Texting while walking will become illegal in New Jersey if assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt has her way. Lampitt has introduced a bill that would classify texting while walking as equivalent to jaywalking (though we wonder how much that gets enforced). The punishment? A $50 fine, or 15 days in jail. That’s harsher than the NJ laws for failing to yield at a crosswalk, which carries 15 days community service
“If a person on the road–whether walking or driving–presents a risk to others on the road, there should be a law in place to dissuade and penalize risky behavior,” Lampitt told CBS News.
What Lampitt may have missed is that there are already laws in place to control this, and they are targeted at drivers as they probably should be. According to the DMV, New Jersey “is considered as one of the states with the toughest distracted driving laws in the United States.” These laws already address texting and all cellphone use in a car (including hands-free phone use in some cases). A new bill will increase fines further.
New Jersey’s official government site also addresses the problem of “pedestrian injury crashes,” and lays out its policy of “education, enforcement, and engineering.”
The Enforcement component involves targeted police patrols at high pedestrian-crash locations in the community. During these patrols warnings and summonses are issued to motorists and pedestrians whose actions put pedestrians at risk. Stop for pedestrian and jaywalking laws are emphasized.
Since 2010, pedestrian injuries caused by cellphone distraction in the U.S. have risen by 23%, according to the Pew Trusts’ Stateline, although only around a half-dozen deaths are caused per year thanks to “portable electronic devices.” New York City has lowered speed limits, the first step in shaping our cities to better fit how we use them.
“The policy issue is that we have to design streets for the way people actually behave, and behavior is changing,” Transportation Alternatives’ chief policy officer Noah Budnick told Stateline. “If you’re looking at a phone when you’re walking around, that shouldn’t mean death. So we have to design forgiving streets.”
We don’t need new laws, especially new laws which blame pedestrians for being killed by drivers. We already have the laws, and they just need to be enforced. Even if successful (it currently has zero sponsors) assemblywoman Lampitt’s new bill will likely be unobeyed and under-enforced, just like current laws. New Jersey’s three-Es approach is a great example of how the police can work with the public to reduce risk. The difference is that asking the police to do their job properly doesn’t get the same kind of political publicity as proposing a useless new law.