Ban distracted walking? De Blasio ‘willing to think about’ penalizing pedestrians for texting

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday that he would be open to legislation that penalizes pedestrians for texting while walking.

De Blasio told reporters at a Brooklyn news conference that his administration wasn’t working on any related policy, but that he felt it was an issue on city streets.

“I’d certainly be willing to think about it because I’ve seen people crossing the street texting who are absolutely oblivious to everything around them, and they’re putting their life in danger,” the mayor said at what was an unrelated street safety announcement. “They’re certainly maximizing the chance there might be a crash.”

The idea of penalizing distracted pedestrians has been floated in various cities. Honolulu last year enacted a new law that fined any pedestrian for texting in a crosswalk. Repeat offenders of the law could face fines up to $99.

The idea flies against the city’s own data, studies and projects from its Department of Transportation, which has often stated at news conferences and through advertisements that the leading cause of pedestrian-related crashes is motorist behavior. A benchmark 2010 study from the department found that motorists’ actions were to blame for 78.5 percent of fatal and serious car crashes involving pedestrians.

Driver inattention and the failure to yield the right of way to pedestrians were the two main causes, making up 56.5 percent of the crashes, according to the report, which analyzed roughly 7,000 car crashes over a five-year period.

Jon Orcutt, a spokesman for the nonprofit TransitCenter and former policy director at the city’s DOT, described the mayor’s sentiments as an example of the “doofus stuff” de Blasio inevitably says while discussing transportation and his safety initiative, Vision Zero.

“It doesn’t address the problem,” Orcutt said of the idea of penalizing pedestrians, noting that city traffic fatalities have reached historic lows in recent years through projects like redesigning streets. “City streets are the safest they’ve ever been ten years after the iPhone became a thing.

“We’re not talking about distracted walking as a source of problems,” he continued, “and the mayor ought to have more discipline when he’s talking to reporters than that. Five years into the job, you’d expect him to be better.”