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NJ Town’s “Texting While Jaywalking” Ban Sparks Discussion

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Texting while crossing the street

The photographer writes: "Crossing a busy junction while texting is not recommended."

A New Jersey town has banned texting while jaywalking, after three pedestrians were killed while walking and more than 20 others were in accidents this year alone. The town, Fort Lee, which is across the Hudson River from Manhattan, has 35,000 people and is one of the most congested municipalities in Bergen County, according to “The Record: Walk this way” on

Fort Lee Police Chief Thomas Ripoli told Rosa Golijan (and was quoted in her post yesterday on’s Technolog blog), that contrary to news reports, police are only targeting pedestrians who text (or listen to music on headphones) while jaywalking, not people who are otherwise texting while walking. In her post, “New Jersey town’s police chief: No, we didn’t ban texting while walking,” Golijian writes that Ripoli has been “fielding calls from all over the world” because reports about Fort Lee’s pedestrian safety campaign were “somehow taken out of context.” Ripoli told Golijian that people who are texting while jaywalking in Fort Lee are issued $54 jaywalking tickets.

In a Village Voice blog post, John Surico reports that at least two states have considered a similar ban. As he writes:

[Fort Lee’s] move doesn’t seem to have any legal basis: the Huffington Post notes that, as of now, there is ‘no law on the books against dangerous walking’ in the Fort Lee community. But, now that Fort Lee has made a move that other states like Pennsylvania and Arkansas were considering, it’s unpredictable how serious this ‘dangerous walking’ thing could get.

As citizens of the 21st century, we must protect our right to walk into [mall fountains]. It’s our idiotic choice.

There are those who call for texting while walking — not only while jaywalking — to be banned everywhere. In the blog Observations for Scientific American, Gary Stix does, and paints a picture of a Manhattan pedestrian’s frustrations having to navigate the sidewalks and crosswalks when they are congested by so many texting pedestrians:

It would be nice if state governments went one step further and banned texting while walking. The law might require that anyone entering an emoticon into a smartphone would be required to stand (very still) within a foot of the sidewalk’s edge or cough up a $50 fine.

Going on foot from the Canal Street stop of the A train in lower Manhattan to the door of the huge former printing factory building where Nature Publishing Group has its offices has increasingly become a series of patterned avoidance maneuvers to skirt erratically moving objects immersed in text-crazed oblivion.

Mobile devices have succeeded in desensitizing a not insubstantial percentage of urban populations from their physical surroundings. How often have I experienced the desire to keep walking in a straight line and let the texter’s bowed head ram into my chest?

In his post, Stix talks about Google’s Project Glass, a prototype for a display that looks like a pair of glasses and puts a smartphone’s capabilities on a person’s face, technology that could make pedestrians even more prone to accidents. The Google Glasses, whose release date has not been announced, would work by sending text and images to “a small sliver of a display attached to the frames.”

Stix writes that some have said that advertisers would take advantage of this new venue: “… [C]ynics have also suggested that walking down the street [while wearing Google Glasses] might be akin to getting spammed with a flurry of special offers — a free small coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts or a two-for-one sale at the Gap — even while you’re trying to get across a major intersection with life and limb intact.”

As the article on notes, Fort Lee‘s approach may seem harsh, but it’s probably making the point. Someone who gets a ticket for jaywalking is unlikely to do it again.

Here is some documentary footage of a woman who stumbles into a mall fountain while texting:

Image by Stuart Grout, used under its Creative Commons license.


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