Don’t Text While Crossing the Street

June 1st, 2012 by Andrea Bennett

One town is passing hefty fines to deter texting pedestrians.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

We’ve talked about the dangers of texting while driving, drinking and driving, driving with dogs and even drinking while bicycling, but one town is taking aim at another deadly combo – walking while texting. Specifically, crossing the street while texting.

Fort Lee, N.J. has long had the ability to issue “careless walking” tickets for activities like jaywalking, but according to a CBS report, they’ve started enforcing it – to the tune of $85 per ticket. The city has handed out at least 117 tickets since mid-March, even after handing out pamphlets to all residents warning of the crackdown. There is a precedent for enforcing the rule, police say: 23 distracted jaywalkers have been hit by cars in the first few months of 2012, and three were killed.

So far this year, reports, officers have warned 575 citizens that they risked an $85 ticket for wandering into traffic while fiddling with a cell phone. And no one is exempt: “Even kids,” says Fort Lee’s chief of police. “We just hope their parents would make them pay the fine. After all, this is for the safety of the public.” 

But plenty of people are complaining that $85 is awfully stiff for a pedestrian offense. Mobiledia blogger Kate Knibbs says that banning texting while walking goes too far. “Research indicates texters on the move are 60 percent more likely to swerve into someone, but issuing tickets for the behavior is a little extreme,” she says. She wonders further about the people who have died while listening to their iPods and crossing the street. “The ban dismisses the idea of personal responsibility and shows what it looks like when governments try to micromanage citizen behavior.” Authorities, she suggests, should focus their energies on distracted driving.

A Daily Deal post notes that New Jersey isn’t the only state concerned about distracted pedestrians. Utah issues a $50 fine for distracted texters wandering close to its light rail tracks, and Delaware has placed about 100 large stickers with the words “LOOK UP” on sidewalks near crosswalks in Wilmington, Newark and Rehoboth Beach, urging pedestrians to pay more to what’s going on around them.

Is $85 too steep a fine, or just the right deterrent? Or should authorities, as Knibbs suggests, focus on driving and leave pedestrians alone? Weigh in.