New Bill Would Criminalize Texting While Walking

Proposed bill would criminalize 'petextrians', making Jersey even less fun.

Illegal Texting
Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images

After the scourge of distracted driving comes that of distracted walking. Officers in Fort Lee, New Jersey tackled the plague in 2012 with an ordinance that doles out $85 citations for “Dangerous Walking.” The cause has been taken up at the state level by Assemblywoman Pamela R. Lampitt (D – Camden), who just proposed a bill that would punish texting while crossing the street the same as jaywalking. Anyone snared in the dragnet would be fined up to $50 for the first offense, escalating to a fine and 15 days in jail for texting reprobates. Said Lampitt, "An individual crossing the road distracted by their smartphone presents just as much danger to motorists as someone jaywalking and should be held, at minimum, to the same penalty."

The specific offense would, as with driving, require that anyone walking in a public road use their smartphones hands-free. Half of the $50 fine would be spent on programs to educate people about how dangerous it is to text and walk while in the street. Various studies and statistics over the past few years have highlighted the havoc, the Governors Highway Safety Association saying pedestrian deaths from distracted walking increased more than threefold from 2004 to 2010; in 2010 alone the GHSA said two million distracted walkers were injured. The National Safety Council said distracted walking caused 11,101 injuries from 2000 to 2011. A review of hospital records showed that 78 percent of pedestrian injuries came from distracted walking in 2014.

In spite of the statistics, the chances of the New Jersey measure going anywhere appear to be hovering right around zero – the same fate such draft legislation has endured in every other state. It hasn’t come up for a vote and not one of the other 79 General Assembly members has signed on to sponsor it. Lampitt said it's fine if her idea does nothing more than build awareness.

We haven’t heard the end of this, though. The Utah Transit Authority successfully passed an ordinance making it illegal to use any distracting electronics while crossing the tram tracks in Salt Lake City. Hawaii legislators proposed a bill that would fine “petextrians” $250. Philadelphia wanted to make September “Distracted Walking Awareness Month.” And National Georgraphic did that thing where texting walkers didn’t realize there was a gorilla standing next to them. So, obviously, something needs to be done.