Bill Proposes $50 Fine, Possible Jail Time for Distracted Walking

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

You’ve heard of distracted driving?

This is distracted walking.

You see it more and more in this densely populated state.

It’s gotten to the point where one out of every three people killed in a traffic accident in New Jersey is a pedestrian.

Assemblywoman Pam Lampitt introduced a bill last week that would make texting while crossing or talking on a hand-held while crossing a punishable offense like jaywalking.

The fine would be $50. Habitual offenders could go to jail.

Lampitt was unavailable for an interview today but gave us a statement: “An individual crossing the road distracted by their smartphone presents just as much danger to motorists as someone jaywalking and should be held, at minimum, to the same penalty. This is exactly what my legislation does.”

In Morristown today, people involved in a program called “Street Smart” presented a similar message.

One said there were 750 pedestrian deaths in New Jersey and 17,000 injuries over a recent five-year span.

“That equates to one death every two and half days and 11 injuries every single day. These numbers are daunting,” said Mary K. Murphy, executive director of the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority.

Opinion on the Lampitt bill was divided.

“I mean, I’m OK with the fine. I don’t know if I’d go as far as putting someone in jail for texting while walking. But I’ve experienced it on the street where people have been texting and walk into poles, and walk into street signs,” said Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty.

“I’m going to take a look at the legislation. I have to tell you, though, I don’t think that’s the approach that we need to take. We have way too many laws on the book right now that people can be summonsed for a whole bunch of stupid stuff,” said Assemblyman Anthony Bucco.

“Legislation specifically, I’m not able to comment one way or the other on it. We’re not in a position to do that, but certainly pedestrian safety is a significant issue in New Jersey. We’re pleased that overall our motor vehicle fatalities have been declining steadily the last 10 years, but pedestrian fatalities have not. They’ve remained level. That’s kind of bucking the trend,” said Robert Gaydosh, region supervisor of the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety.

“We’re happy to see anything that raises awareness but we’re really about the education of the pedestrian and knowing that looking down at that phone when they’re stepping into a crosswalk is something they should be conscious of not doing,” Murphy said.

“As a civilian driving around, not in a police car, I’ve seen people walk in front of my car on cell phones texting or whatever they’re doing and completely oblivious to what’s going on, so I feel it’s definitely something that should be looked into. It’s definitely creating a hazard,” said Lt. Matthew Rawding of the Morristown Police Department.

A similar bill has failed to win passage in three other states including New York and is not scheduled for a hearing here yet. Lampitt says even if it doesn’t pass here, it’s building awareness, and that’s OK.