NJ seeks to outlaw distracted walking, SHU weighs in

Victoria Hess/Staff Photographer

Victoria Hess/Staff Photographer

Students who use their cell phone while walking in public don’t think twice about it. But would they if they knew they could be charged a fine and face imprisonment for it?

A bill that was proposed March 14 by NJ General Assembly member Pamela Lampitt would make this a reality.

Lampitt’s bill would impose a fine of up to $50 or 15 days imprisonment on those caught walking while using their phone in public.

“If a person on the road — whether walking or driving — presents a risk to others on the road, there should be a law in place to dissuade and penalize risky behavior,” Lampitt told CBS2.

The bill is intended to prevent distracted walking, which has become an increasing problem. Pedestrian fatalities have increased by an estimated 10 percent in 2015 than the 4,884 pedestrian fatalities, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association 2015 preliminary data. This data said the growing use of cellphones while walking may be a recent factor to pedestrian deaths as it can be a distraction for drivers and pedestrians.

With an increasing number of accidents potentially related to distracted walking, it is important that students are aware of the risks that come with walking while using a cell phone.

“My friend accidentally bumped into someone,” Kristina Voltas, a freshman marketing major spoke of her friend who was texting and walking.

Walking while using a cellphone has been a hazard for students who continue to do it near Seton Hall’s campus.

“I am not aware of any ‘accidents’ on campus,” Gary Christie, Public Safety assistant director said in an email interview.

“Our major concern regarding cell phones is pedestrians who become the targets of crime while walking the streets surrounding campus. Just a month or two ago a female student was robbed of her cell phone while she was walking near Ward Gate,” Christie said. “An individual (later arrested by SOPD) ran up behind her and snatched the phone from her hand. These kinds of incidents are crimes of opportunity and texting or talking on a cell phone while walking creates that opportunity for someone with bad intentions.”

Students said this law would not make them feel safer, in fact it would do the opposite.

In two separate polls on the Class of 2018 Facebook page consisting of 55 students, 100 percent of students have stated that they always or sometimes use their cell phone while walking to another destination and 80 percent said they’d continue to do so even if Lampitt’s bill became a law.

“That would be total government control. Our liberty and freedom is being infringed upon by not being able to make the choices we could make while we’re under law. What if you’re walking down the street and you get a text message or a phone call about a family emergency, you’ll get 15 days of imprisonment for checking up on a sick family member. That’s not right,” Brian Mulligan, a sophomore pre-law major said.

Tom Hesse, a sophomore finance major said, “What if I’m lost and I need to use the GPS. Why should I be fined for trying to see where I’m going? It has good intentions but I don’t see the need for it at the moment.”

A law which would have the intention to protect pedestrians and drivers, may spark statewide controversy and increase the number of court cases. For most New Jersey towns, this proposed law may not be a priority for police officers who have more pressing issues to take care of.

Regarding what can already be done about distracted walking if Lampitt’s law is not enacted, Richard Izquierdo, assistant professor of political science and public affairs, said that more freedom entails more responsibility.

“We have the right to do things, but the responsibility is not part of that legal option. You don’t have to heighten the threshold to a criminal offense. If I’m walking with my phone out and I run into you, you could sue me. That’s the tort law of New Jersey,” Izquierdo said. “If you can recover from it, I don’t think it’s a criminal offense. What you want is people to be more careful. Essentially, instead of passing this bill, you could get the benefits of this law, by bringing more awareness to this issue.”

A hearing for Lampitt’s bill has not been scheduled and bills with similar intentions have failed
to be passed in Arkansas, Illinois, Nevada, and New York, according to the Associated Press.

Alan Petukh can be reached at alan.petukh@student.shu.edu.

Author: Staff Writer

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