Some New York lawmakers hope to pass a bill that would make it illegal to look at your cellphone while crossing the street.

“No pedestrian shall cross a roadway at any point while using any portable electronic device,” the bill’s text reads.

State Sen. John Liu (D) introduced S5746 last week that would criminalize crossing a street while using a mobile device. The measure was first introduced by Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D) of Brooklyn last year.

First-time offenders who are caught could receive a citation along with a fine of $25 to $50 for a first offense, according to the bill. Subsequent offenses could cost violators as much as $250 per incident.

What do supporters say?

Liu claims that the legislation would force pedestrians to take responsibility for their personal safety.

“While we expect drivers to yield to pedestrians, everybody does have some responsibility to keep themselves safe,” he told Streetsblog NYC. “It does not let drivers off the hook for their responsibility.”

The lawmaker pointed out that dozens of pedestrians have been killed by reckless drivers this year.

“It’s a problem that my constituents also talked to me about, including parents who want their kids fined,” Liu said.

Distracted walking puts young people at risk for injury, according to the National Safety Council, the Democrat & Chronicle reported.

“The National Safety Council is focused on efforts to eliminate distracted walking — specifically walking while using a mobile device,” the group said on its website. “Kids often don’t recognize the dangers of distracted walking.”

What do opponents say?

Peter Lyndon Jacobsen, an expert in pedestrian and traffic safety, told Streetsblog that there’s little evidence that distracted walking puts others in harm’s way.

“There are some injuries associated with being on the phone, but most involve falls as the primary mechanism,” Jacobson said.
“Rather, it’s distracted driving that is the problem.

“The evidence is really clear that driving while talking on the phone to others endangers other people, whereas there’s not much evidence that talking on the phone while walking is a risk except to yourself,” he continued.

“These people aren’t endangering others. I want my police department to protect me from other people’s violence,” Jacobson said. “If you want to protect pedestrians, if that’s the goal of this senator, then attack the danger not the victim.”

State Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Tim Kennedy (D) believes the bill may be going too far, the Democrat & Chronicle reported.

“As someone who has rallied for significant pedestrian safety reforms for years, I prioritize the protection and security of all New Yorkers, but it appears to me as though this is an overreach of government,” Kennedy said in a statement.

Would there be any exceptions to the law?

Exceptions to the law, if approved, would include using the mobile device during an emergency but the walker must be able to show proof.

“[T]he use of a portable electronic device for the sole purpose of communicating with any of the following regarding an emergency situation; an emergency response operator; a hospital; a physician’s office or health clinic; an ambulance company or corps; a fire department, district or company; a police department,” according to the bill.

Police and fire personnel would also be exempt while performing their jobs.

What else?

It’s unclear whether or not the bill has enough support to pass.

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