NJ Legislators Consider Punishment for Distracted Walking

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on March 29, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

You are a product of your time and culture, so you too -- like just about everyone else -- walk around, distractedly, with a cell phone in hand and your face in a screen. As a result of your fascination with tech, you have become a menace on the streets.

Distracted walking is, in fact, a growing international problem as more people around the world grow engrossed with their phones, rather than paying attention to their surroundings. According to The Washington Post, there has been a rise in pedestrian deaths over the last decade, which is linked to the new devices we rely on. Now a new Jersey state assemblywoman is proposing a law that would fine the unfocused.

Fines for Texts

If the New Jersey law passes, it will be a national first reportedly. "Thus far, no states have enacted a law specifically targeting distracted bicyclists or pedestrians," Douglas Shinkle, transportation program director for the National Conference of State Legislatures, told The Washington Post. But he said that "a few states continue to introduce legislation every year."

General Assembly member Pamela Lampitt of New Jersey wants to ban walking while texting, so no more "petextrians." It would bar people walking on public roads from using electronic communication devices that are not hands-free. Violators would face fines of up to $50 or 15 days in jail or both. The same penalty applies to jaywalking.

According to Lampitt, half of the proceeds collected from delinquent pedestrians would go back into education, making the public more aware of the dangers of walking and texting. "Distracted pedestrians, like distracted drivers, present a potential danger to themselves and drivers on the road," Lampitt said. "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."

Police Resources

Unlike driving, your license to walk cannot be revoked. Still, walking can be regulated and is, theoretically. But when was the last time you got a ticket for illegally crossing the street on foot? Probably never.

Similarly, police will likely not be able to consistently enforce the new "distracted walking" measure if it passes in New Jersey, or so say critics. There is no hearing scheduled yet on the proposal.

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