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Heads up, D.C. pedestrians! Better hang up before crossing street

March 15, 2012|By Richard Simon

Reporting from Washington   — If you’re texting, listening to an iPod or jabbering on a cellphone while crossing the street in Washington, watch out.

The D.C. government is being urged to consider fining pedestrians who use electronic devices while crossing the street.

"Every day in Washington, sidewalks and crosswalks are filled with people who are plugged in to another environment -- the ether,’’ says the Pedestrian Safety Committee of the Council for Court Excellence, a civic group that works to improve the administration of justice in the district.

"They are listening to music, talking on cellphones, using Blackberries [sic] and texting messages,'' the group said in a report. "But walkers using electronics are still bumping, slipping, falling and harming themselves through inattention."

The recommendation grows out of concern about deaths and injuries to distracted pedestrians in Washington, where 12% of residents walk to and from work, about twice the national average.

A recently published study from the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore found that the number of headphone-wearing pedestrians killed or injured by motor vehicles and trains had more than tripled in six years. 

The civic group did not offer a recommendation on how much the fine should be for using an electronic device in a crosswalk, but legislation has been proposed in New York that would impose a $100 levy for such offenses.

Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Assn., said that distracted walking could be a growing problem, "but we need to know more about the nature of the problem" before considering legislation.

Law enforcement, in the meantime, needs to "aggressively enforce pedestrian laws and pedestrians need to be educated about the hazards of walking distracted," she added.

The Council for Court Excellence’s Pedestrian Safety Committee also recommended that the D.C. Council consider prohibiting bicyclists from using cellphones and music players while traveling on city sidewalks and streets. 

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richard.simon@latimes.com

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