NEW: Can a law make Florida streets safe from ‘smartphone zombies’?


Hawaii is known for beaches, volcanoes and Mai Tais. And beginning Oct. 25, its capital city of Honolulu will be recognized as the only major U.S. city to ticket “distracted” pedestrians as they cross the street.

Under the new law, “smartphone zombies” can be fined from $15 to $99, depending on the number of times they are caught by police officers walking inattentively while concentrating on their electronic gadgets. Calls to emergency services are exempt from the ban.

“Sometimes I wish there were laws we did not have to pass — that perhaps common sense would prevail,” Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell told reporters last week. “But sometimes we lack common sense.”

An epidemic of distracted walking leading to growing numbers of injuries and death has swept across not only Honolulu but the entire country as well. And distracted crashes are happening in Florida far more often than in other states.

A report released this year by the Governors Highway Safety Association states that the number of pedestrians killed in the U.S. in 2016 jumped 11 percent from the previous year, the single-biggest increase in fatalities.

The study totaled 5,997 pedestrians killed in 2016, compared with 5,376 in 2015 and 4,910 in 2014.

Experts say that distractions — those of pedestrians and drivers — are the biggest factor in the surge.

Nowhere is the problem worse than in Florida, which ranks second nationally with 3.12 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 residents. Only Delaware, with a population a fraction of Florida’s, had a higher rate.

Pedestrian crashes are also a serious concern in Palm Beach County, where fatalities nearly doubled to 37 in 2015 from 19 in 2011. It’s uncertain how many of those deaths are attributable to distractions.

“I think it is a great idea,” Tracey Moskowitz Tsang wrote in a post on Delray RAW, a Facebook page devoted to the city’s residents.

“People need to focus when they are in traffic, whether a pedestrian or driving. Talking on the phone may not be so bad because you can still look around you and be aware of traffic, however, if you are looking down at your phone because you are texting, Facebooking, or whatever, then that is truly a hazard.”

Delray Beach Police Sgt. Jeff Rasor said issues caused by unfocused pedestrians staring at their phones is a “huge problem” in the city’s downtown area along Atlantic Avenue. Rasor, who works in the department’s traffic unit, said his officers average 3,000 warnings to pedestrians and cyclists during the agency’s annual education campaign that runs from September to May.

“It’s why pedestrians are getting hit at a record pace,” Rasor said.

In 2016, nine crashes involving a fatality or serious injury were recorded in Delray Beach, Rasor said.

But not everyone thinks that writing tickets will curb wayward walkers.

John David Corey runs Palm Beach Walks, a group that advocates for “more friendly, safer” walking and cycling in Palm Beach. Corey thinks a better solution is a public information campaign that includes street markings at crosswalks warning people to, “Look up!”

That, Corey said, would be more effective and less intrusive.

“Paying attention where you are walking is common sense, something we were all taught growing up,” Corey said. “Codifying it by allowing police to ticket people is not needed and, I think, kind of silly.”

Said Jim Kovalsky of Jupiter agrees: “You can’t legislate stupidity.”

Good idea or bad, citations for distracted walking aren’t in the cards for Florida residents any time soon. No state has a law specifically aimed at such behavior, and bills in New York, Arkansas, Illinois and Nevada looking to ban “pedextrians” — pedestrians engaged in texting — failed.

State Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, who has a keen interest in traffic safety issues, points out that state lawmakers have refused to make texting while driving a primary traffic offense, despite a mounting body count due to distracted drivers.

Crash reports indicate distracted driving climbed 10 percent in Florida, injuries in those wrecks increased 16 percent to 78,723 and deaths rose 13 percent to 1,591 in 2016 compared to the previous year, according to preliminary statistics that The Post requested from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

Florida is one of only four states that do not make texting while driving a primary offense, which would allow law enforcement to pull over drivers seen texting behind the wheel.

“The irony is that Honolulu recognizes the potential danger of walking and texting … yet my colleagues fail to acknowledge the significant dangers of texting and driving,” Slosberg said Tuesday. “It appears that Honolulu is being proactive when it comes to public safety.”



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