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New Jersey Wants to Give Tickets for Texting While Walking

“Heads up, phones down.”

That’s the slogan for the Street Smart Safety Campaign launched in New Jersey. Lawmakers want to take it a step further by making it illegal to walk and text at the same time. New Jersey already has a distracted driving ban, which prohibits drivers from using a handheld phone, texting, or even adjusting the radio. The proposed legislation ups the ante and applies the same general restrictions to pedestrians crossing the street.

That’s right all you phone-obsessed users—you can get fined $50 and/or receive a possible 15-day jail sentence if caught using a handheld phone or texting while crossing the street! Say what?

The bill comes after a national increase in collisions related to distracted walking. The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) expected another 10% increase in pedestrian deaths for the year 2015, with a total accounted 170 pedestrian deaths by the end of the year.  Close to 72% of those pedestrian fatalities happened when it was the darkest outside, between 6 p.m. and midnight.  Texting While Walking Sign

Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, the creator of the bill, stated, “Distracted pedestrians, like distracted drivers, present a potential danger to themselves and drivers on the road,” and referencing an ever increase in technology use further stated, “As people’s behaviors change so must our policy.” Lampitt has been personally affected by distracted behavior, as she knew a student who was struck and killed by a bus while looking at his phone.

Lampitt believes raising awareness about the dangers of driving and walking while distracted will save lives. Since the Street Smart Safety Campaign launched in 4 different municipalities, jaywalking and other unsafe behavior has been reduced by 53%, which definitely suggests Lampitt may be on to something.

It only takes an increase in speed of 15mph to make the difference of a pedestrian surviving and being fatally injured when hit by a car. According to the GHSA, pedestrian deaths now account for the largest group of traffic related fatalities.

So, You’re Saying the Government Can Now Regulate My Phone Use?

Well, not exactly. I’m sure there are many opponents upset about the idea of this law going into effect.  In reality, it’s not any different than jay walking, which holds the same penalty. However, this new legislation may leave many wondering how the government can enforce this type of restriction on your phone use.

States have what’s called “police power.” Under the Constitution, states have the power to regulate behavior and enforce order for the health, safety, morals, and general welfare of its citizens. So long as the law is not unreasonably arbitrary, oppressive, or in violation of other constitutional rights, states can create laws that promote the safety of its citizens.

Just as it’s dangerous to text and drive, it can be just as dangerous to text while crossing the street. States may have less of a police power over your own personal actions, but when you’re potentially endangering the safety and welfare of others, then the State definitely has the authority to regulate those actions under the safety and general welfare umbrella.

Is This Really Necessary?

With an increase of 35% since 2010 in collisions related to distracted walking and an ever-changing increase in technology use, it may be time for this type of legislation.

For the sake of giving an example, imagine you’re texting while crossing the street and you don’t see that there is a car driving right at you. There are really only 3 outcomes that can come out of it:

  • The driver swerves so as to not hit you, which potentially puts himself and other drivers and/or pedestrians in danger that may get hit when the driver swerves,
  • The driver hits you, which very likely will kill or seriously injure you, or
  • You get extremely lucky when the driver swerves and misses you and anyone else and no one is harmed in the accident.

Only 1 out of 3 of those outcomes is a good one. Researchers disagree on the effect phone usage has while walking. Studies completed at Texas A&M found phone users are actually more cautious than their undistracted counterparts, while the University of Alabama at Birmingham found texting while crossing the street increases the chance of being hit by a car by 200%. I know I don’t like those odds.

Ashley Roncevic

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