Fines for distracted walking may improve road safety, Ottawa personal injury lawyer Howard Yegendorf .
A new private member’s bill, introduced at Queen’s Park last month by MPP Yvan Baker, proposes to fine distracted pedestrians up to $50 if they cross the road while using their phones.
“I think it’s a wise move,” says Yegendorf, founding partner of Howard Yegendorf & Associates LLP. “I’m always telling kids not to walk across the road while they’re distracted because I’ve seen enough cases where people were injured when a car went through a red light or turned right into a crosswalk.”
Baker, who represents Toronto riding Etobicoke Centre in the provincial legislature, said at a news conference that Bill 171, the Phones Down, Heads Up Act, was inspired by local constituents who urged him to act on rising pedestrian deaths in the city. According to the CBC, 42 pedestrians were killed on the city’s streets in 2016, the highest total since 2002.
Yegendorf says Ottawa has not been spared in recent years when it comes to road safety, with four pedestrians killed last year, and a further 361 reported injuries, according to city statistics.
If passed, the cellphone ban suggests $50 fines for a first offence, escalating to $75 for the second, and all the way up to $125 for the third. The proposed law creates exemptions for emergency calls and for the continuance of conversations begun before stepping into the crosswalk.
“These fines are modest and are meant to act as a deterrent,” Baker explained at the news conference.
The CBC story cites a 2015 report by Toronto Public Health examining pedestrian and cyclist deaths in the city from 2008-2012, in which the authors conclude that inattentive pedestrians were around 40 per cent more likely to be injured or killed in a collision.
In his remarks, Baker rejected criticism that the law minimized the responsibility of drivers for crashes, noting that the bill would also force the Ministry of Transportation to lead an annual distracted driving awareness campaign.
“The focus of this bill is not to point a finger at either pedestrians or drivers,” he said.
Meanwhile, in Hawaii, Honolulu recently became the first U.S. city to pass legislation banning people from crossing the road “while viewing a mobile electronic device,” exposing repeat offenders to fines of up to US$99.