the street.

"From a security standpoint, there is no difference between using a cell phone while driving and using one while crossing the street," Amar was quoted as saying in the Jerusalem Post. "In both cases, the driver and the pedestrian are putting their lives in danger and those surrounding them."

"It will be much safer for pedestrians crossing the street, even on a crosswalk, if they are not using their cellphones," added Amar.

Israel has already banned the use of mobile devices while driving, though a proposed ban on texting while crossing the street failed in 2012.

As people rely increasingly on technology, experts fear pedestrians are paying more attention to their gizmos than their surroundings. A 2013 Ohio State University study on distracted walking found that the number of pedestrian ER visits for cell phones related injuries tripled between 2004 and 2010. However, the total number of pedestrian injuries dropped during that period.

Despite the obvious danger, legislation suggesting a ban on the practice has failed around the world. While most admit the risks, critics slam such restrictions as an attempt to legislate personal responsibility, saying you can’t force people to pay attention with laws.

When a similar Manhattan bill proposed by State Senator Carl Kruger, banning the use of handheld devices on crosswalks was being discussed in 2011, Marie Wickham, a New York resident, told the New York Times “I think it’s an infringement on personal rights. At some point, we need to take responsibility for our own stupidity.”