Will cellphone use while walking be banned in N.J.?

Posted: March 26, 2016

Here is another reason to take a break from texting or talking on your smartphone while walking in New Jersey: a possible $50 fine.

A bill proposed this week by Assemblywoman Pamela R. Lampitt (D., Camden) would impose a fine of up to $50 and possibly 15 days in jail for pedestrians caught using their cellphones without hands-free devices while walking on public sidewalks and along roadways.

If the bill becomes law, "petextrians" - people who text while walking - would face the same penalties as jaywalkers in New Jersey.

"I see it every single day," Lampitt said Friday. "Maybe they will think twice about it."

A report released in 2015 by the Governors Highway Safety Association found an increase in pedestrian fatalities, and cited texting while walking as partly to blame.

Since 2009, pedestrian fatalities have increased by 15 percent to 4,735 in 2013, the report said. Nearly two million pedestrian injuries were related to cellphone use, the report said.

Another study, from Safe Kids Worldwide, a Washington-based nonprofit, found that 40 percent of teens said they had been hit or nearly hit by a car, bike, or motorcycle while walking.

The survey of more than 1,000 children between ages 13 and 18 found that 47 percent of those who said they were hit or almost hit were listening to music, 20 percent were talking on the phone, and 18 percent were texting, researchers said.

Researchers say distracted walkers are more likely to ignore traffic lights or fail to look both ways before crossing the street.

Philadelphia last year launched a "Road Safety, Not Rocket Science" campaign urging pedestrians to "pick your head up, put your phone down" to combat the perils of distracted walking.

Lampitt said she wants that message to hit home in New Jersey for pedestrians and motorists who could easily be distracted while looking at mobile devices.

Her bill, however, faces an uncertain future in the Legislature. It has not been posted for a vote and Lampitt acknowledged she might have a tough time getting it passed.

"If it builds awareness, that's OK," the lawmaker said. Similar bills have failed recently in New York state, Nevada, and Arkansas.

In January, Gov. Christie allowed another bill cosponsored by Lampitt, that would have established a Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Advisory Council, to expire under a pocket veto. It was passed by the Assembly and Senate.

A bill that would have annually designated September as "Distracted Walking Awareness Month" died in committee in 2014.

According to the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety, more than 1,600 people were killed between 2003 and 2012 in crashes caused by distracted drivers. Besides talking on a cellphone, the distractions include tuning a radio and eating and drinking.

New Jersey has a distracted driving law, which bans both texting and handheld cellphone use while driving.

mburney@phillynews.com

856-779-3814@mlburney

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