Many mobile phone users now text, or intently perform some other function on their phone, while walking.
Many mobile phone users now text, or intently perform some other function on their phone, while walking. AAP

WATERCOOLER: Should using a phone while walking be banned?

AS beneficial as they are to our lives, mobile phones also present a legitimate threat to public safety - and not because of on-road use or radiation.

Many mobile phone users now text, or intently perform some other function on their phone, while walking. This is commonly seen in public places - especially at road crossings.


Let us know in the poll and comments below

In Australia, as many as one in three pedestrians use a mobile phone while crossing the road. Following recent reports in New South Wales and Victoria of an increase in the number of distracted pedestrians being injured or killed, there are now calls to explicitly outlaw people from using their phones while walking.

What's the problem?

A 2010 study conducted by researchers at Western Washington University in the US found that pedestrians using their mobile phones:

… walked more slowly, changed directions more frequently, and were less likely to acknowledge other people.

This exposed them to far greater risk of an accident.

Pedestrians using mobile phones expose themselves to far greater risk of an accident.
Pedestrians using mobile phones expose themselves to far greater risk of an accident. AAP

The practice was also shown to decrease situational awareness and cause "inattentional blindness" (the inability to detect new and distinctive stimuli). Participants in the study failed to notice a clown on a unicycle while walking on their common route.

A more recent study concluded:

Pedestrian behaviour requires a complex set of cognitive skills including attentional processes, visual and aural perceptual processes, information processing, decision-making and motor initiation.

Using your mobile phone while walking compromises all of these skills.

One in five fatalities on Australian roads is a pedestrian. Each year, 350 pedestrians die on Australia's roads. Around 3500 are seriously injured.

The economic cost of pedestrian accidents to the Australian community exceeds A$1 billion. This does not even begin to account for the emotional toll this takes on the parties involved and their families. There is some evidence that most motor vehicle accidents involving pedestrians stem from the latter's inattentiveness.

What does the law say?

There are no laws within any Australian jurisdiction specifically targeting pedestrians using their mobile phones. Such behaviour may, however, be caught by other offence provisions such as jaywalking.

In South Australia, for example, a person:

… must not walk without due care or attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road.

Other states have similar laws.

Is it time to ban people from walking while using a phone?

This poll ended on 13 May 2016.

Current Results

Yes, they're a menace to drivers, other pedestrians and themselves


No, it's rare that it causes injury or damage


Don't we have better things to care about than this?


Yes, but it seems like our police have enough to do already


This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

Part 14 of the Australian Road Rules, which form the basis of the road rules in each Australian state and territory, stipulates a range of offences that might apply to pedestrians caught using their phones.

Crossing a road when the pedestrian light is red, for example, is an offence commonly committed by those who are not paying attention. However, it is logistically difficult to police and therefore rarely enforced.

Pedestrian distraction is a major concern.
Pedestrian distraction is a major concern. EPA

International experience suggests that outlawing pedestrians from using their phones is not as simple as passing a law. The criminalisation of this behaviour has seemingly divided legislators, law-enforcement agencies and the public.

Five US states (Arkansas, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey and New York) have all tried but failed to introduce legislation specifically outlawing pedestrians using their phones. Most recently, Hawaii introduced a bill that would render crossing the street while holding a mobile phone or other electronic device punishable by a US$250 fine.

In other cases, governments have resorted to restricting mobile phone use to certain localities. Cities in China and Belgium have implemented custom walking lanes for people using mobile phones to keep inattentive pedestrians out of harm's way.

However, this method can be criticised for indirectly endorsing the practice and failing to tackle the underlying issue of pedestrian distraction.

The problems with law reform

Banning pedestrians from using their phones seems a natural extension of the prohibition against mobile phone use while driving. The data speaks for itself: pedestrians who do it are a serious threat to themselves and the public.

But criminalising the practice would be a significant incursion on basic civil liberties. It is one thing to mandate what drivers should focus upon and what to do with their hands while travelling at speed. It is quite another to do the same for pedestrians in public.

And where would the line be drawn? Holding the phone? Using the phone? A mere glance at the time on one's phone would seem analogous to, and as innocuous as, checking the time on a wristwatch.

But making a call, sending a text or email, accessing social media or other websites, reading a document and the like require focus and attention. Both of these should instead be directed solely to assessing one's surroundings, evaluating potential risks and crossing the road when safe to do so.

Some studies have described mobile phone addiction as a very real phenomenon. Our hyper-dependence on smartphones is changing them from useful tools to ones that threaten our well-being.

Perhaps legislative intervention is one step towards tackling this cultural obsession with technology and might make pedestrians realise that no call, text or email is worth dying for.

*Mark Giancaspro is a Lecturer in Law at the University of Adelaide

This article courtesy of The Conversation

What you're saying on Facebook:

Mel Brierley: "People STILL use their mobile phone while driving - so I doubt they'd stop texting and walking!!! Things need to change but the law must change and be harder!"

Rachael Taylor: "What the hell. Whats next. Pooping and phone calls or messages in public toilets. Are you series? Id be out there do reports on drugs, finding killer etc. There might be more fining people walking around on their phones then all the speeding, drugs etc."

Deejay Barker: "Na, don't change that law.. If your stupid enough to not watch what your doing while using your phone, you deserve what's coming to you! You know, its good to thin-out the retards of the world every now and then! lol."

Jeremy Brauer: "I think walking across roads and on the phone should be illegal. That's really where the danger is where people walk out on roads without even looking cause they are on the phone texting and what not."

Silvio Thats-me: "Dictatorship is on the horizon if we don't do something about it now! Our every decision taken away, our freedom 'to be' will be no more...The moment you allow these rules to govern our every day lives you destroy the lives of our future generations, the lives of our children..."

Chel Rafter: "Yep, gotta laugh! As long as it is not others they are running into. Sad really, that their whole lives centre around a screen a few inches big. They are missing so much."

Cliff Chambers: "No they need to learn and the best way of teaching if you have the bulk (I'm 104kg) is just to stop and let them bounce off. The look on some faces is priceless and I bet they remember next time they text and walk about bumping into the fat old dude."

Jimmy Haffenden-Carr: "I think all these rules are killing our freedom. Let's make a law about all the stupid laws that should be illegal for being lawful being a law! Then we should have a rule against the laws that are ruining our legal system?! OK - now I'm confused and probably said something illegal? Or racist? Or politically incorrect? Phew...that was close, nearly ran into a wheelie bin as I was typing this?! Oh the irony?!"

Mark Poulter: "As long as you are not exceeding the stated walking speed on the footpath.......FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WE HAVING A SLOW NEWS DAY OR WHAT!?!?!??"

Evelyn Beckett: "It's sad really, that we think we have to treat grown adults like little children..they'll only walk into a pole or wall a couple of times before they figure it out for themselves."

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