Honolulu bans 'smartphone zombies' at road crossings

HONOLULU • A ban on pedestrians looking at mobile phones or texting while crossing the street will take effect in Hawaii's largest city in late October, as Honolulu becomes the first major US city to pass legislation aimed at reducing injuries and deaths from "distracted walking".

The ban comes as cities around the world grapple with how to protect phone-obsessed "smartphone zombies" from injuring themselves by stepping into traffic or running into stationary objects.

Starting Oct 25, Honolulu pedestrians can be fined between US$15 (S$20) and US$99, depending on the number of times the police catch them looking at a phone or tablet device as they cross the street, Mayor Kirk Caldwell told reporters gathered near one of the city's busiest downtown intersections.

"We hold the unfortunate distinction of being a major city with more pedestrians being hit in crosswalks, particularly our seniors, than almost any other city in the county," he said.

Mr Caldwell signed the legislation last Thursday after it was passed in a 7-2 vote by the city council earlier this month, city records show. People making calls for emergency services are exempt from the ban.

More than 11,000 injuries resulted from phone-related distraction while walking in the United States between 2000 and 2011, according to a University of Maryland study published in 2015.

The findings pushed the non-profit National Safety Council to add "distracted walking" to its annual compilation of the biggest risks for unintentional injuries and deaths in the US, highlighting the severity of the issue.

Efforts to save pedestrians from their phones extend beyond America's shores.

London has experimented with padding lamp posts to soften the blow for distracted walkers, according to the Independent newspaper.

The German city of Augsburg last year embedded traffic signals into the ground near tram tracks to help downward-fixated pedestrians avoid injury, local media reported.

Opponents of the Honolulu law argued it infringes on personal freedom and amounts to government overreach.

Resident Ben Robinson told the city council in a written testimony: "Scrap this intrusive Bill, provide more education to citizens about responsible electronics usage and allow law enforcement to focus on larger issues."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 31, 2017, with the headline 'Honolulu bans 'smartphone zombies' at road crossings'. Print Edition | Subscribe