Honolulu Implements Fines to Combat Distracted Walking

Honolulu Implements Fines to Combat Distracted Walking.

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Most people are aware of the risks of distracted driving, and over the last decade most states have adopted laws specifically designed to combat the risks of texting while operating a vehicle.[1] But what about the risks of distracted walking?

Data shows that pedestrian fatalities are on the rise with over 5,900 pedestrian deaths occurring in 2016.[2] It’s probable that the use of smartphones while walking is at least partly responsible for that increase.[3] Between 2000 and 2011, an estimated 11,101 injuries were attributed to distracted walking involving cell phones.[4] While this number includes accidents resulting from distracted walking in the home, a significant number of the injuries occurred in urban areas where distracted walking can cause pedestrians to “trip, cross roads unsafely or walk into motionless objects such as street signs, doors or walls.”[5] As common sense might suggest, allowing yourself to get distracted while walking is clearly a risky business. But is this an area where local or state governments are likely to step in and try to protect us from ourselves by adopting laws similar to those prohibiting texting and driving? Possibly. At least ten states have debated enacting legislation to combat distracted walking, and as of October 2017, at least one major U.S. city prohibits it.[6]

Honolulu is thought to be the first major U.S. city to implement an ordinance that allows police to issue a fine for distracted walking.[7] The ordinance, which went into effect October 25, 2017, states that “[n]o pedestrian shall cross a street or highway while viewing a mobile electronic device.”[8] The only affirmative defense for a violation of the ordinance is that the pedestrian was using the mobile device to make an emergency call to 911. Fines range from $15 to $35 for a first offense, $35 to $75 for a second offense, and $75 to $99 for subsequent offenses.[9] In justifying the new ordinance, the city’s mayor, Kirk Caldwell, explained that Honolulu has more pedestrians hit in crosswalks than almost any other U.S. city.[10] Critics of the ordinance claim that it infringes on personal freedom and suggest that enhancing education for citizens on the responsible use of electronics is a better alternative to overreaching government regulation.[11]

While Honolulu may be the first major U.S. city to implement a fine for distracted walking, other cities both in the U.S. and internationally are recognizing that distracted walking as a problem and looking for innovative ways to alleviate the risks.  Hayward, California, installed signs reminding pedestrians to cross the road safely and update Facebook later.[12] The German city of Augsburg placed traffic signals in the ground near certain intersections to catch the attention of phone-using pedestrians. London experimented with padded lampposts.[13]

It is not yet clear whether other U.S. cities hoping to combat distracted walking are likely to follow Honolulu’s example or turn to other innovative measures. As most states have already adopted laws to decrease distracted driving, however, it seems possible that some states may also adopt laws that target distracted walking.

Texas does not yet prohibit texting while walking, but see O’Connor’s Texas Crimes & Consequences for a discussion of new Texas Transportation Code §545.4251, which prohibits certain uses of mobile devices while driving.


[1] See Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Distracted Driving.

[2] National Safety Council, Taking Steps to Avoid Injury While Walking.

[3] See id.; Tanya Mohn, Reading This While Walking? In Honolulu, It Could Cost You, New York Times, Oct. 23, 2017.

[4] National Safety Council, Distracted Walking Injuries on the Rise; 52 Percent Occur at Home.

[5] See id.

[6] Mohn, Reading This While Walking? In Honolulu, It Could Cost You.

[7] See Bill Chappell, Honolulu’s ‘Distracted Walking’ Law Takes Effect, Targeting Phone Users, NPR, Oct. 25, 2017; Mohn, Reading This While Walking? In Honolulu, It Could Cost You.

[8] Honolulu, Haw., Rev. Ordinances §15-24.23.

[9] Id.

[10] Chappell, Honolulu’s ‘Distracted Walking’ Law Takes Effect, Targeting Phone Users.

[11] See Eric M. Johnson, Honolulu Targets ‘Smartphone Zombies’ with Crosswalk Ban, Reuters, July 28, 2017.

[12] Mohn, Reading This While Walking? In Honolulu, It Could Cost You.

[13] See Johnson, Honolulu Targets ‘Smartphone Zombies’ with Crosswalk Ban.