You see them everywhere: people walking with their eyes glued to their mobile phone screens on busy streets. But walking and texting can be dangerous — and cities in the United States and Europe have begun to do something about it.
Honolulu has passed a law, which will take effect Wednesday, that allows the police to fine pedestrians up to $35 for viewing their electronic devices while crossing streets in the city and surrounding county. Honolulu is thought to be the first major city to enact such a ban.
"This is really milestone legislation that sets the bar high for safety," said Brandon Elefante, the City Council member who proposed the bill. Pedestrians, he said, will share the responsibility for their safety with motorists.
In the United States, pedestrian deaths in 2016 spiked 9 percent from the year before, rising to 5,987, the highest toll on American roads since 1990, according to federal data. One reason may be the sharp rise in smartphone use, "a frequent source of mental and visual distraction" for both drivers and walkers, a report by the Governors Highway Safety Association found.
"I'm guilty myself," said Charles Chan Massey, chief executive of SynaxisMeetings & Events, a management firm, who uses the time walking to and from meetings and business lunches to catch up on calls, texts and emails.
"A lot of people do it; they know it's risky and do it anyway. They convince themselves that 'this text is important,'" he said. "It's something we need to be aware of."
There is a dearth of data directly linking distracted walking to pedestrian injuries and deaths, but it seems to be a global problem, too. Preliminary studies "give a hint to unsafe behavior," said Dr. Etienne Krug, director of the Department for Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention at the World Health Organization.