Reason TV had another round of tough choices for its Nanny of the Month in January 2011. I admit I hadn’t heard about the push to ban “beer pong” at bars in my former home city of Huntington Beach, California, but I did write about the creepy efforts to start random drug tests for middle-school children in a New Jersey district. But instead of beer pong and adolescent urinalyses, Reason chose Carl Kruger of New York’s state senate, who wants to criminalize … distracted walking?
But top dishonors go to the New York pol who’s pushing a bill that would make it illegal to cross the street while iPodding, cell-phoning or being otherwise engaged with an electronic gadget.
Presenting Reason.tv’s Nanny of the Month: New York State Senator Carl Kruger!
Kruger isn’t alone in this effort. The Arkansas legislature is also considering outlawing technologically fascinated pedestrians on their streets, claiming that they present a danger to themselves and others:
After targeting drivers who paid more attention to their phone calls and text messages than the road, lawmakers in Arkansas and New York are now looking to crack down on pedestrians equally distracted by their own electronic gadgets.
Lawmakers in both states have proposed restrictions on using cell phones and music players such as iPods by people running and walking on the street or sidewalk. The apparent message: Distracted pedestrians are dangerous.
“It’s not just distracted drivers. We focus a lot on distracted drivers, but we also need to focus on distracted walkers and joggers,” said Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, a nonprofit organization representing state highway safety offices.
The proposal in Arkansas would ban pedestrians from wearing headphones in both ears while on, parallel or adjacent to a street, road, intersection or highway. The measure also applies to runners and cyclists and would allow pedestrians to wear headphones in one ear.
At least Kruger’s proposal only applies when entering the road to cross it. In Arkansas, simply staying on the sidewalk with earbuds in both ears would be illegal. Surely there must be some national epidemic of deaths and dismemberments that is driving this push to stamp out distracted walking, right? Right? Er ….
Slightly more than 1,000 pedestrians visited emergency rooms in 2008 because they got distracted and tripped, fell or ran into something while talking or texting on a cell phone. That was twice the number from 2007, which had nearly doubled from 2006, according to a study by Ohio State University, which says it is the first to estimate such accidents.
Let’s just assume that the numbers kept doubling each year since 2008. That means that 4,000 Americans needed medical treatment in 2010 for not paying attention to their surroundings — and for this, we’re going to criminalize walking while multitasking? With such a relatively minute number of incidents, we’re going to give local police yet another mandate for enforcement on top of preventing more trivial crimes like rape, murder, burglary, and other such minor problems.
What it really does is give local and state governments another revenue resource. I suspect that economics rather than public safety are at the heart of this particular nanny-state overreach.