Pedestrian fatalities in New York and around the country rose by a worrying 46% between 2009 and 2016, and road safety groups like the Governors Highway Safety Association believe that cellphone use is one of the major reasons why. Towns and cities around the world have tried to protect pedestrians who text while walking by reducing speed limits and padding lamp posts, and the behavior is even punishable with a fine in some areas. The number of people treated in emergency rooms after suffering texting while walking injuries doubled in 2007 and then doubled again in 2008, and that was when smartphone technology was relatively new.
What scientists call inattentive blindness was studied by researchers from Stony Brook University in 2012. They concluded that the distraction caused by using a cellphone makes pedestrians 60% more likely to walk into objects or stray into the path of other pedestrians or vehicles. Accident statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveal that New York City is the most dangerous urban area in the United States for pedestrians. Pedestrian fatalities in the city account for more than half of all road deaths.
Lawmakers reluctant to act
Despite these grim statistics, lawmakers in New York seem unwilling to tackle the problem. A state senator introduced a bill in May 2019 that would have made crossing a street while using a cellphone or other portable electronic device an offense. If the bill had passed, fines would have started at $25 and risen to $250 for repeat offenders. Senate Bill S5746 was resubmitted to the Transportation Committee in January 2020. It has yet to reach the floor. A similar bill introduced by a Brooklyn assemblyman four months earlier also became mired in the committee stage.
Pedestrians in New York who are struck and injured by a motor vehicle while using a cellphone may believe that their negligent behavior precludes them from pursuing compensation through a personal injury lawsuit, but an attorney with experience in this area could explain that this is not necessarily true. Under New York’s comparative negligence law, civil litigants can recover damages even when they are partially responsible, but the amount they receive is reduced according to their degree of culpability.