Since its invention, the cellular telephone has become increasingly popular. According to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey, over 90% of adults own a cell phone in the United States. Nowadays people don't use their phones just to make calls. Phones are used for texting, listening to music, checking email, posting on social media, playing games, and so much more. With so much to do on these handheld devices, it's unsurprising that people spend a considerable amount of time on their phones every day. In a 2015 article, Time Magazine reported on a study that found that “[o]n average, people in the United States across all age groups check their phones 46 times per day.” The study also found “Americans collectively check their smartphones upwards of 8 billion times per day.” Another study reported by Business Insider "found that average users spent 145 minutes on their phones and engaged in 76 phone sessions per day."
As these studies show, people spend quite a lot of time on the cell phone each day. And people are not just checking their phones while sitting on the couch or standing in line. People are checking their phones while walking; focusing their attention on the screen instead of the road ahead. This inattention has led to some serious accidents involving motor vehicles and pedestrians on phones.
There are numerous pedestrian deaths across the U.S. each year. However, there was a 9 percent spike in pedestrian deaths in 2016. 5,987 people lost their lives in accidents last year which is “the highest toll on American roads since 1990.” The Times reports that a reason for this increase “may be the sharp rise in smartphone use” which is “‘a frequent source of mental and visual distraction' for both drivers and walkers.” One study looking at walking and texting determined that those who do so “are nearly four times as likely to engage in at least one dangerous action, like jaywalking or not looking both ways, and take 18 percent more time to cross a street than undistracted pedestrians.”
Cities around the U.S. have been taking action to address the dangers of texting and walking. According to the New York Times, Honolulu just passed a law “that allows the police to fine pedestrians up to $35 for viewing their electronic devices while crossing streets in the city and surrounding county.” While Honolulu may be the largest location to enact a ban, it is not the first. Another town in Idaho, with just 35,000 residents, passed a similar law back in 2011 after “the city recorded five pedestrian deaths in a short period in a concentrated area.” The city's attorney states that since enacting the ban, they haven't had another pedestrian fatality.
Other cities around the country and the world are also taking steps to combat the “so-called cellphone zombies.” For example, in Hayward, California the city installed signs that read: “Heads Up! Cross the Street. Then Update Facebook.” A town in the Netherlands has implemented a pilot program where it installed special lights at a crosswalk. The lights are "right in the line of sight of people staring at their phones." According to the Times, “[w]hen the traffic lights turn red or green, so do the lights at ground level, alerting pedestrians when it's safe to cross.”
It will be interesting to see if the law in Honolulu effectively deters pedestrians from checking their phones while crossing the street. If the law is a success, as the one in Idaho has been, it's possible other major metropolitan areas may adopt similar legislation. Or cities may look at the alternative, non-statutory ways to solve the pedestrian problem, as the Netherlands has, and install lights or other measures to alert pedestrians when it safe to cross.
In the meantime, if you are texting and walking, be sure to check your surroundings regularly. It may just save your life.