Join us at TNW Conference 2022 for insights into the future of tech →

The heart of tech

This article was published on March 28, 2016

    Idiots shouldn’t be jailed or fined for using a phone while walking

    Idiots shouldn’t be jailed or fined for using a phone while walking
    Ben Woods
    Story by

    Ben Woods

    Europe Editor

    Ben is a technology journalist with a specialism in mobile devices and a geeky love of mobile spectrum issues. Ben used to be a professional Ben is a technology journalist with a specialism in mobile devices and a geeky love of mobile spectrum issues. Ben used to be a professional online poker player. You can contact him via Twitter or on Google+.

    Not too long ago, I was walking down the street pawing idly at my phone, only to look up moments before walking into a pole.

    I narrowly avoided it by bending myself around in a way that I was previously unaware I could do, much to the (openly exhibited) amusement of the girl walking towards me.

    I’d narrowly avoided physical contact with the pole, but the embarrassment was writ large across my face.

    ‘You’re OK,’ the girl said as a statement, not a question.

    I was. But it was close.

    In that situation, had I ploughed head-first into the pole, I still probably have been OK. Had I been strolling into the road paying as little attention, I probably wouldn’t survive too long on London’s streets.

    It’s a problem you’ve probably encountered yourself – strolling along while someone obliviously walks into you while staring straight down at their phone.

    It’s certainly enough of a problem for legislation to be suggested by several states in the US – though it has never passed.

    The most recent is a measure proposed by Pamela Lampitt in New Jersey that would see the same punishments for using a phone on the sidewalk as you’d get for jaywalking in the US – a $50 fine, 15 days in jail or both. Essentially, it would require you to use a hands-free kit to even make a call while walking down the street.

    To me, it seems unlikely that this specific proposal could pass into law – requiring all calls to be made via a headset is a step too far, but attempting to curb the increasing problem of smartphone zombies ambling down the street is something that I’d appreciate, but see no practical solution for.

    As a resident in the UK’s capital, the number of times each day that I see people either walk into or narrowly avoid people/cars/garbage cans as a result of staring at their phones is ridiculous.

    Nonetheless, you can’t really legislate for common sense (you can, but you shouldn’t necessarily) and empirical evidence is far more persuasive than the threat of a theoretical fine. And how would it even be enforced? It’s rare enough to see someone get a littering fine, which happens all day long.

    I certainly spend a lot less time looking downwards and a lot more time looking forwards since nearly walking into that post.

    Whether or not you actually make contact with the animate or inanimate is on you – I’m just not sure the lingering threat of a fine would even make any difference.