Dangerous Distracted Pedestrians!

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I guess smartphones are now going to have to come with smartusers:

Avid texters beware: Fort Lee, N.J. police said they will begin issuing $85 jaywalking tickets to pedestrians who are caught texting while walking.

“It’s a big distraction. Pedestrians aren’t watching where they are going and they are not aware,” said Thomas Ripoli, chief of the Fort Lee Police Department.

Ripoli said the borough, which is home to approximately 35,000 residents, has suffered three fatal pedestrian-involved accidents this year. He hopes his crackdown on people who display dangerous behavior while walking will make his town safer, but not everyone is on board with the idea of issuing $85 tickets.


Two professors at Stony Brook University in New York conducted a study on walking and texting. They found texters are 60 percent more likely to veer off line than non-texters.

“We want to raise awareness that a real disruption occurs because of texting,” Eric Lamberg, co-author of the study, told Long Island Business News. “Texting disrupts your ability much more than does talking.”

So walking and talking on the phone is still okay? How about reading a book and walking? Isn’t that a walker distraction as well? Dan Seifert notes that walking and chewing gum at the same time is still allowed. Phew!

3 “idiot” (I don’t really know if they were idiots or not) pedestrians vs. about 35,000 potential walkers each day. Is it really necessary to create a new law that affects the rest of society to protect people and society from the lack of sound judgment on the part of the few? Is this not a case of an over-reaction law? Or does it make sound sense? Texting and walking, texting and running, texting and doing just about anything at the same time….potentially hazard to society?

With apparently 74 pedestrian crashes last year in Ft. Lee, maybe this is unique to Ft. Lee residents? Looks like it’s the problem of jaywalking in general that’s at issue in that town:

Pedestrians contributed to 20 percent of all traffic fatalities in New Jersey in 2010, the last year for which complete state police statistics have been compiled. Only distracted driving contributed to more deaths — 23 percent.

Combining both factors — as happens when a driver on a cellphone meets a texter on foot — too often leads to trips to hospitals or morgues, yet cops traditionally give breaks to walkers.

“If you give a pedestrian a ticket, he looks at you like you have two heads,” said Fair Lawn Patrolman Tim Franco, who heads the New Jersey Police Traffic Officers Association. “But when you have a serious public safety situation, as in Fort Lee, I’m glad they’re doing this.”

As statewide traffic figures suggest, almost every town has a serious pedestrian safety problem. That’s why the Legislature passed a law in 2009 requiring drivers to stop — not simply yield — to walkers at painted crosswalks.

Dozens of towns, including Fort Lee, Bergenfield and Paramus, sent decoy cops to high-traffic intersections to enforce the law. A state-funded study of the Montclair sting suggested that motorists continued to give walkers the right of way long after the program ended.

But not everybody believes this change suggests success. Drivers often complain that the law has emboldened pedestrians to cross streets — at crosswalks and elsewhere — as if they always have the right of way, sometimes long after traffic lights turn against them.

Indeed, fatality statistics suggest that the biggest pedestrian safety issue isn’t at crosswalks. state police figures for 2010 showed 60 percent of pedestrian deaths occurred either in places where crossing was prohibited or because of unspecified “other pedestrian action in roadways.” That’s cop-speak for doing something stupid, like leaping over a barrier or some other form of jaywalking. Figures for 2009 were similar.

The law seems to be backing itself with a study by Erik M. Lamberg and Lisa M. Muratori, and published in Gait & Posture:


Cell phone use among pedestrians leads to increased cognitive distraction, reduced situation awareness and increases in unsafe behavior. Performing a dual-task, such as talking or texting with a cell phone while walking, may interfere with working memory and result in walking errors. At baseline, thirty-three participants visually located a target 8m ahead; then vision was occluded and they were instructed to walk to the remembered target. One week later participants were assigned to either walk, walk while talking on a cell phone, or walk while texting on a cell phone toward the target with vision occluded. Duration and final location of the heel were noted. Linear distance traveled, lateral angular deviation from the start line, and gait velocity were derived. Changes from baseline to testing were analyzed with paired t-tests. Participants engaged in cell phone use presented with significant reductions in gait velocity (texting: 33% reduction, p=0.01; talking: 16% reduction, p=0.02). Moreover, participants who were texting while walking demonstrated a 61% increase in lateral deviation (p=0.04) and 13% increase in linear distance traveled (p=0.03). These results suggest that the dual-task of walking while using a cell phone impacts executive function and working memory and influences gait to such a degree that it may compromise safety. Importantly, comparison of the two cell phone conditions demonstrates texting creates a significantly greater interference effect on walking than talking on a cell phone.

One of the co-authors of the study:

“We were looking at whether texting had more disruptions than talking on a cell phone,” Lamberg said.

Researchers asked participants to walk to a point 8 feet away and then asked them to return and repeat the exercise while texting, as well as talking on cell phones.

