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Honolulu gets tough on people texting while crossing

Looking at your mobile device while crossing is going to cost you

Honolulu is legislating survival of the fittest by fining the oblivious up to $99 for texting while crossing the street.

That’s right: the Hawaiian city wants gadget-distracted pedestrians to actually look up from their phones instead of being turned into past-tense pancakes.

The bill (PDF), which went into effect on Wednesday, states that “no pedestrian shall cross a street or highway while viewing a mobile electronic device.”

That includes all you gamers, anybody who’s rigged up their laptop so they can stare at it and walk (how do you even do that? Does it involve a harness? Where does your coffee go?), any text messaging device, pagers, personal digital assistants or digital cameras. Audio equipment is OK. And yes, you can keep yammering on the phone. You just can’t look down at it while simultaneously walking in front of a screaming wall of metal.

If you do, the first fine will cost you up to $35 (£26.41), up to $75 for your second, and $99 if you still haven’t reformed your eyeballs before police catch you a third time. Emergency responders are off the hook with this one: they can look at devices while in the line of duty.

What business do we have writing about this at a cybersecurity blog? Oh, this is computer security, all right. It’s just a moister variety of computer security: less ones and zeros, more what Naked Security’s Mark Stockley described as “I pondered upon the unfathomable nature of my iPhone’s encrypted bits as it split asunder, squeezed between the blunt end of a Humvee and my suddenly much wider and shallower rib cage.”

Honolulu wasn’t the first to give this a go. And its fines are nothing. Another bill was introduced last year in Hawaii that would fine someone $250 for crossing the street while using an electronic device. New Jersey tried to ban distracted walking last year, and it was ready to not only fine the guilty but to throw them in jail for 15 days.

The tiny Idaho city of Rexburg has banned texting or using a cell phone while crossing a street and will fine offenders $50 for the first offense and $150 for each subsequent offense. Boston Globe has others on its list: Fort Lee, New Jersey; and the Utah Transit Authority (you can’t distracted-walk across the train tracks).

The look-up-for-cripe’s-sake movement is snowballing for a good reason: it’s funny in a cartoony way until it’s very not funny at all.

Preliminary 2016 data from an annual study (PDF) by the Governors Highway Safety Association found that an estimated 5,997 pedestrian fatalities occurred during 2016, compared with 5,376 in 2015 and 4,910 in 2014.

A report from the National Safety Council found that distracted walking incidents involving mobile phones accounted for an estimated 11,101 injuries from 2000 through 2011.

Most people were talking on the phone when they were injured. Twelve percent were texting. Nearly 80% of these pedestrians hurt themselves by falling, and 9% by walking into something.

Short of outlawing the palm-warmers of the phone-addicted, some places have tried to get creative: Antwerp in Belgium, Utah Valley University, and the Chinese city of Chongqing have all painted lanes on sidewalks for the Walking Dead.

Other places, such as London, have tried padded lamp posts to soften seemingly inevitable collisions between distracted pedestrians and inanimate objects.

Why can’t we stop? What do we get out of that screen? A hit of dopamine?

There’s got to be a better way to get our jollies: a less crunchy way, preferably, with no fines attached. I’d say “the warm smile of a child” or “birds singing on the phone wires overhead,” but I don’t want you to look up instead of where you’re going. That gets us back to cartoony.


Why can’t we stop? Even when we know that we are placing ourselves and others in grave danger?
We still have DOS 1.0 brains operating in a very different world. It is the root of most of humanity’s problems.
In a nutshell, our brains evolved over millions of years to help us survive. In order to do this, engaging in activities that were essential to survival (sex, eating of certain high-sugar and high-fat foods, social/tribal bonding, etc.) were made to be pleasurable so that we would seek them out and repeat them again and again. This was accomplished by the brain releasing certain pleasure chemicals.
This served us well in cave-people and hunter-gatherer times when things we needed to survive were not in abundance. That programming/wiring doesn’t work well today.
Our brains are not evolving fast enough to keep up with environmental change. The specific problem here is that the brain has not evolved an “off-switch” for the brain’s pleasure-reward programming, and often the result is addiction.


Apparently 89% of pedestrian injuries due to pedestrian device use are not related to cars (“80% of these [device-using] pedestrians hurt themselves by falling, and 9% by walking into something”). This article gives no statistics on the effect of pedestrian device use on pedestrian fatalities (maybe none are available?). However, I’d be very surprised if driver device use is not a factor in the recent increase in pedestrian deaths. I hope every city and state that’s imposing penalties on distracted walkers is imposing (and enforcing) more severe penalties on distracted drivers.


Excellent article, Lisa! And pay no attention to any “it’s not security” naysayers. Mark Stockley’s quote should be good enough, but if it’s not: Isn’t getting your insides smeared all over a bus the worse kind of invasion of privacy imaginable?


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