New York State Lawmakers Want to Ban Walking With Portable Electronic Devices

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Public Domain. State of New York

So someone explain to me why walking with a phone is a problem.

All kinds of kids, old people, even short people, get killed in the roads in New York State. But now the politicians are going after the real problem: People who cross the street using electronic devices. Not just texting, like Gothamist suggests, but "any electronic device that can be used to input, write, send, receive or read text for present or future communication." Using means just about anything, probably including my internet connected hearing aids.

You can use it to call the cops or an ambulance in an emergency, but not your lawyer or Gersh at Streetsblog.

"I have gotten more than my share of complaints from constituents about the problem and the suggestion that there ought to be a law. Including from parents who don't want their kids texting while they're walking, much less while they're crossing the street," Senator Liu told Gothamist, in explaining his support for the bill.

I have written a lot about this subject, trying to figure out what the problem is that these people have with people looking at their phones while they cross the street. After all, the assumption is that they have the right-of-way; the issue seems to be that they are not moving as fast as drivers would like. This has actually been proven to be true in a study that concluded:

Results show that pedestrians distracted by texting/reading (visually) or talking/listening (auditory) while walking tend to reduce and control their walking speed by adjusting their step length or step frequency, respectively. Pedestrians distracted by texting/reading (visually) have significantly lower step length and are less stable in walking.
They sure don't look like they're Snapchatting. (Photo: Garry Knight/flickr)
They sure don't look like they're Snapchatting. Garry Knight/flickr

/CC BY 2.0

But so what? They are still probably walking faster than Mom pushing a stroller or Grandma with a walker. There is no requirement or expectation that everyone has to hop to it and run across the street. There is a huge and growing percentage of the population that is naturally distracted or compromised, and they get hit and killed all the time. Should they also be banned from crossing the street? Should I be because I wear hearing aids and glasses?

Older people, like that person looking at the phone, have compromised senses.

Their vision is not as good, needing three times as much light to read, having less peripheral vision, a harder time focusing.

Their hearing isn't as good. Nearly 25 percent of those aged 65 to 74 and 50 percent of those who are 75 and older have disabling hearing loss — and note, that is disabling hearing loss.

They are not as mobile and do not move as quickly. An English study found that “the vast majority of people over 65 years old in England are unable to walk fast enough to use a pedestrian crossing.”

So tell me again what is wrong with crossing the street with the right of way with a phone in your hand?

I like to quote Brad Aaron of Streetsblog about this issue:

"If your transport system has zero tolerance for anyone who isn’t a fit adult, the system is the problem, and ... By casting blame elsewhere you assume everyone is like you — can see, hear, walk perfectly. Arrogant & extremely unhelpful.”

It should be assumed that everybody crossing the road is distracted or compromised. Walking while old is walking while distracted. Drivers should be driving on the assumption the person in the road is not looking or seeing them, because they might not be able to.