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New York could dish out fines for texting while crossing the street

Everyone knows that it’s really not a good idea to look at your phone screen while walking along, but pretty much everyone still does it.

The risky behavior can lead to bumps, knocks, and even unintended splashes. At the extreme end of the calamity scale, it can result in a collision with a car, truck, or bus, and we all know who comes off worse in that kind of accident.

Following in the footsteps of Honolulu a couple of years ago, New York’s state senate last week introduced a bill proposing a ban on texting while crossing the street.

If it becomes law, those who break it face fines of between $25 and $50 for a first-time offense. Repeat the misdemeanor within 18 months and you could be forced to cough up as much as $250 for your hazardous habit.

And the law wouldn’t just affect smartphones. Stare at the display of a camera, gaming device, tablet, or pretty much any other electronic gadget while crossing the street and you could find yourself in trouble with the cops. The only exemption offered is if your texting relates to some kind of emergency situation.

In comments reported by the Guardian, John Liu, the New York state senator who introduced the bill, pointed out that you’d still be able to talk on your handset while crossing the street. It’s the behavior of looking down and losing sense of your surroundings that he wants to stamp out. “[The bill] does not say you can’t talk on the phone,” Liu said. “We’re talking about handheld devices … you can wait the five seconds to get to the other side.”

As you might expect, not everyone is happy about the proposal. Marco Conner of Transportation Alternatives — a group dedicated to reclaiming the streets for pedestrians, cyclists, and public transit — described the idea as “terribly misguided” and said that in some accidents involving pedestrians and drivers, it’s the driver who’s looking at their phone rather than the pedestrian. Conner called for more research on the issue before introducing such a law.

Honolulu introduced a similar rule in 2017 in a bid to make its streets safer. First-time offenders are hit with a $35 fine, though this can increase to $75 for a second offense. If you still fail to learn your lesson and are caught a third time, expect to have to fork out up to $99.

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