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States Wrestle with Legislation to Curb Distracted Walking, Running and Cycling

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January 26, 2011

States Wrestle with Legislation to Curb Distracted Walking, Running and Cycling

By Tracey E. Schelmetic, TMCnet Contributor

In their latest effort to save us from our own stupidity (the nice word is “distraction”), many state lawmakers are attempting to create legislation that will keep the users of hand-held digital devices like iPods and cell phones from hurting themselves and others as they walk, cycle and drive in a digital communications fog, putting their music, text or conversation first and their attention to the road or sidewalk second (or possibly third, after the cup of coffee). According to a new article in the New York Times, the ubiquity of these interactive devices has propelled the “science of distraction.”

New York State has been one of the first to try and tackle the problem with legislation. The New York state legislature’s transportation committee is considering a bill that would ban the use of phones, iPods or other electronic devices while crossing streets, particularly in cities of more than one million people. The bill was proposed by State Senator Carl Kruger, a Brooklyn Democrat who has seen too many alarming examples of injuries due to distracted street crossing: three people have been killed and one seriously injured in New York City since September due to crossing the street while fiddling with hand-held devices.

In response to the many outcries that the state shouldn't get involved in issues of personal choice and responsibility, Mr. Kruger told the Times, “This is not government interference,” he said. “This is more like saying, ‘You’re doing something that could be detrimental to yourself and others around you.'”

A similar bill is pending in Oregon that would restrict bicyclists from using mobile phones and music players. Proposed legislation in Virginia bill would keep such cyclists from using “hand-held communication devices.” A similar proposed bill was recently forced out of the Arkansas state legislature due to public unpopularity.

California, which several years ago successfully banned drivers from sending text messages and using hand-held phones while driving, plans to try and reintroduce legislation banning cyclists from the same practices. The bill, which failed in its first attempt last year, would fine distracted cyclists $20 for each infraction.

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Tracey Schelmetic is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Tracey's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Tammy Wolf

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