Hate distracted pedestrians? Consider moving to Honolulu

August 3, 2017

Mobile phones are great, aren't they? Twenty years ago, who could have imagined the joys of getting stuck in a group text with a dozen family members, including three or four retirees who have nothing better to do than send out barrages of LOLs and misused emojis? Who dared to envision the excitement that would come with instant notifications from your bank when your checking account is low?

But sadly, cell phones have a dark side, too. They've spawned hordes of zombie pedestrians who amble aimlessly down sidewalks, through malls, across college quads, and far too often, into streets. In fact, distracted walkers might be behind the 11 percent uptick in pedestrian deaths recorded between 2015 and 2016. 

Some cities are trying to accommodate face-down walkers by installing warning lights in the pavement. Officials in Honolulu, Hawaii have taken a very different strategy by outlawing the practice of using cell phones while crossing the street. 

Honolulu might sound like a strange place to launch such a ban. The city seems relatively laid back, especially compared to places like New York, where the real and present danger of smartphone zombies would appear to be an easy target for police. 

When the ban passed, however, Mayor Kirk Caldwell explained that "We hold 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 county." 

To be sure, some of those incidents involve motorists who are distracted by their own cell phones. However, Hawaii already has a law that makes texting and driving--or using a handheld phone for any purpose behind the wheel--a primary offense, meaning that law enforcement agents can stop a vehicle if they see anyone violating the law.

By adding a second law that prohibits pedestrians from using phones at crosswalks, Hawaii is hoping not only to reduce the number of distracted pedestrians who unwittingly walk in front of moving vehicles, but also to ensure that pedestrians pay attention to cars being driven by folks who might be distracted.  

Fines for phoning-and-walking start at $15 and go up to $99 for repeat offenders. And yes, there's an exception for folks who are calling 911 instead of checking Tinder.

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