Should Cities Pass Laws to Stop Pedestrians From Texting?

Pedestrian fatalities in the U.S. have declined by 37 percent – from 7,516 in the mid-1970s to 4,735 in 2013, according to a government report. That’s the good news.

Now the bad news: The rate changed course between 2010 and 2013, climbing 14 percent, to the point where in 2013, one pedestrian was killed every two hours and injured every eight minutes in motor vehicle crashes.

Since then, unfortunately, pedestrian deaths have continued to rise. One likely contributor to this reversal of fortune: an increase in pedtextrians.

You know the ones. You may even be one. Pedtextrians walk around in public, head down and eyes glued to an electronic device, completely oblivious to what’s going on around them.

Despite the fact that they are a danger to themselves and others, their numbers are on the rise. It’s gotten so bad that for the first time ever, The National Safety Council has officially added “distracted walking” as a category in its annual report of unintentional deaths and injuries.

So what’s a civil society to do about it?

New Jersey assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt introduced a bill that would classify texting while walking as equivalent to jaywalking, Fast Company reports. Those caught could receive a $50 fine or 15 days in jail.

It doesn’t look like it has a chance in hell of passing, but this does raise a very interesting question: When societal trends result in citizens behaving more harmfully towards themselves or others, should government adapt its infrastructure to protect them?

Transportation Alternatives’ chief policy officer Noah Budnick told Stateline:

 ”The policy issue is that we have to design streets for the way people actually behave, and behavior is changing. If you’re looking at a phone when you’re walking around, that shouldn’t mean death. So we have to design forgiving streets.”

Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) makes a good point: “The renewed focus on encouraging walking over driving for both environmental and health reasons points to the need to make pedestrian safety a priority.”

One city in Germany installed traffic lights in pavements to protect texting pedestrians. The Telegraph describes:

The city installed the lights two months after a 15-year-old girl was fatally hit by a tram when she walked onto the tracks while looking at her smartphone with headphones in. The lights, which were installed last week, look similar to cats eye road markers, but are flat on the ground and flash red when a tram is approaching.

Will those lights in Germany end up reducing the number of pedtextrian fatalities? It’s too soon to tell.

The merits of walking are hard to argue, and it’s obvious that there are more pedtextrians than there used to be. But what should be done to protect them and those around them, that’s the question.

We can’t create a new law every time a person does something stupid. Where will it end? Let’s not forget, pedtextrians may not present as much of a threat to those around them as say—the operator of a 2 ton mack truck, but they’re still a threat to others.

Take my friend Alex, for instance. He was riding his bike through the streets of NYC. Appearing from between two parked cars, a pedestrian staring at his phone crossed right in front of oncoming Alex, who was forced to veer out of the way. Alex got thrown over his handlebars and broke his arm in the process. The pedtextrian kept walking, oblivious.

Of course, in this case the pedestrian was jaywalking, a legal faux pas in itself—but if he had been watching where he was going instead of his cell phone, most likely the whole incident could’ve been avoided.

Do new laws need to be implemented to address this growing dilemma? That’s for you to decide.

I’m a fan of campaigns that raise awareness about the dangers of walking while distractified.

You’ve probably seen at least one of those powerful (albeit tear-jerky) videos about the dangers of texting while driving. Well, Philadelphia’s Road Safety, Not Rocket Science campaign is a more lighthearted version focused on pedtextrians instead of drivers.

The moment a human steps out into public, in the spirit of survival, he or she should be reasonably aware of his or her surroundings. Because at the end of the day—compared to say, a pickup truck—we are fragile creatures.

So the onus should reside at least partially in the hands of those who choose to text while walking.


Fast facts: The dangers of texting while walking are pretty obvious, but if you’d like to read up on it, here are some fast facts worth checking out.

Share this: My hope in writing this is to save at least one person’s life. Maybe you know better than to stroll through a busy crosswalk with your mind’s eye on your phone, but someone you know doesn’t. Share this to save lives.

How to prevent accidents from distracted walking: The Congressional Accountability Office of Compliance lists these suggestions:

  • Don’t walk, talk and text.
  • If you have to talk or text, move to the side of the walkway out of the way of others.
  • Never cross or walk in the street while using an electronic device.
  • Do not walk with headphones in your ears.
  • Keep track of your surroundings.

What do you think? Should local governments be responsible for implementing safety features to help protect pedtextrians or is the onus on them? Share your opinion in the comments.

In the meantime, here’s that lighthearted Road Safety, Not Rocket Science video mentioned above:

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Ian Brown
Ian Brown1 years ago

Great idea, and it should be compulsory that all texters and phoners should stand still, out of the way, with their backs against a solid building. Us non-texting pedestrians really have to be nimble to avoid collisions with texting pedestrians and it's amazing how few of them get killed whilst crossing the road.

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Georgina Elizab McAlliste
.1 years ago


Pamela Pooran
Past Member 1 years ago

Some people have no common sense, so you have to put laws to protect them from themselves

JACQUI GLYDE1 years ago

There should be an app called common sense for these selfish idiots!!

James Maynard
James Maynard1 years ago

No point in passing a law to fix "stupid" unless you are willing to also assign and pay for the resources to enforce it.....

William Meade
William Meade1 years ago

Do the Darwin awards have a section for this ?

Berny p.
berny p1 years ago

Simple answer ...YES...they are not only a danger to themseves...that is their choice...BUT they are a danger to others....and that is a No NO!

Linda C.
Linda C1 years ago

Sorry, but people who text and read while walking are NOT just a danger to themselves but to plenty of others. Among other things, their walk is erratic as they wander all over the sidewalk and abruptly stop and start without considering others around them. Even if in a given instance this does not reach the level of danger, it is an extreme annoyance to others, who are required to take responsibility for the oblivious digital user. There is an infantile vanity about this habit--a public statement that 'I don't have to take responsibility for my actions--I'm going to make YOU take responsibility for them, sucker.'

Bill Eagle
Bill Eagle1 years ago

People that text while walking are only a danger to themselves. Texting while driving is a much more serious thing.