The city of L.A. reported Wednesday that overall traffic fatalities are down slightly, but pedestrian deaths are on the rise. They increased 17 percent last year compared to 2016 and are up more than 80 percent over the last two years.
Now the city of Montclair, 30 miles east of Los Angeles, is tackling part of the problem with a distracted walking ordinance. Pedestrians there could be fined $100 for walking across the street using a phone or other mobile device or while wearing headphones or ear buds.
Jon Hamilton is director of administrative services for the city of Montclair. He wrote the distracted walking ordinance and he joined Take Two to explain how it works.
Why Montclair enacted a distracted walking ordinance
We were looking at the rising issue regarding distracted walking. I coined them the cell phone zombies, but in a serious context, it's very visible to see folks walking across the street absolutely oblivious to their surroundings. We've had a few incidents in Montclair where pedestrians have been struck by vehicles, but our situation isn't unique to Montclair. Montclair has no greater occurrence of pedestrians being struck or less than any other part of the nation.
What the ordinance does exactly
You cannot cross a street or roadway in the city of Montclair while distracted by a mobile electronic device, while engaged in a phone conversation or by having both ears covered by personal audio equipment. The reason why is this is where the pedestrian is going to encounter the 5,000-pound vehicle traveling down the road. We have laws that prohibit distracted driving; it doesn't matter if the pedestrian is right or not, the laws of physics are that the pedestrian will always lose.
Education is the goal
We have a collaborative effort with our local schools. They're educating the students about this ordinance. As pedestrians stand at a crosswalk, there's a sign staring back at them. In an un-signalized crossing that doesn't have the buttons, we are in the process of having stencils prepared with a "don't walk while looking at your cell phone" logo that will be placed on the ground.
Enforcement with a fine is secondary
It's not intended to be strict enforcement. The primary purpose of this ordinance is for education. The fact that it has a fine provides a little bit of teeth to help encourage behavior in a safer direction, so the ordinance right now, we're in the warning phase. Each first time offender is provided a warning. Second time offenders, it's the discretion of the officer whether to cite an infraction.