Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Nov 20, 2017

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TextingIt’s well-known that driving while reading or sending texts is dangerous. In fact, texting while driving can impair a driver’s response time even more than driving while under the influence of alcohol.

Car and Driver did a test of the ability to respond to a red light when sober, when legally drunk, when reading email, and when sending a text. The results were as follows:

  • Unimpaired: .54 seconds to brake
  • Legally drunk: add 4 feet
  • Reading e-mail: add 36 feet
  • Sending a text: add 70 feet

As a result, text messaging while driving is illegal in 47 states and the District of Columbia.

Walking While Texting

But what about walking while texting?

Pedestrian deaths in 2016 rose a dramatic 9%, to reach the highest levels since 1990, even though overall traffic deaths are declining.

According to a report by the Governors Highway Safety Association, one reason may be that smartphones are distracting both pedestrians and drivers.

According to the New York Times,

People who text and walk, for example, are nearly four times as likely to engage in at least one dangerous action, like jaywalking or not looking both ways, and take 18 percent more time to cross a street than undistracted pedestrians. 

In 2010, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, 1,152 pedestrians were treated in emergency rooms after being injured while using a cellphone or another electronic device. This number was twice as high as the year before.

According to a survey by Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, 26% of respondents admitted to texting or reading a phone screen while in a crosswalk, and the actual rate is probably higher.

Researchers at Stony Brook University found that people staring at mobile devices are more likely to walk more slowly, veer from a straight path, and forget where they had just walked.

Honolulu Law

As reported by the New York Times, Honolulu now has a law that allows police to fine pedestrians up to $35 for looking at their phones or other electronic devices while crossing streets.

Honolulu appears to be the first major US city to pass a law against pedestrian cellphone use.

Smaller cities have had such laws on the books for years.

Rexberg, Idaho banned texting while crossing the street after five pedestrians were killed in 2011 in a short period in the town of 35,000 people. However, the town does allow people to cross streets while talking on a phone.

Rexberg hasn’t had a single pedestrian fatality since enacting the new law.

In 2012, as the Boston Globe reports, the Utah Transit Authority adopted a $50 fine for people using phones while crossing transit tracks.

At least 10 states have discussed laws dealing with pedestrians and cyclists distracted by mobile devices, and legislation is pending in two states.

Warning Signs

Other cities in the US and abroad are taking more informal measures to discourage unsafe phone use by pedestrians.

For example, Hayward, California posts signs that read “Heads Up! Cross the Street. Then Update Facebook.”