Southern California City Bans Distracted Walking

Crash Tests Show Some Pedestrian Collision Avoidance Systems Do Work

The city of Montclair has made it illegal for pedestrians to text, talk on the phone, listen to music or just any activity with two earbuds while in a crosswalk. According to a news report in the Los Angeles Times, 911 calls are the only exception to this law. Everything else would be a ticket-worthy offense. This city ordinance was proposed by City Manager Edward Starr who says he was looking to find a solution to the problem of distracted pedestrians.

He came across a distracted walking ordinance passed in Honolulu last year. Starr’s staff drafted Montclair’s ordinance based on Honolulu’s and it was approved by the City Council in December. First-time offenders will get a warning and officials are expected to start handing out tickets in August. The penalty for an infraction is a $100 fine.

Pedestrian Deaths On the Rise

Numbers nationwide show that pedestrian deaths have been steadily increasing over the years. In 2016, 5,987 pedestrians were killed in traffic accident, a 9 percent increase from the year before and a 22 percent increase from 2014, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The agency does not keep track of how many of those pedestrians were distracted, but safety experts say cell phone use was likely a big factor in the increase.

Law Sparks Debate

Distracted pedestrian laws are relatively new. So, it’s hard to tell how effective they’ve been or how effective they are likely to be. City officials in Montclair say they decided to pass the law after a string of pedestrian accidents that resulted in injuries in that city. Police began to notice that cell phone use was a common factor in many of the incidents.

While city officials have welcomed it, our California pedestrian accident lawyers are concerned that this law might become an excuse for the city and others to blame accidents on pedestrians. For example, 15-year-old Yessica Gonzalez suffered catastrophic brain damage in a Montclair pedestrian accident. She was struck by a vehicle as she stepped on to a marked crosswalk. While she had earphones plugged in at the time, would that make her at fault for the accident?

While pedestrians should exercise caution on roadways especially while crossing the street, they can’t really do much other than walk in designated areas and look both ways. It is up to the drivers to make sure they are yielding the right of way as required under California law. California Vehicle Code Section 21950 requires motorists to yield the right of way to pedestrians walking in marked and unmarked crosswalks. In addition, cities can also be held liable when pedestrian accidents are caused by dangerous roadways and intersections.


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