Hazelton: law to ban texting while walking could be useful, punishments may be extreme

Paul Hazelton

I think I’m good at multitasking, but when I play “Pokemon Fire Red” in class while simultaneously attempting to absorb information, one of two things happens: either I accidentally kill my favorite Pokemon — Snorlax on route 12 — and grasp the lecture’s content, or I learn nothing and tear through gym leaders  like the Cookie Monster through a roll of Oreos.

But this false belief in my unmatched multitasking skill isn’t exclusive to me — to a degree, most of us think we’re capable of this level of proficiency. Unfortunately, that’s rarely true, according to Arthur Markman, a professor in the department of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin whose research reveals, “There’s a small number of people who are decent multitaskers… at best, it’s maybe 10 percent of the population.”


That means you’re probably not one of them, which is the idea behind a New Jersey bill that would make it illegal to walk while texting.

The bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D), would make this common practice punishable with a fine of up to $50 and/or 15 days in jail. Now, that seems like a trivial, big, government-type law with an unnecessarily harsh penalty. After all, texting while walking never hurt anybody, right? Well, not exactly.

See, since 2010 America has seen a 35-percent increase nationally in accidents involving distracted pedestrians. More concerning, many of these calamities concluded in injury or death. Apparently, one of the biggest contributors to this phenomenon occurs when people attempt to cross streets with their eyes fastened to their phones and, subsequently, are crushed by cars — a fate many of us have narrowly avoided.

In the same nerve that you’re not allowed to text and drive or operate machinery on sleeping pills, it makes sense to limit distracting elements while navigating bipedally. In other words, accidental suicide by way of excessive phone use is a public health problem and should be treated as such.

Besides, even if you aren’t maimed or embarrassed while attempting it, the norm is annoying to everyone behind you. Have you ever been stuck in a crowded area where the person in front of you has seemingly forgotten how to walk due to their handheld addiction to Sudoku? You probably have and, like a cataract-riddled senior in the left lane of a highway, it utterly destroys the flow of traffic. And I’m not the only person in the world that this irks.

China, which is forced to deal with all manner of logistically-challenging transportation problems because of their massive population, seems to share my pet peeve. So much so, in fact, that in some areas they’ve instituted separate walkways for people who feel the need to stare at their phones while in movement. I like that idea. I mean, add hand rails and solid obstacles and you’ve got yourself an instant hit reality show.

But while I think people should look where they’re walking, I’m not a huge fan of New Jersey’s proposed punishment. Jail time for visual negligence seems excessive and the bill in general seems a bit absurd. To that end, I’ve come up with some alternative suggestions that I believe will cut down on walking accidents without the need for a law.

For example, someone could create a motion-sensor app that dings when objects are approaching. Similarly, cell phone manufacturers could install a camera at the top of their phones that would allow us to see whether we’re about to get nailed by a Mack truck or walk into a pole or step on a kitten (an app like this actually exists). If that doesn’t work, maybe walking signals could beep when it’s time to go, like some already do for blind people. Further drawing on the techniques of the blind, we could all call on the aid of walking sticks and guide dogs. Or, we could simply learn to lean against a wall when we get a text or whatever, reply and keep walking like rational human beings.

Then, we could do away with laws, separate walkways and the insane suggestions I’ve listed here and get back to experiencing the real world without blindly crashing into people and objects.  



Collegian Columnist Paul Hazelton can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @HazeltonPaul.