Ban On Walking Texters May Follow Fall Into Fountain

Lawmakers in at least two states are now looking to pull the plug on texting pedestrians and iPod-obsessed runners, claiming their diverted attention borders on disaster.

The call for a crackdown on pedestrians distracted by their electronic gadgets in New York and Arkansas comes two weeks after a Reading woman fell into a fountain at the Berkshire Mall in Wyomissing, Berks County while writing a text message.

Lawmakers in both states have proposed restrictions on using cell phones and music players such as iPods by people running and walking on the street or sidewalk.

The apparent message: Distracted pedestrians are dangerous.

?It?s not just distracted drivers," said Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, a nonprofit organization representing state highway safety offices. "We focus a lot on distracted drivers, but we also need to focus on distracted walkers and joggers."

The proposal in Arkansas would ban pedestrians from wearing headphones in both ears while on, parallel, or adjacent to a street, road, intersection, or highway. The measure also applies to runners and cyclists and would allow pedestrians to wear headphones in one ear.

?You might not get the full effect of the Boston Symphony Orchestra with one ear, but you at least will be aware of your surroundings,? said Ark. Sen. Jimmy Jeffress, a Democrat who proposed the legislation.

N.Y. Sen. Carl Kruger, also a Democrat, has been trying since 2007 to ban the use of cell phones, iPods and other gadgets by pedestrians while crossing the street in major cities.

The proposal would ban the use of an electronic device while crossing the crosswalk in a city with a population of one million or more. Violators would face a $100 civil fine.

Kruger said a series of accidents in his Brooklyn district made him concerned about the number of pedestrians he saw paying closer attention to their devices than what was in front of them.

?They were basically oblivious to the circumstances around them,? Kruger said. ?They got wired up, and their head was just in a different place. I don?t think it?s that much different than a ban on cell phones while driving or any other distraction.?

Most states have been tackling distracted driving in some fashion, with 30 states and the District of Columbia banning texting while driving. Many states also have put other restrictions on the use of cell phones, particularly by teen drivers.

The proposed restrictions come as safety advocates said they are worried about a slight increase in the number of pedestrian fatalities in the first half of 2010 compared to the same period in 2009. If the second half of the year shows no change, the group said it would mark an end to four years of decreases.

Nationally, pedestrians make up about 12 percent of traffic fatalities, the group said.

Adkins said the group is not backing any proposals to criminalize headphones, calling or texting by pedestrians. He said the group would rather see increased public education on the dangers of walking or running while distracted.

"Texting and walking, take it from me, it's dangerous," said Cathy Cruz Marrero, the woman into fell into the mall fountain, in her first TV interview with 69 News last week, after surveillance video of her fall had been viewed by millions of people on the Internet.

Link: Texting Woman Who Made Splash In Fountain Speaks Out Link: Security Guard Fired For Sharing Mall Surveillance Video

Jeffress said his legislation in Arkansas, which does not spell out any penalty for a violation, is aimed more at increasing awareness than punishing pedestrians.

?I don?t envision the earphone police going out and arresting people,? Jeffress said. ?I don?t see anybody being stopped to check what?s in their ears.?

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