Time Well Spent//

The First Major American City Bans Crossing the Street While Texting

If you really can’t put the phone down, the police in Honolulu will make you pay.

Update: This law is in effect as of Wednesday, October 25th.“This is really a milestone legislation that sets the bar high for safety,” Brandon Elefante, the City Council Member who proposed the bill, told the New York Times. 

Honolulu has banned pedestrians from using electronic devices while crossing roads or highways, Buzzfeed reports. Meaning you should really wait to text your friends that Hawaiian vacation selfie until you’re safely curbside.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell signed the bill this week, but it doesn’t take effect until October 25th. Offenders who can’t resist putting their lives in danger to send a text could be fined up to $35 the first time they’re caught, $75 for a second violation in the same year and up to $99 if caught a third time, according to Buzzfeed. Of course, if you’re using your phone to dial 911—or if you’re an emergency responder—you won’t be fined. The bill also applies to using more than just smartphones while crossing the street—digital cameras, video games, pagers and, somewhat inexplicably, laptops, are also prohibited.

The need for the bill is serious: Honolulu has the “unfortunate distinction of being a major city with more pedestrians being hit in crosswalks, particularly our seniors, than almost any other city in the country,” Mayor Caldwell said at a press conference announcing the bill. Seniors are apparently more vulnerable, but the bill came into being primarily to help teens practice safe texting.

It seems not everyone is on board though. Honolulu council member Ernie Martin would prefer an educational campaign geared towards younger phone users, Buzzfeed reports, and said the bill “borders on over-regulation.”

But most data suggests this “over-regulation” to teach teenagers and adults alike better boundaries with tech (and basic safety) is necessary. According to the nonprofit Governors Highway Safety Association, Hawaii ranked 17th in the nation in pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 people in 2015. The Honolulu police department also supports the bill, Buzzfeed reports, noting that “cell phones and other electronic devices are contributing factors in many traffic collisions.”

Honolulu isn’t the first city to impose legal measures to help keep pedestrians and drivers safe from digital distractions, and it likely won’t be the last. Buzzfeed points out that Fort Lee, New Jersey banned texting and crossing the street in 2012. Offenders receive a $85 ticket. This trend isn’t U.S. specific, either: a city in Germany installed traffic lights on the ground to try and get texters to look up, Chongqing, China, has a cellphone lane to keep people with their heads bent downwards away from other pedestrians and we already wrote about a town in the Netherlands trying to literally curb “smartphone zombies” from walking into oncoming traffic.

The fact that we can’t put our phones down for a few seconds as we cross the road is a sorry reminder of just how far digital distractions have impacted our lives. And if it takes a fine or two to help remind people of the stakes, we’re all for it.

Read more on Buzzfeed

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