‘People can die’: Texting while crossing street banned in Honolulu

‘People can die’: Texting while crossing street banned in Honolulu
A new law brings trouble in paradise for anyone texting as they walk across a street in Hawaii's state capital. “Distracted pedestrian” legislation is popping up in other states as well, as deaths associated with cell phone fixation are at record highs.

On Wednesday, lawmakers in Honolulu made it illegal for pedestrians to cross the street while “viewing a mobile electronic device.”

Councilman Brandon Elefante, who introduced the bill, said the legislation was adopted to ensure the safety of pedestrians and motorists alike.

“While we have laws in place for our motorists and our bicyclists, now it’s a shared responsibility for pedestrians as well, to really pay attention as they cross the street,” Elefante told the Associated Press.  

Under the new law, which will take effect Wednesday, pedestrians caught texting while walking will be subjected to a fine of up to $35 for their first offense and a fine of up to $99 for subsequent violations.  

Honolulu defines electronic devices as any cell phones, pagers, personal digital assistants, laptop computers, videos games and cameras. The law exempts those making an emergency call and emergency responders while “in the performance and scope of their official duties.”

Similar laws have been proposed in at least 10 states, but they have all been rejected by lawmakers. Critics say the legislation is government overreach and will lead to law enforcement harassing pedestrians.

Last month, the board of supervisors in San Mateo County, California, unanimously passed a resolution prohibiting distracted walking. The measure can only be enforced if it becomes state law, however, which could happen if the resolution goes to the California Legislature in January as expected.

"Whether it's looking at text messages, Facebook, Twitter that's what we're doing, so this is a 21st Century solution to a 21st Century problem," San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa told KEYT. "I mean, people can die looking at their cell phones.”

The city of Rexburg, Idaho, also passed a citywide ban in 2011 after five pedestrians were killed in the small city of 35,000. It is believed that Rexburg was the first city to adopt such a ruling.

“It was a shock to our system,” Stephen Zollinger, Rexburg’s city attorney, told the New York Times. He added that there has not been a pedestrian fatality since the law was passed.

The National Safety Council (NSC) calls distracted walking “a significant safety threat,” reporting an estimated 11,101 injuries involving cell phones between 2000 and 2011. The NSC further reports there were 5,987 pedestrian fatalities in 2016, an increase of nine percent from 2015. It is the highest toll on American roads since 1990.

“Whether we are in the car or on foot, it is important to be aware of our surroundings, even if they are familiar," said Deborah Hersman, President and CEO of the National Safety Council. "No call, text or update is worth an injury.”

Governors Highway Safety Association released a report in March that related the sharp increase in pedestrian injuries to the rise in smartphone use, which they said was “a frequent source of mental and visual distraction.”