'Distracted walking': Should it be made illegal?

'Distracted walking': Should it be made illegal?

people in orchard road
People cross a traffic junction in the Orchard Road shopping district in Singapore on May 27, 2017. (File photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

SINGAPORE: You are likely to have come across them - pedestrians with their heads down, eyes focused on the screens of their mobile phones or electronic devices while they cross the road. They are sometimes oblivious to their surroundings and can get into accidents.

The traffic police has updated the Highway Code - a code of conduct for all road users - to include an advisory against this behaviour known as "distracted walking". Pedestrians should avoid using mobile communication devices while crossing the road, said the advisory.

The updated Highway Code, which took effect on Dec 1, comes after two Land Transport Authority (LTA) initiatives that encourage pedestrians to pay attention on the road.

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But should this be more than an advisory?

Some lawmakers overseas think so.

In 2017, Honolulu became the first city in the US to fine pedestrians crossing a street or highway with their phones out. Following that, other American cities in Idaho and California also introduced laws against “distracted walking”.

Closer to Singapore, Baguio City in the Philippines also implemented laws against such behaviour in August this year. Offenders could face fines, community service, or even imprisonment if found guilty.

Road safety experts CNA spoke to had mixed views on whether a similar law was needed in Singapore and emphasised that public education would be more effective in getting the message across.

“Enforcement has to be there because sometimes you need the stick, not just the carrot. But it cannot be number one - it has to be part of the whole package (including public education),” said transport consultant Gopinath Menon.

Enforcement would be difficult, and pedestrians might chafe at increased regulations, said chairman of Singapore Road Safety Council Bernard Tay.

“Once (the Government) make it mandatory straightaway, then people will not be happy. People will complain,” he said.

He added that the police “cannot be 24/7 everywhere” to enforce the law.

Instead, he said that the road safety council had already stepped up public education efforts through roadshows, pamphlets and even online video content.

“Enforcing it, getting a law - I think it should be the last resort,” he said.

Other than public education, the authorities could also consider using infrastructure to remind pedestrians to look up when at road crossings, said Dr Menon, and referred to two recent initiatives.

In June, Ang Mo Kio GRC, together with LTA, traffic police, Singapore Road Safety Council and Singapore Kindness Movement, installed large yellow stickers on the edges of some pedestrian crossings in the area.

The stickers, which say “LOOK UP”, are accompanied by billboards that remind pedestrians to pay attention.

Last year, the LTA also installed LED lights along several pedestrian crossings at places such as the junction of Buyong Road and Orchard Road, and the Victoria Street crossing outside Bugis Junction.

These lights are similarly aimed at reminding pedestrians to stay focused when crossing roads.

PEDESTRIANS SUPPORTIVE OF ADVISORY

Pedestrians CNA spoke to felt that the advisory was a good idea, but also had mixed reactions on whether Singapore needed a “distracted walking” law.

Some, such as engineer Chang Wechea, 40, thought that fines would be effective for distracted walkers to “feel the impact”.

But project manager Alexis Ng said that a law needed to be fair, and this can be done by defining the boundaries for enforcement.

“The law is always put in place as a reminder, as a base,” she said.

Others said that a law could be too harsh on pedestrians.

“Making it into a law is a bit too strict,” said Mr Nigel Low, 31, and suggested that the police could issue warnings to distracted walkers instead.

Ms Elizabeth Jothi, 23, said that even with a law, there could still be pedestrians flouting the rules.

Ultimately, pedestrians should look out for themselves, instead of relying on cars to look out for them, said Mr Tay.

“In general, as long as you multitask when you’re walking, concentration is up to a certain standard. If you have other actions taking over part of your focus, something is lacking somewhere - it could be your safety.

“Therefore, I always believe that first you have to look after yourself, and look after other people on the road, then everybody will be safe,” he said.

Source: CNA/cc

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