A new way to stop pedestrians hooked on phones

Cao Xinyu
A pedestrian was fined 10 yuan (US$1.5) for crossing the street while looking down at her phone on January 14 in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province.
Cao Xinyu

A pedestrian was fined 10 yuan (US$1.5) for crossing the street while looking down at her phone on January 14 in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province.

This was the first ticket to be issued to a distracted walker after new local regulations, which aim to promote proper behaviors, took effect this year.

Given the excessive use of phones nowadays, it almost seems like we have been “tamed” by cellphones.

This growing dependence on phones has come at a price. In recent years, the tragedies involving cellphones are way too many to mention. According to the World Health Organization, over 27,000 pedestrians around the world die in road accidents every year, and walking while checking phones is considered a major cause of traffic accident.

The huge number of accidents suggests that distracted walking puts people in harm’s way.

It was recently reported that a man in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, went through a railway crossing with his head buried over his phone. He was so engrossed in his phone that he blocked out the whistle of a rumbling train. The train was forced to stop for 18 minutes. In a similar case, a man in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, jaywalked while looking at his cellphone. He collided with a passing motorcycle, which led to the death of the motorcyclist.

Due to the mounting “deadly threats” brought by phone use, the issue of distracted walking has garnered increasing attention. Previously, patient persuasion was tried out. In Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, there was even a cellphone lane dedicated to those having trouble putting their phone down while walking. Such measures failed to address the issue at its source. Understandably, a nose-down pedestrian is not so different from someone pretending to sleep, who cannot be wakened up just by a warning.

Now, slapping fines on distracted walkers might be sending a clear message. The newly implemented regulations stipulate punishments for 11 traffic violations, and walking while toying with your cellphones is one of them. Many may say that a fine of ten yuan can be hardly seen as a deterrent. And whether to impose such a fine on a regular basis is still an open question. Yet, it’s undeniable that fining distracted pedestrians can have some effect. As the local traffic police put it, “Penalty is not the purpose. What matters is to raise public awareness of safety.”

Over the years, there have been growing voices for penalizing distracted walking. Local regulation may have limited efficacy, and it may not make a big splash, but it does indicate a trend that so long as distracted walking is not properly tackled, the only way of addressing it is through legislation.

This article is based on a report in Beijing Youth Daily on January 17.

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