By Victoria Merlino
Texting while driving is already a punishable offense. New York may soon ask you to put the phone away while walking, too.
Queens State Sen. John Liu has introduced legislation that would prohibit New Yorkers from using electronic devices like cell phones as they cross roadways. Fines for breaking the law would range from $25 for a first-time offense to $250 for multiple violations in a short time span.
“Hopefully this will prevent more incidents from happening,” Liu told the Eagle. “This bill doesn’t take any responsibility away from drivers, whether or not the pedestrian is alert. While at the same time, we can remind our fellow New Yorkers that texting and crossing the street is a bad idea.”
“Constituents have spoken to me about the issue asking me to do something. Many of them would not mind if their own teenagers got a $25 summons,” Liu continued.
Liu said he did not think the bill will lead to unintended consequences like increased police officer encounters. Liu has famously opposed Stop and Frisk and overpolicing in communities of color.
In Liu’s home borough and beyond, however, some are hesitant about the bill.
“The safest, most pedestrian-friendly cities in the world didn't get that way because they have strict laws against distracted walking. Senator Liu's bill is incredibly misguided, so we're glad to hear Senate Transportation Chair Tim Kennedy say the bill won't clear his committee," said Joe Cutrufo, a spokesperson for New York City public transportation, biking and pedestrian advocacy group Transportation Alternatives in a statement to the Eagle.
Transportation Alternatives’ Queens and Eastern Queens activist committees advocate for pedestrian and bike safety in places like Queens Boulevard, the borough’s new “Boulevard of Death.”
Senate Transportation Committee chairman Tim Kennedy said in a statement to USA TODAY that the bill might be an overreach, and that he did not support it in its current form.
"As someone who has rallied for significant pedestrian safety reforms for years, I prioritize the protection and security of all New Yorkers, but it appears to me as though this is an overreach of government," he said.
Queens resident Yasmeen Persaud, 19, told the Eagle that the bill did not surprise her too much, but she questioned how it would work in practice.
“There are fines and penalties for texting and driving so part of me assumed that walking and texting would soon rise as a major issue,” Persaud said. “I just am confused as to how they would fine these individuals and how they would exactly track those who are texting in crosswalks? Will there be cameras? Police officers?”
“As a person who resides around the Woodhaven, Jamaica area, I also constantly deal with crossing busy intersections all the time and honestly I see about 85 percent of people on their phones. If this plan goes into place, it seems as if everyone will succumb to a hefty fine,” she continued.
Since the beginning of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ambitious traffic safety initiative Vision Zero in 2014, traffic-related pedestrian deaths in Queens have decreased by 7 percent, dropping from 43.2 pedestrians killed in 2014 to 40 in 2018, according to the initiative's latest report.