Should Texting While Walking Be Banned?

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Should Texting While Walking Be Banned?

Should Texting While Walking Be Banned?


Recently, Toronto City Councilor Frances Nunziata put forward a motion to amend the Ontario Highway Safety Act. Nunziata would like to see penalties for “distracted walkers,” whom she views as a safety issue. Nunziata’s proposal seeks to create regulations that would ban pedestrians from “actively using a handheld wireless communication device or handheld electronic entertainment device while on any traveled portion of a roadway.”


While Nunziata’s move made waves, it is only one of several North American initiatives to try to curb distracted walkers. Time magazine reports that legislators from five different U.S. states have also attempted to regulate pedestrians who walk while using their cellphones, including a bid by New Jersey Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, who proposed jail time for persistent offenders. So far no legislation has been implemented, mainly due to concerns about how such a law would be enforced.


So what are the alternatives? Public education programs have been in place in many jurisdictions for some years now, encompassing everything from light-hearted public service announcements on television and radio to stickers placed on the sidewalk reading: “Look Up.” Announcements on transit in Hong Kong advise, “Don’t keep your eyes only on your mobile phone.” The message doesn’t seem to be getting through.


Anecdotal information about the phenomenon of distracted walking has been around for several years; in addition to run-of-the-mill stories about falling down the stairs or walking into light standards, investigators filed reports about one pedestrian who fell into a fountain, one who very nearly ran into a bear, one who stumbled over a dead body, and one who inadvertently tumbled off the end of a pier. Recently researchers have been attempting to document the extent of the problem. A team of researchers from the University of Washington observed various intersections and found that texters were less likely to look both ways or obey lights, even at high-risk locations. And emergency rooms have noted a steep spike in pedestrian injuries related to texting, talking, and playing games. The Consumer Product Safety Commission in the U.S. estimates that there was a 124% increase in ER visits related to cellphones in the period between 2010 and 2014 – and those statistics date back before the Pokemon Go fad. A Wall Street Journal reporter investigating distracted walking set up an experiment: he dressed a friend as Chewbacca, the large furry Star Wars character, and placed him on a San Francisco street corner. He watched as commuters walked by the Wookie, then asked people who were focused on their phones if they’d noticed anything unusual. Most hadn’t.


While some of these stories have a humourous side, when distracted walking is a contributing cause to a pedestrian-motor vehicle accident, it’s not funny at all. And in this regard, Toronto may have a particular problem. A recent Globe and Mail article reported that, on average, a pedestrian is struck once every four hours in Toronto and the GTA. Fatalities due to pedestrian-motor vehicle accidents have increased by 15% over the past five years, and hundreds of people have suffered serious injuries. Transport Canada figures show that approximately 33% of pedestrians killed on our roadways have been deemed to be at-fault in the accident, (although there are no statistics available to say what portion of these involved distracted walking.)


There’s an actual name for the reason people feel unable to tear themselves away from the tiny glowing screens; it’s called “FOMO,” which stands for “Fear of Missing Out.” Sadly, some distracted walkers end up missing out on the rest of their lives.



Personal injury lawyers are beginning to see more cases that involve distraction due to cellphones, both distracted drivers and distracted walkers. These cases can be difficult for everyone involved.


In Ontario, when a pedestrian is hit by a motor vehicle, it is assumed to be the fault of the driver. This is called “reverse onus” and it means, basically, that the driver has to prove that he or she was not guilty, or not solely responsible for the accident, as long as the pedestrian can prove that it happened. It’s one of the few instances where a person is presumed “guilty until proven innocent” in our courts. A majority of pedestrian accidents are settled before they ever get to trial. However, responsibility for an accident can be adjudicated in court. A judge may rule that either the driver or the pedestrian was at fault, or he/she can produce a finding of “split liability.” In this scenario, both driver and pedestrian are assigned a share of the responsibility for the accident. Distracted walking can be a factor in determining responsibility.


If you or a family member has been injured in a pedestrian accident, whether it involved distracted walking or not, contact a personal injury specialist as soon as possible. Only an experienced personal injury law firm can help you navigate the legal aspect of this type of accident. Sokoloff Lawyers has handled many pedestrian-motor vehicle cases, and can provide you with advice, help, and support
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