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.
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“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.
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.