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Smartphone zombies: Call for $200 fines for distracted pedestrians

Glynis Quinlan 9 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
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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.

6:48 am 10 Jul 19

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

5:34 am 10 Jul 19

Blimey hasn't nanny got better things to do?

4:48 am 10 Jul 19

If the Pedestrian Council had a dollar for every time it proposed a new fine or ban, Harold Scruby would have retired to an island with no roads decades ago.

    3:49 pm 12 Jul 19

    Samuel Gordon-Stewart - I remember his proposed ban on bullbars!

    10:39 am 13 Jul 19

    That was before I hit my four ‘Roos and one Emu (I think I am entitled to wear the coat-of-arms on my truck now) so I think I may have firmed in my views on this now.

7:48 pm 09 Jul 19

Now I can actually say

We’ve gone too far

Nanny State for sure.

You can’t save everyone, sure we can try but

People need to take responsibility for their own lives.

6:14 pm 09 Jul 19

Why do they need to specify the amount? Maybe fines are a good idea, but $200 is a bit steep.

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!”

5:46 pm 09 Jul 19

I agree with it. To many morons walking into people into cars etc.

5:18 pm 09 Jul 19

I use my headphones but that has very little impact on my spatial awareness as I am never on my phone when I am either walking across a road or through public. I always check before I cross, always. But maybe that is just me though.....

5:18 pm 09 Jul 19

Not this law. Better is a $2,000 fine if a car slows down or brakes because of the stupidity of a pedestrian.

5:16 pm 09 Jul 19

Dude has no idea about headphones. Noise canceling headphones actually make sirens more prominent, as they cancel out the humdrum road noise, not the wailing siren. Having said that, it's the music that stops you hearing what's going on, not the 'noise cancelling'.

Wearing headphones is fine. Using a phone and crossing a road is fine, assuming you're actively listening. Doing both at once is asking for trouble.

Still, don't think it should be a law. Personal responsibility is still a thing.

5:03 pm 09 Jul 19

We could lower the speed limit and put in zebra crossings

5:01 pm 09 Jul 19

Are we going to fine people for driving while having a radio on?

Or having distracting passengers? Or being tired? Or emotional?

4:58 pm 09 Jul 19

How about under or over passes?

3:45 pm 09 Jul 19

Totally agree, we are all responsible for our own safety, walking, driving, cycling, skating whatever.

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.

1:30 pm 09 Jul 19

I’m concerned about them walking down the footpath!

12:44 pm 09 Jul 19

Saw a cyclist riding on the road and texting yesterday I hope it applies to them as well

    1:04 pm 09 Jul 19

    It already does and it's far more than what is suggested here.

    Includes points towards your licence too if you have one.

    1:32 pm 09 Jul 19

    Daz Za the police have to catch them in the act though. Like with motorists I guess.

    3:50 pm 09 Jul 19

    Rowan Hurrell what about drivers with earphones in? I’ve seen that a bit.

‘Pedestrian’ is another word for ‘person’, or ‘human’. People live in cities, and use public space in which to exist as humans. This notion that vast swathes of public space has been gobbled up for the exclusive use of high speed automotive movement - (yes, when compared to human walking speed, anything over 25km/h is high speed), is only something that’s been beaten into us culturally for last 100 years or so.

Cities are for people. Let people be people and slow the damn cars.

    3:14 pm 09 Jul 19

    People are in those cars trying to go places you know. Are you really so blinded by ideology that you want to punish cars for the peanuts that walk in to traffic because they're playing Candy Crush or trying to catch a Pokemon?

    Mobility is actually a good thing for humanity and some people prefer (or need) to travel by vehicle.

    Many of the causes championed by progressives (which I only note in view of your name) are cultural phenomena that are much younger than 100 years and I doubt you would accept "we didn't accept *insert cause here* 100 years ago" as a sensible argument.

    4:10 pm 09 Jul 19

    Robert Knight - Australian Progressives What? How does cars going slower stop distracted people from stepping out into traffic? Ironic that a “progressive” has such an 80-year-old man, “Slow down you damn hooligans, back in my day...” argument

    4:13 pm 09 Jul 19

    Michael Harper Nah, I reckon he’s spot on, we should enforce maximum speed limits of 25km/h to stop those damn cars from taking over Terminator style. First they travel at ‘high speed’, next they take our jobs and kidnap our children!

11:33 am 09 Jul 19

Just implement an automatic fine for leaving your house each day. We’re not taxed enough yet as a country and most people jaywalk so it can be justified.

    11:52 am 09 Jul 19

    Agreed. These people are good candidates for Darwin awards and should be treated as such. Over nannystatism that seems to dovetail with Canberra.

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