How many times have you crossed the street, only to bump into someone who has their face buried in their cellphone?
It won’t happen much longer if two of Chicago’s most powerful aldermen have anything to say about it.
Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th) and Transportation Committee Chairman Anthony Beale (9th) want to discourage “distracted walking” behavior by slapping those pedestrians with hefty fines.
A first offense would cost you $90. The fine for repeated offenses would rise to a whopping $500.
The ordinance states: “No person shall cross a street or highway while using a mobile electronic device in a manner that averts their visual attention to that device or that device’s activity.”
It defines “mobile electronic device” as “any handheld or other portable electronic equipment capable of providing wireless and/or data communication between two or more persons or of providing amusement.” Those amusements “include” but are not limited to “a mobile telephone, mobile gaming device, text messaging device, paging device, personal digital assistant, laptop computer, video game or digital photographic device.”
The crackdown would not apply to law enforcement officers or emergency personnel “when on duty and acting in their official capacities.” Nor would it apply to people “using a telephone to call 911 or other emergency telephone numbers to contact emergency or law enforcement personnel.”
During the first six months of this year alone, 27 pedestrians were killed on the streets of Chicago. There were 28 pedestrian deaths during the same period a year ago.
Burke brushed past reporters attempting to ask questions about the crackdown on his way out of Wednesday’s City Council meeting.
In a press release, he pointed to the World Health Organization’s claim that people who text and walk are “nearly four times more likely to engage in at least one dangerous action” including jaywalking and neglecting to look both ways.
Distracted pedestrians also take “18 percent more time to cross the street” than focused pedestrians, Burke said.
“The goal … is to reduce pedestrian deaths and injuries, especially at crosswalks,” Burke was quoted as saying in a press release.
Beale added that City Council passage of the ordinance and enforcement of it by police would “increase safety by eliminating distractions for pedestrians at intersections and elsewhere” across the city.
Chicago would join a distracted walking bandwagon that already includes Honolulu and San Mateo County, Ca. The state of California is expected to consider a ban in January. New York City is stepping up its efforts to educate pedestrians about the dangers of “distracted walking.”
According to Burke, Chicago Police officers struggling to control homicides and shootings would be charged with issuing distracted walking tickets.
But when police officers were given similar power to ticket motorists for talking on their cellphones while driving, they didn’t do it, blaming complications of a new state law.
Maybe that’s why Mayor Rahm Emanuel is witholding judgment, even as he acknowledged that distracted walking is an epidemic.
“Everybody does it and everybody is irritated when somebody else does it,” the mayor said.