'Distracted Walking' Law Bans Texting While Crossing Streets In Honolulu

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A new law went into effect today in Honolulu. It bans something many of us are guilty of - texting while walking or looking at any screen really, specifically while crossing the street.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

It's meant to keep pedestrians' eyes up and on the road while navigating crosswalks and city traffic.

CHANG: It's thought to be the first law of its kind in any major city, and it's thanks to people in the very age group that gets a bad rap for always staring down at their screens - teenagers.

SIEGEL: Teenagers in the Youth for Safety club at Waipahu High School outside of Honolulu. Kel Hirohata is their adviser.

KEL HIROHATA: The club is just always kind of looking out. How can, you know, we impact our community?

SIEGEL: Hirohata says his students spent a week or two just watching their peers cross the streets outside the school as they left at the end of the day.

HIROHATA: We noticed that a lot of students were just looking at their cell phone crossing the street just kind of, like, following along the other students. You know, they weren't looking at all.

CHANG: It seemed obviously dangerous, so they got a local councilmember involved, and eventually they helped write a bill. They testified at city council meetings. And ultimately their bill was signed into law.

SIEGEL: Fines start at $15 and go as high as $99 for a third-time offense in the same year. But Hirohata says he hopes the law just makes looking up second nature the way laws of the 1980s influenced seatbelt use.

HIROHATA: You know, fast forward 25 years, 30 years later, and basically all of my students - when I ask, hey, what do you guys do when you get into the car; you know, what's one of the first things they do - is put on our seatbelt.

CHANG: Hirohata happens to also teach drivers ed, and vigilant walking is something he's been preaching long before this legislation.

HIROHATA: As you cross the street, you need to make eye contact with the driver, you know - that, hey, I'm crossing the street. I mean, I think this law helps with that - that, hey, get your eyes up, and look around. Be aware of your surroundings.

SIEGEL: And one other important note - pedestrians of any age can be fined. So parents, if you are traveling to Honolulu, keep your little one's eyes off the tablets and up on the road.

(SOUNDBITE OF MELODIESINFONIE'S "LATENIGHTWALKING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.