Another American City Bans Headphones and Texting While Walking

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©. STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images/ Breaking two Montclair laws at once

Montclair, California, jumps on this silly victim-blaming bandwagon.

Lots of people who walk are being killed these days by people who drive. These days also, more and more cities are bringing in laws that ban people who walk from using phones or wearing earphones while they cross the street. Last year we wrote about Honolulu; now it’s Montclair, California, which has passed an ordinance that reads: “No pedestrian shall cross a street or highway while engaged in a phone call, viewing a mobile electronic device or with both ears covered or obstructed by personal audio equipment.”

According to David Allen of the Daily Bulletin,

If you’ve ever stopped at a red light and sighed at the sight of pedestrians crossing in front of you with their head down gazing at their phone, or wearing headphones that block all street sounds, this may represent the most popular thing the Montclair City Council has ever done.

David Allen doesn’t tell us if he is in his car with the windows rolled up and the stereo going, nor does he explain what the problem is, given that he is stopped at the red light and the people walking in front of him have the right of way. He may sigh, but they are not hurting anyone.

Allen does tell us that “City Manager Ed Starr hatched the idea for the law while reading about a “cell phone lane” in Chongqing, China.” Not on the basis of any research or after any discussion about whether it makes any sense to go after distracted kids instead of distracted old people who are moving slowly, looking down for cracks and slip hazards and don’t hear very well. I suppose they will be next.

I have written about this so many times. I have noted that the real problem is that that this is an urban design issue, as our roads are designed to let cars drive fast, not to protect the pedestrians. It’s an automobile design issue, as more people drive deadly SUVs and pickup trucks. It’s a demographic issue, as older people are more likely to die if they are hit. The use of smart phones by pedestrians is a non-issue, a rounding error and an excuse for happy motoring.

These distracted walking laws have nothing to do with protecting pedestrians; they are designed to protect drivers. “She couldn’t see me because she was doing Facetime” has been used as an excuse by speeding drivers who hit little girls. No doubt this will also be used to harass kids slouching across streets like jaywalking laws are.

Over on Streetsblog, Angie Schmitt makes this point effectively in a post titled American Cities and the Creeping Criminalization of Walking:

Instead of addressing the root causes of pedestrian deaths, our institutions have criminalized the ordinary act of walking, exposing the most vulnerable members of society to the punitive effects of biased law enforcement.

She notes also that it is like the old jaywalking laws;

Creating a social stigma around people who refused to cede the street to cars was a means for car companies to redirect blame back onto victims and strengthen motorists’ claim to the right-of-way.

I just put this last paragraph from my Honolulu post into my text shortcuts because I suspect I am going to repeating it a lot as these stupid laws get passed across the States:

TreeHugger totally agrees that one should not use a phone while crossing the street. We also suggest that you don’t get old, have a disability that might slow you down, don’t go out at night, don’t be poor and don’t live in the suburbs, all of which contribute to people who walk being killed by people who drive. This bylaw willfully ignores the real reasons pedestrians are getting killed, and instead is just more victim blaming.