New Jersey lawmaker proposes fining distracted walkers

New Jersey Assemblywoman Pamela R. Lampitt

New Jersey Assemblywoman Pamela R. Lampitt

While efforts to reduce traffic accidents largely focus on distracted drivers, a New Jersey lawmaker says distracted pedestrians are a growing problem.

Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt has introduced legislation calling for a $50 fine on walkers so distracted by a smartphone that, when crossing the street, they ignore oncoming traffic.

That risky behavior can cause drivers to suddenly break or swerve to avoid pedestrians, said Lampitt, D-Camden.

But Charles Brown, a senior research specialist with the Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers, said such a law would be difficult to enforce.

“Just for a moment, imagine being a police officer in a busy city such as Newark and Hoboken with thousands of pedestrians crossing the street at any given time with their cellphone,” Brown said. “That would be a pretty unbearable task for any police department to sort of monitor.”

Though he agrees distracted walking is an issue, Brown said imposing fines is not the way to deal with it.

“What we need to do, first and foremost, is ensure that everyone has the proper infrastructure in their communities to walk on the sidewalks and not in the street,” he  said Thursday. “Secondly, I think that we need to educate both youth and adults around safe walking behavior.”

Brown added that a recent study found little support among police and planning officials for ticketing pedestrians crossing roads.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal