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Walking, running while distracted may become crimes

By ANDREW DeMILLO
January 25, 2011

Attention texting pedestrians and iPod-obsessed runners on the street: You may soon get unplugged.

After targeting drivers who paid more attention to their phone calls and text messages than the road, lawmakers in Arkansas and New York are now looking to crack down on pedestrians equally distracted by their own electronic gadgets.

Lawmakers in both states have proposed restrictions on using cell phones and music players such as iPods by people running and walking on the street or sidewalk. The apparent message: Distracted pedestrians are dangerous.

“It’s not just distracted drivers. We focus a lot on distracted drivers, but we also need to focus on distracted walkers and joggers,” said Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, a nonprofit organization representing state highway safety offices.

The proposal in Arkansas would ban pedestrians from wearing headphones in both ears while on, parallel or adjacent to a street, road, intersection or highway. The measure also applies to runners and cyclists and would allow pedestrians to wear headphones in one ear.

“You might not get the full effect of the Boston Symphony Orchestra with one ear, but you at least will be aware of your surroundings,” said Sen. Jimmy Jeffress, a Democrat from Crossett who proposed the legislation.

Democratic State Sen. Carl Kruger in New York has been trying since 2007 to ban the use of cell phones, iPods and other gadgets by pedestrians in major cities while crossing the street. The proposal would ban the use of an electronic device while crossing the crosswalk in a city with a population of one million or more. Violators would face a $100 civil fine.

Kruger said a series of accidents in his Brooklyn district made him concerned about the number of pedestrians he saw paying closer attention to their devices than what was in front of them.

“They were basically oblivious to the circumstances around them,” Kruger said. “They got wired up, and … their head was just in a different place . I don’t think it’s that much different than a ban on cell phones while driving or any other distraction.”

Most states have been tackling distracted driving in some fashion, with 30 states and the District of Columbia banning texting while driving. Many states also have put other restrictions on the use of cell phones, particularly by teen drivers.

The proposed restrictions come as safety advocates say they’re worried about a slight increase in the number of pedestrian fatalities. The Governors Highway Safety Association earlier this month reported that pedestrian fatalities rose slightly in the first half of 2010 compared to the same period in 2009. If the second half of the year shows no change, the group said, it would mark an end to four years of decreases.

Nationally, pedestrians make up about 12 percent of traffic fatalities, the group said.

Adkins said the group is not backing any proposals to criminalize headphones, calling or texting by pedestrians. He said the group would rather see increased public education on the dangers of walking or running while distracted.

“The pedestrian does have to share some responsibility,” Adkins said.

Jean Knaack, executive director of the Road Runners Club of America, said her group doesn’t ban headphones but recommends against their use while running or advises runners to at least use only one earphone. Knaack said she’s discouraged when she sees runners at group runs or races plugging into their iPhones or other music players, saying it takes away from the social aspect of the sport.

“I certainly would rather see it be more of an education campaign than an outright limitation,” Knaack said. “There are some people who have just convinced themselves they can’t run without it. They need that crutch to be able to get out and do it.”

Jeffress said his legislation, which does not spell out any penalty for a violation, is aimed more at increasing awareness than punishing pedestrians.

“I don’t envision the earphone police going out and arresting people,” Jeffress said. “I don’t see anybody being stopped to check what’s in their ears.”

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press

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7 Responses to Walking, running while distracted may become crimes

  1. Carl Nemo

    January 25, 2011 at 10:35 pm

    Just the other day I had a pedestrian simply cross the street against the light. I noticed he had a headset on, no doubt listening to his MP3 player, but in addition he was obviously texting on his Ipod, phone or whatever he had in his hand. The individual was totally engrossed in the operation of the gadget and oblivious to his surroundings.

    Regardless if I had struck him with my vehicle I would still have been in trouble due to fact pedestrians have the right away in my state regardless of jay-walking, crossing against the light or whatever requiring drivers to be ever vigilant for this burgeoning population of gadget addicted citizens.

    “Violators would face a $100 civil fine.” …extract from article

    How about a 100 hours of community service too with subsequent offenses including county jail time. If we went back to the 1870’s you’d could get up to 30 days in jail for spitting on the street. Talk about how time have changed or what…?!

    Carl Nemo **==

    • Carl Nemo

      January 25, 2011 at 10:40 pm

      “how time” should read…how times. My apologies

      Carl Nemo **==

  2. griff

    January 26, 2011 at 1:12 am

    This is about the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. Frankly, if some bozo can’t cross the damned street intelligently then he/she deserves to be run down.

    But hey, I guess it’s a lot more important than stopping the bankster rape that continues unabated.

    • Carl Nemo

      January 26, 2011 at 1:18 am

      Yeah Griff, it’s called ‘social Darwinism’, unfortunately it works all to slowly relative to reducing the general population of dodo’s. : ))

      The savvy must continue to suffer their presence. / : |

      Carl Nemo **==

      • griff

        January 26, 2011 at 1:24 am

        Well I guess free iPods for all Americans would be a good start then.

  3. woody188

    January 26, 2011 at 1:47 am

    It’s more about the money than any sort of crime. Hate it when the state feels the need to protect us from ourselves.

    iPods were out way before the increase in pedestrian deaths. They peaked in sales a couple of years ago, during the decreases in deaths. Maybe it’s the fluoride and hormone cocktails in the water of these cities with a million or more people making them too dumb to look both ways before crossing?

    • Carl Nemo

      January 26, 2011 at 2:11 am

      No doubt Woody your suggested additives to this ‘social equation’ have merit.

      Maybe it’s not he gadgets, but the complacency among our people that this way of life can seemingly continue forever. Mother Nature as well as animal populations including us ‘rationals’ are in a state of flux. Nothing is truly guaranteed.

      Seeminigly our modern paradigm has sold out for technology run amok, not science per se, but the gadgets that come forth from such with its derivative tech. If we can do it, then why not is the ‘mantra’. Maybe, just maybe every invention ever created is not in the best interest for us ‘rational chimps’ under the illusional triple canopy of so-called ‘modern civilization’…? / : |

      Carl Nemo **==