The researchers found “gait velocity is reduced when using a cell phone while talking or texting,” that “navigational errors occur when texting while walking” and “texting while walking produces greater interference than talking on a cell phone.”

“Cell phone use among pedestrians leads to increased cognitive distraction, reduced situation awareness and increases in unsafe behavior,” according to the abstract of the study in Gait and Posture online. “Performing a dual-task, such as talking or texting with a cell phone while walking, may interfere with working memory and result in walking errors.”

Participants who texted while walking “veered off course, demonstrating a 61 percent increase in lateral deviation and 13 percent increase in distance traveled.”

Lamberg said this shows the impact such distractions have on walking, an activity that seems automatic.

For many people, doing anything that requires diverting brain power for the sake of multitasking obviously reduces attention from one thing in order to engage in another. Some people are good at multitasking. Others are not. You don’t need a study to prove that someone enngaged in something more than simply walking will be less alert. But the purpose of the clinical research wasn’t to study pedestrian & traffic safety issues:

“We are using the findings to help physical therapy patients improve true functional walking,” he said, noting some tasks may affect their gait or certain aspects of memory. “In rehabilitation, we should use this as a tool to prepare our patients to be more ready to function in a natural environment.”

He said patients going through rehabilitation might even be told to text or talk while walking as they seek to regain their stride.

“We think using dual-task methodology is a way to challenge people during rehabilitation,” Lamberg said, noting, at a minimum, people might be prepared for this dual tasking. “Using cell phone use as part of a gait-training paradigm isn’t common in physical therapy.”


“We want to raise awareness that a real disruption occurs because of texting,” Lamberg said of the bigger picture. “Texting disrupts your ability much more than does talking.”

Should texting while walking be banned? That’s not the idea behind the research.

“Absolutely not,” Lamberg said. “I think it’s just to raise an awareness to this issue, that it does disrupt your ability to walk naturally.”

Here are a couple of examples of really dumb laws:

Greene, NY: It’s against the law to eat peanuts and walk backwards down the street while a concert is playing

Marion, OH: It’s a violation to eat a donut while walking backwards.

In Devon Connecticut:

It is unlawful to walk backwards after sunset.

While in Hartford you aren’t allowed to cross the street while walking on your hands (was this a frequent problem?).

Of course, there are tons like them.

So do we need more and more cumbersome laws to protect people from their own idiocy?

Who’s responsible: Alexa or the state of New York:

Or both? And does this incident require more legislation?! Or just more common sense on the part of both the city workers and Alexa?

Even malls can be dangerous:

Dumb solution idea? Legislate a fountain ban on malls or the city in general (after all, pedestrians also exist outside of malls- and they could sue!); or, or course, create a law banning texting while walking in a mall.

That lady who fell in could have seriously embarrassed hurt herself! Let’s legislate before that happens to someone else!

While we’re at this, why aren’t we banning swimming pools instead of guns?

6 Responses to “Dangerous Distracted Pedestrians!”

  1. 2

    Nan G

    Jaywalking is a specific wrong action in that you are crossing a street outside of a designated crosswalk.
    I sure hope these tickets are only handed out when THAT action is taking place.
    But seriously?
    What city is going to park cops at street corners in the hopes that someone on a cell phone, texting, will stray out of the crosswalk?
    Bad use of expensive resources.

  2. 4


    I don’t know about texting-while-walking, although I’ve seen reports of some dumb things that happen when you allow yourself to get distracted. Walking into traffic doesn’t suprise me in the least.

    However, it is nice to see someone taking jaywalking seriously again. I see over and over around here in Atlanta, people trying to rush across traffic between cross-walks, sometimes with little kids in tow, and only being 500 feet from a crosswalk. Just this morning, a pedestrian was killed jaywalking across a street, and he was hit by a patrol car! The officer was just cruising, no lights and sirens on, and hit the guy who just walked out in front of him. He was not near a crosswalk at the time. HEre in GA, state law gives pedistrians the right-of-way when in designated cross-walks. Outside of the cross-walks, you’ve got almost no legal protections.

  3. 5

    Nan G


    In CA all cars MUST stop when a person is in a crosswalk, even if the light is red for the walker.
    You must not even make a right turn after he has passed you by and is nearly at the opposite curb.
    That is how restrictive our pedestrian laws are here.

    Jaywalkers are a whole other issue.
    We are still supposed to stop when they are in the street.
    But the problem is; drivers don’t always see them until it is too late.
    Then, if one gets hit, the new problem is our 50%+ rate of unlicensed, uninsured drivers flee the scene.
    Hit and run of jaywalkers is a nearly daily news story in Los Angeles.
    Usually they die, once in a while they make it.
    The usual response is to politik for yet another traffic light.

  4. 6


    @Nan G:

    I hear ya! I just don’t want to be that unlucky guy to have one of these knuckleheaded soon-to-be-grease-spots to jump in front of me, especially the one’s with little kids. Even if it were no my fault, it would be a tremendous amount of guilt knowing I ran over some poor child.

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