Whether you use it to make a phone call or to lend a soundtrack to your jog, mobile phones and MP3 players have become a staple in many people's lives. Their constant presence has already drawn attention to the ways they make our roads more dangerous, but now the focus is shifting to our sidewalks.
There was a slight increase in pedestrian deaths in the first half of 2010, a finding that surprised officials and researchers because overall traffic deaths are on the decline. I'm sure that if you've walked in any city, including here in Pittsburgh, you've seen countless people talking on their phones and listening to music while they're on the go. Safety officials think that these practices, along with a few others like intoxicated walking, could be responsible for the rise in pedestrian deaths.
Lawmakers have begun weighing in on the issue, and several states are considering legislation that would restrict the use of MP3 players such as iPods, cell phones, smart phones, or any other electronic device by pedestrians. In New York, pedestrians wouldn't be allowed to use the devices in the crosswalks of cities where the population exceeds one million. This restriction would apply to runners and other exercisers as well. Anyone caught in violation of the law would be issued a $100 fine. In Oregon, cyclists would be banned from using cell phones and music devices while riding. Similar bills are being considered in Virginia and California.
The future of such measures is highly uncertain – in fact, one lawmaker in Arkansas recently dropped his legislation following an outpouring of criticism from the public. If nothing else, hopefully the increased attention will raise awareness about the potential safety hazards of being a distracted pedestrian and encourage people to use caution on sidewalks and in the streets.