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Smartphone zombies: Call for $200 fines for distracted pedestrians

Glynis Quinlan 8 July 2019 78

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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78 Responses to Smartphone zombies: Call for $200 fines for distracted pedestrians
Chris Endrey Chris Endrey 10:52 am 09 Jul 19

If I were a Pedestrian Council I'd spend a lot more time advocating for people to be able to do whatever they wanted while walking and a lot less time blaming people for being hit.

    Chris Endrey Chris Endrey 10:53 am 09 Jul 19

    (before I accidentally find myself in a conversation online I want to say that obviously people shouldn't look at their phones when being in the same spaces that cars are allowed to be etc.)

    Benjamin Spark Benjamin Spark 11:09 am 09 Jul 19

    Chris Endrey having almost hit pedestrians that walk out onto the road without looking because they are engrossed in their phones, I'd like to see something done to prevent it. I don't think fines are the way to go (mostly because it'd be impossible to implement or prove), but I'm not sure what is.

    Chris Endrey Chris Endrey 11:11 am 09 Jul 19

    Benjamin Spark I definitely agree it'd be good to do something, I just think it's a bit off that it's a Pedestrian Council's remit to advocate to fine people for walking.

    Chris Endrey Chris Endrey 11:11 am 09 Jul 19

    They should be advocating for car-free zones and well lit parks and things like that I would've thought.

    Chris Endrey Chris Endrey 11:12 am 09 Jul 19

    As for the problem of everybody constantly wandering everywhere on the phone, that's sadly beyond my imagination.

    Benjamin Spark Benjamin Spark 11:18 am 09 Jul 19

    Only walking in certain places under certain conditions, that could endanger yourself and others.

    Benjamin Spark Benjamin Spark 11:20 am 09 Jul 19

    whoops, your second and third comments hadn't updated on my device. I agree that there are plenty of other things that they should be advocating for.

James Daniels James Daniels 10:42 am 09 Jul 19

When I see someone cross the road with their eyes glued to their phone, I know whats happening and I adjust to ensure I don't hit them. Its the ones who just walk straight across without a single glance left or right and no obvious distrations who are of greater concern to me, and I see more of them than people glued to their phones.

Tanya Louise Tanya Louise 10:25 am 09 Jul 19

Years ago I was talking on my mobile, trying to sort out a tricky work problem when I stepped off the curb literally in front of a bus. A guy grabbed the back of my jacket and pulled me back and I felt the whoosh of the bus go past millimetres from my head. I was so shocked I never thanked him. I haven't walked and talked or walked and texted on my phone since.

Carole Ford Carole Ford 10:24 am 09 Jul 19

This kind of fine would be difficult to police, but after nearly collecting an idiot in Civic last Thursday, it might be a good way of making people get their noses/ears out of their phones while walking!! If you must take a call/check social media/access your back account etc.etc.etc, then do it sitting down or standing still so you're not a danger to yourself and others.😲🤓🤨

Dave Edwards Dave Edwards 9:24 am 09 Jul 19

Almost as bad as shopping mall zombies. George Romero made dawn of the dead as a satire of this way back in 1978

Renea Hazel Renea Hazel 9:05 am 09 Jul 19

I would just settle for pedestrians having some consideration for drivers in the shared zones in the city.

    Jim Croft Jim Croft 9:17 am 09 Jul 19

    They are not shared zones. They are pedestrian lanes of entitlement. Didn't you get the memo? :)

    Marc Edwards Marc Edwards 9:31 am 09 Jul 19

    Renea Hazel actually pedestrian have the right of way over cyclists and vehicle, it’s designed to remove vehicle from the area.

    Randy Goldberg Randy Goldberg 9:49 am 09 Jul 19

    Renea Hazel I'm not sure what consideration you're looking for.

    The legislation says, "83 Giving way to pedestrian in shared zone A driver driving in a shared zone must give way to any pedestrian in the zone. Maximum penalty: 20 penalty units. "

    https://www.legislation.act.gov.au › ...PDF

    Web results

    Road Transport (Road Rules) Regulation 2017 - ACT Legislation Register

    Tanya Louise Tanya Louise 10:27 am 09 Jul 19

    Renea Hazel I would settle for drivers in the shared zones not trying to plow down pedestrians when they have right of way

    Renea Hazel Renea Hazel 1:56 pm 09 Jul 19

    The point I was making is that shared zones don't work in this country. In other nations they do because there exists mutual consideration between drivers and pedestrians. Of course pedestrians always technically have right of way but in this country we get arrogance to the point of stepping out into a roadway without looking in supreme confidence that you won't get run down.

    Renea Hazel Renea Hazel 1:57 pm 09 Jul 19

    Marc Edwards it's not designed to remove vehicles from the area, otherwise it would be a designated pedestrian-only zone.

