Forced to walk the line?

March 2011

All areas

We have all probably had the same experience of walking along a pavement and having to negotiate around someone else who is walking slowly, weaving or bumping into other pedestrians because he or she is talking on a cell phone, listening to an iPod or texting on a Blackberry. Now a US politician, Carl Kruger, the state senator from Brooklyn, NY, wants to make it illegal to use an electronic device whilst crossing city streets on foot. He has an ally in Arkansas state Senator Jimmy Jeffress, who wants to ban pedestrians from wearing headphones in both ears on or near a roadway. And in Australia New South Wales Police  have said “should legislation such as that described be introduced, it would receive our support and ongoing attention”, a U-turn from the 2007 view of  NSW Police State Traffic Commander John Hartley, who said when the US laws were first talked about, that “you can’t legislate stupidity”. The Pedestrian Council of Australia said there should be a much stricter legislation and an enforcement campaign to complement an awareness campaign. They also said device manufacturers had a “moral and corporate responsibility” to put warnings on their mobiles and music players saying “they put you in la-la land, aside from the fact that, if you’re using two buds you’ve lost the stop, look and listen awareness of things around you”. The Council also criticised current laws that allowed drivers to operate vehicles and bicycles with an earbud in each ear (“they don’t hear tooting, fire engines, police vehicles, ambulances … “) and said police were generally not enforcing laws governing people crossing roads.

The ability of mobiles to distract people from the outside world was brought home to a global audience this month when a US woman was caught on CCTV falling head first into a shopping centre fountain while texting. She later threatened to sue the mall. In the US, Senator Kruger said people could not be fully aware of their surroundings while “fiddling with a BlackBerry, dialling a phone number, playing Super Mario Brothers on a Game Boy or listening to music on an iPod”. He cited a rise in “accidents stemming from pedestrian distraction”, including the death of a 21-year-old man crushed by a Mack truck while listening to music telling the New York Tomes “We’re taught from knee-high to look in both directions, wait, listen and then cross. You can perform none of those functions if you are engaged in some kind of wired activity.” and comment here

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