Distracted walking? There’s a law for that

The earphone cops are coming.

Legislators in New York and Arkansas are fiddling with proposals to penalize distracted pedestrians. Specifically targeted are people texting while walking or those jogging with headphones. The crackdown on pedestrians follows a surge of legislation over the past couple of years against distracted driving. It’s also punctuated by the comical case of a texting shopper who took a header into a mall pool recently.

I’ve always been in favor of distracted driving being regulated, based on the common sense that anyone guiding around a 3,000-pound weapon should have full attention focused while behind the wheel. But attempting to leash walkers and joggers is ridiculous and creepily intrusive. Clumsy or air-headed pedestrians are a danger mostly to themselves, unlike drivers of speeding autos. It’s laughable that strapped local governments anywhere would see any sanity in having their police officers spend time looking to bust scofflaw gadget pedestrians.

Here I must disclose a personal bias on the jogging issue. For years, I’ve been jogging with an iPod and earbuds. It has been no hindrance to awareness of my surroundings. I keep the volume low enough to let in most background noise. Plus, I obey all other jogger-safety rules such as running against traffic. I never cross a road or intersection without a 360-degree visual recon first. I’m guessing that my grooving to Lynyrd Skynyrd and U2 even helps keep me more alert during what can become otherwise monotonous outings.

There are good reasons state governments have extensive processes that legislative proposals must undergo before they become law. In this case, the deliberative steps, it is hoped, will allow plenty of time for level-headed lawmakers to shoot down fussing-nanny pedestrian control bills.

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16 Responses to Distracted walking? There’s a law for that

  1. Reynolds Anderson says:

    Lordy. Next they will forbid earphones in the gym just in case there is an air-raid siren and the Germans begin bombing us with buzz bombs again.

  2. Bob Becker says:


    You wrote: “For years, I’ve been jogging with an iPod and earbuds. It has been no hindrance to awareness of my surroundings. I keep the volume low enough to let in most background noise. “

    Gotta tell ya, Mark, a lot of people, particularly young people [no offense] do not run/walk “with the volume low enough to let in most background noise.” We read every now and then, for example, of a skater or biker with earphones on calmly riding into the path of a TRAX train etc. Now, if I’m feeling stony hearted when I read something like that, I make some snarky mental crack about candidates for the Darwin award taking themselves out of the gene pool. Then I remember the young person who died or got mangled is somebody’s kid. The desire for snark evaporates fast.

    And it’s not even just them who suffer. If some oblivious walker/jogger/biker steps out into the front of someones car or truck, dollars to donuts a lawsuit will ensue against the driver of said vehicle.

    I know, I know, you can’t legislate against stupid [and walking or skating or biking with volume up to concert hall levels is stupid], and nobody wants a nanny state. Still, I can see the reason some are considering making wired walking/skating/biking a minor misdemeanor. I suspect if such rules become law, they will be enforced like the jay-walking laws: nearly not at all, but will operate to protect some hapless driver who has a walker step out mid street in front of his car from civil suit. Should work the same way with wired walkers, etc. And for that reason, it might not be a totally bad idea. Not saying I like it, just that I wouldn’t dismiss the idea out of hand. It could stand a little thinking on.

    • Mark Shenefelt says:

      Elderly folks who take walks in the evenings had better keep their hearing aids on high. If the earphone cops law comes, I’ll be yelling for the lawmakers next to go after everyone else who might “present a hazard.”

  3. ctrentelman says:

    you still job with all ur problems?

    Mark, you are amazing. Don’t let anything make you quit.

  4. “Violators would face a $100 civil fine.”

    Coming up with new infractions of the law is a lucrative proposition.

  5. Stephen Cywin says:

    Just what we need, a law that says you can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. :-)

  6. Mike A. says:

    Interesting timing. Just yesterday saw two near misses in local mall with people walking from store exit, across the parking lot, while looking down and texting. Only one had earphones, but was oblibious to moving cars, etc. Individual without earphones almost walked into the side of the designated shopping cart gathering area. Have to admit, that was humorous to witness from my vehicle. But yeah, have see similar instances all over the place.

  7. Jeremy S says:

    Ok, so who will protect us from the government since we are evidently too stupid to protect ourselves???? Do they (the gov’t) really think they know what is best for us???? Where is the reason?? Where is the logic??? Where is the sanity????

    What are you willing to give up next? Chewing gum while taking a stroll through the park because you might inavertenly spit it out and it then gets stuck on someones shoe???

  8. Keith says:

    We have so many other serious issues facing our country today….homelessness, people losing their homes, unemployment…the list goes on, yet legislators feel it is necessary to put through bills that are uttlerly stupid? More proof that when we elect these fools they are feeding us a line of BS to get into office then change their stance and do what THEY want, not what is in the best interest of the public

  9. Mark Remy says:

    “For years, I’ve been jogging with an iPod and earbuds. It has been no hindrance to awareness of my surroundings.”

    With all due respect: How on earth would you know that?

    This is the go-to defense for MP3-using runners, and it always frustrates me. Part of the trouble with music-enabled runners (especially in races) is that *they aren’t aware* of the trouble they cause. That they are oblivious. By definition, they aren’t aware that they aren’t aware.

    The “I keep the volume low enough” defense is another chestnut. As if iPods, etc came with a factory-installed SAFE/UNSAFE volume switch.

    Oh, and by the way: Even I think this is a silly law!

    • Mark Shenefelt says:

      Mark, I agree with you completely on MP3 player use during races. It’s a courtesy issue for your fellow runners, kind of like people who shouldn’t yammer on their cell phones in checkout lines and the like. I don’t run races anymore but I would never have thought to iPod up for one.

      You also are correct that perhaps I miss some environmental sounds on my solo runs. If I get flattened on a run at some point, someone can blog about it. ;) But my position on this one is, life is dangerous, even walking around the block, and I’ve determined that the risk I take running with headphones is negligible. It’s also darned sure not something warranting local government nannying.

  10. Pingback: SmithWords » Common sense?

  11. J. Inem says:

    People getting hit while walking distracted =
    Survival of the fittest.

  12. Ted Bell says:

    “Plus, I obey all other jogger-safety rules such as running against traffic.”

    If you are running against traffic on a road next to a sidewalk, you are NOT obeying the law. Please read the Utah Traffic Code 41-6a-1009. Where there is a sidewalk provided and its use is practicable, a pedestrian may not walk along or on an adjacent roadway.

    Runners and joggers, please stay off the roads. Bikers, please stay off the sidewalks.

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