    John Wilson John Wilson 2:12 pm 09 Jul 19

    Shared zones work just fine. Stepping out onto the shared road space in supreme confidence is exactly the right pedestrians have. If drivers are having to jump on the brakes or are feeling they've been caught by surprise, then they don't understand how they should conduct themselves is in those spaces.

    Renea Hazel Renea Hazel 3:05 pm 09 Jul 19

    John Wilson obviously our shared zones haven't been planned for the right locations then, trying to get through the ones in the city is damn near impossible for a vehicle. They should probably close these areas to traffic altogether aside from essential delivery vehicles.

    Marc Edwards Marc Edwards 5:41 pm 09 Jul 19

    Renea Hazel to be exact, the premise behind a shared zone is to discourage motorists from using said space by having slow speeds and giving priority to pedestrians (to remove vehicles, not ban them). So its to make it a far more pedestrian friendly place.

    Jim Croft Jim Croft 4:41 am 10 Jul 19

    Marc Edwards The sharing thing means that pedestrians, cyclists and motorists all have a right to be there. It is just courtesy; you make eye contact, notice the other user and notice that they have noticed you. If a car or bike is already moving, it is no trouble for me to change pace or direction to avoid walking into it, just as we do with other pedestrians. But for the social interaction to work, we have to look at each other, as unpleasant as that might be. :)

    Marc Edwards Marc Edwards 10:09 pm 12 Jul 19

    Jim Croft that’s not actually correct, pedestrians have full right of way( yes they would be stupid to walk in front of a moving vehicle) but the legislation behind a Shared zone is Pedestrians have right of way, as in all other vehicles must give way to them.

    Tony Southwell Tony Southwell 4:03 am 13 Jul 19

    Also all parties must pay Due care & attention at all times..

    Can't be doing this on Phones...

Stefan Stirzaker Stefan Stirzaker 8:47 am 09 Jul 19

Eating while walking. Thats a fine. Talking whule walking. Thats a fine. Walking while walking. Thats a fine

Trish Roberts Trish Roberts 8:45 am 09 Jul 19

More worried about drivers not paying attention to pedestrians.

Gemi Jeffery Gemi Jeffery 8:42 am 09 Jul 19

I'm concerned about 'smartphone zombies' everywhere.

Stef Qu Stef Qu 8:31 am 09 Jul 19

Kids in the car and crossing the road with adults can be more distracting.. let’s ban kids in the car and roads..let’s also ban cars and light rail.. everybody just stay home ..

Ed N Joanne Towner Ed N Joanne Towner 8:29 am 09 Jul 19

Interesting that Canberra has been singled out as needing the new laws. I remember seeing this problem in the Sydney CBD 4 yrs ago.

David Jackson David Jackson 8:21 am 09 Jul 19

I call it “Darwin’s theory”

Capital Retro 8:21 am 09 Jul 19

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

Adam Tibballs Adam Tibballs 8:09 am 09 Jul 19

Stupid idea

Louise Flood Louise Flood 8:09 am 09 Jul 19

Except current research shows there has been no increase in pedestrians being hit because of this .

    Teena Sullivan Teena Sullivan 7:30 pm 09 Jul 19

    Probably more good luck than good management.

Stephen Page-Murray Stephen Page-Murray 7:59 am 09 Jul 19

Good idea

Greg Peterson Greg Peterson 7:47 am 09 Jul 19

The Free Choice Citizens Council is calling for the Pedestrian Council to be fined $500 for proposing such a stupid idea.

    Chele Forest Chele Forest 8:03 am 09 Jul 19

    Pedestrian Council needs to get up with the latest technology. Alot of headphones have settings which allow outside noise in so you're no more distracted than if you were listening to a radio near by. And certainly less distracted than if you're trying to manage two kids while crossing - don't see them proposing to fine people crossing the road with toddlers (because it's a stupid idea)

David Lindsay David Lindsay 7:40 am 09 Jul 19

$1000 fines QLD drivers isn't going to stop mobile use. Maybe invest in education for personal safety and awareness. Imagine if those 5 to 10 second Uber Eats ads on YouTube were replaced with clips of pedestrians getting pollaxed by cars.

    Lucas Atmanagara Lucas Atmanagara 8:16 am 09 Jul 19

    I agree. We get all this new tech and no education on using it safely. I spent a long time, getting my kids to recognise that they didn't need to have their heads in their phones 24/7 and it was ok to miss a message while you are walking from one place to another.

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.

Trish Lingard-Wyss Trish Lingard-Wyss 7:20 am 09 Jul 19

People drive cars wearing head phones and they see nothing wrong with that. Do you really think they are going to remove them to cross a street.

    Chele Forest Chele Forest 7:57 am 09 Jul 19

    Trish some headphones these days have settings which allow outside noise in. I have a pair that have a microphone on the outside of the headset so that I can still hear traffic etc.

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