Smartphone zombies: Call for $200 fines for distracted pedestrians

Glynis Quinlan 8 July 2019 8

The Pedestrian Council of Australia is calling for $200 on-the-spot fines for distracted pedestrians crossing roads. It believes the fines would be particularly important in ‘car-dependent’ Canberra because the safety of pedestrians is often in question.

The Pedestrian Council of Australia is calling for $200 on-the-spot fines for pedestrians crossing roads while using smartphones or wearing headphones – with Canberra singled out as particularly needing the new laws.

The council’s chairman, Harold Scruby, is pushing for a new offence of ‘cross road while distracted’ to be introduced nationally to safeguard pedestrians from being unaware of possible traffic dangers if they are using noise-cancelling headphones or texting while crossing a road.

The call comes a matter of months after a man was hit and injured by a light rail vehicle in Canberra during the testing phase of the project – with the man thought to have been unaware that he was stepping in front of the large red vehicle because he was wearing headphones.

It also follows on from a report released last month by the NRMA which found that over one-in-three pedestrians are behaving like ‘smombies’ (smartphone zombies) by crossing busy city streets while engrossed in their smartphone or wearing headphones.

“Enough is enough – you’ve got to have enforcement to support education,” Mr Scruby told Region Media.

“What we need is a national road rule. We’re saying we want a new offence of ‘cross road while distracted’.

“We want to know why they call them smartphones when people using them are so dumb.”

Mr Scruby said the proposed road offence would particularly be important to have in Canberra because it is “the most car-dependent city in Australia” and the safety of pedestrians is often in question.

On March 9 a man wearing headphones was hit and injured by a light rail vehicle at the intersection of Cooyong Street and Northbourne Avenue. File photo.

He wants the offence to apply even when people are legally crossing a road as he believes being distracted can still be dangerous.

“If you’re wearing noise-cancelling headphones you’re not going to hear a siren, are you?”

The NRMA’s recent pedestrian safety report, Look Up, included an observational study of 26,390 pedestrians across three intersections in the Sydney CBD and one in Parramatta.

It found that 36 per cent of pedestrians crossed the road while distracted by their smartphone or wearing earphones and more than three per cent (3.4 per cent) crossed illegally while using their smartphone or wearing earphones.

NRMA Road Safety Expert Dimitra Vlahomitros said ‘smombies’ needed to put their phones in their pockets and focus on crossing intersections safely.

“Distracted walking is a form of inattentional blindness and when you undertake this behaviour you are effectively playing chicken with fast moving traffic – the results of which can be catastrophic,” Ms Vlahomitros said.

“Almost every Australian owns a smartphone and too many of them are focusing on their screens or blocking out their ability to hear traffic instead of focusing on crossing the road safely. The fact that three in every 100 pedestrians are crossing illegally while using their phones is also alarming.”

However, the NRMA does not support the introduction of a new offence or a $200 fine, saying it would prefer to see more education to highlight the issue.

“You can’t legislate against stupidity all the time. What we’d like to see is people using common sense,” NRMA spokesman Peter Khoury told Region Media.

“It’s a relatively new phenomenon and we need to educate people about the risk.”

An ACT Government spokesperson would not state whether the Government would support a new distracted pedestrian offence but said the Government would “continue to investigate ways to protect both drivers and pedestrians on our roads”.

“One of the strategic goals of the ACT Road Safety Strategy is to develop a community that shares responsibility for road safety. This requires efforts to educate and encourage road users to obey the road rules and to be unimpaired and alert when sharing the road with others.”

Are you concerned about pedestrians being distracted while crossing roads? Do you think fines should be introduced or is better education needed? Let us know in the comments below.

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8 Responses to Smartphone zombies: Call for $200 fines for distracted pedestrians
rossau rossau 3:31 pm 12 Jul 19

Harold Scruby, is the CEO of the registered charity, this Pedestrians Council of Australia: not representative and not a council. He doesn’t represent pedestrians. (It’s a sweet spot that he doesn’t need to.) He’s not suggested law-change to protect pedestrians nor conducted council meetings to promote pedestrain rights.
Still, Harold suggests we should outlaw a headphone-wearing leisurely stroll, just while road rules are changed so that no pedestrian has a right-of-way anywhere.
I’m not saying that heaphone-wearing pedestrians don’t bring a little on themselves. I’m saying pedestrians should no longer be the consideration of last resort.
i. no pedestrian or cyclist is given right-of-way at a roundabout. (The ‘Give Way’ that used to suggest this is re-interpreted.)
ii. no pedestrian can expect that a ‘Give Way’ sign suggests a right to pass.
iii. a pedestrian ought expect to be last in the pecking order to progress ahead in their journey.
iv. And, though, a pedestrian has right-of-way crossing a road against turning traffic
v. none might hope that a driver turning into an intersection would actually give way to them: ‘Whoa, I’m not stepping into the path of 99% of Australian drivers who don’t know this changed law.’
This PCA should actively promote a pedestrian right and we should too.

    Maya123 Maya123 11:07 am 13 Jul 19

    Pedestrians have right of way over people on bikes, even if said pedestrian is walking down the wrong side of the path and making a nuisance of themselves. I have never understood why that is. It would be better if all had the same rights and responsibilities, and kept left. I do, as a pedestrian and when on a bike. Rather than a row of pedestrians stretching across the path and one shouting as I passed on the grass beside them, as they had the whole width of the path, pedestrians having right of way and I can get off the path.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 7:52 am 10 Jul 19

“Or, the pedestrian council could advocate for an urban design where cars are not the dominant force……”

The “dominant force” in this issue is the device that both pedestrians, bicycle riders and car drivers have become enslaved to and distracted by. Ask the medical staff at any hospital ED what is the reason for most traffic accidents these days.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 5:54 pm 09 Jul 19

“Distracted walking is a form of inattentional blindness….”

Regardless of whether cars or trams are nearby, it often looks like a form of intentional blindness – “I’m too busy texting the PM/President/UN Secretary-General to watch out for other people, so clear a path, peasants!”

Rollersk8r Rollersk8r 2:49 pm 09 Jul 19

It’s definitely an issue, especially for older kids in school areas. The amazing part is they rarely even react to almost getting hit. Never apologise, eyes straight back on the screen.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 8:21 am 09 Jul 19

It will have to be an e-fine to get any attention.

Grail Grail 7:25 am 09 Jul 19

And yet I have survived thirty years of reading books while walking. I wonder if some people just don’t know how to cross roads safely?

While there is mention of the man being hit by light rail, where’s the mention of the pedestrians crossing the rails and almost getting hit even without distractions? Plenty of footage available from Transport Canberra.

How will you judge whether I am distracted or not? Are you going to label me as distracted simply because I have a book in my hand?

What about the people with no physical distraction but who are daydreaming and not paying attention? Even while reading I am aware of my surroundings. Meanwhile the “not distracted” people around me will try crossing the road unaware of the bus turning the corner in front of them.

Not to put too fine a point on it, these busy bodies wanting to impose fines can get stuffed.

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