Distracted walker
A proposal in New Jersey could make distracted walking a punishable offense. Reuters

A proposal by a state assemblywoman in New Jersey could make texting while walking, and any other "distracted walking," illegal, punishable by jail time or fines. The measure, which was introduced by New Jersey Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, would penalise walking while texting and using electronic communication devices while walking unless they are hands-free.

The measure proposes fining violators up to $50, punishing them to 15 days of imprisonment or both. The punishment is the same for jaywalking. Lampitt, a Democrat, told The Associated Press that half of the fee would be allocated to safety education about the dangers of walking and texting.

"Distracted pedestrians, like distracted drivers, present a potential danger to themselves and drivers on the road," Lampitt said. "An individual crossing the road distracted by their smartphones presents just as much danger to motorists as someone jaywalking and should be held, at minimum, to the same penalty."

Similar bills have been introduced in a number of states throughout the US, the AP reported. In Hawaii, a pending measure would fine an individual $250 if he or she crosses the street with an electronic device. However, similar bills have failed in a number of states, such as Arkansas, Illinois, Nevada and New York.

"Thus far, no states have enacted a law specifically targeting distracted bicyclists or pedestrians," said Douglas Shinkle, transportation programme director for the National Conference of State Legislatures. Shinkle added that "a few states continue to introduce legislation every year."

According to the New York Daily News, experts state that the issue of distracted walking has becoming a growing problem, with people becoming ever dependent on smartphones. A National Safety Council report found that distracted walking incidents involving mobile phones accounted for an estimated 11,101 injuries between 2000 and 2011. Of those injured, a majority were female and many were younger than 40, the study found.

The study also revealed that while talking on the phone was the most frequent activity at the time of injury, texting while walking accounted for 12% of injuries. Injuries incurred during these distracted walking incidents included fractures or dislocations, sprains or strains and concussions or contusions. There is no scheduled hearing for the proposed New Jersey measure yet, the AP reported.