New Jersey bill would make 'distracted walking' punishable by fine or jail

Jared Schumacher is among the hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans who routinely use electronic devices to text, listen to music or do other tasks as they walk outdoors.

But if a "distracted walking" measure recently proposed by a state assemblywoman eventually becomes law, the Trenton man and others like him could be facing fines or even jail time.

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"I admit that I'm usually listening to music, talking on my phone or texting while I'm walking around," the 20-year-old said while responding to a text as he walked along a street in the state capital last weekend. "I've never hurt myself, but I've seen people walk into poles or trip over a big crack in the sidewalk."

Experts say distracted walking is a growing problem around the globe. They also note pedestrian deaths have been rising in recent years. Eleven percent of all fatalities in 2005 involved pedestrians, but that number rose to 15% in 2014.

The rise in deaths coincides with states introducing bills that target pedestrians and/or bicyclists. For instance, a bill pending in Hawaii would fine someone $250 if he or she crossed the street while distracted by an electronic device. In recent years, similar bills have failed in states including Arkansas, Illinois, Nevada and New York.

The measure recently introduced by New Jersey Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt would ban walking while texting and bar pedestrians on public roads from using electronic communication devices unless they are hands-free. Violators would face fines of up to $50, 15 days imprisonment or both, which is the same penalty as jaywalking.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on March 27, 2016, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "`Hey, I'm texting here!' - A New Jersey bill would ban `distracted walking.' Pedestrian deaths are on the rise." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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