By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Call it "The Cross and Text Law."
Pedestrians on Oahu can still talk on their cellphone while crossing the street, but texting or using other electronic devices in a crosswalk is no longer allowed under a bill signed into law Thursday by Mayor Kirk Caldwell.
Honolulu may be the first major city to make it illegal for pedestrians to text at will in what's also being dubbed "the Distracted Walking Law." (The "Distracted Driving Law" bans motorists from fiddling with their electronic devices.)
A small county in New Jersey has a similar pedestrian texting law, and several other jurisdictions -- including state legislatures -- have considered but not passed similar bans.
The new law allows for speaking on a cellphone while crossing a city street or highway, but nothing requiring a pedestrian to look at a device -- including laptop computers, tablets, video gaming devices and pagers.
The Honolulu Police Department, which supports the new law, will begin issuing citations beginning Oct. 25, after a roughly three-month education and warning period. Those found guilty of a first offense would pay $15-$35; a second offense within the same year, $35-$75; and a third offense within 12 months, $75 to $99.
HPD Capt. Thomas Taflinger said that like other infractions, a police officer will actually have to witness the violation in order to issue a citation.
City Councilman Brandon Elefante said he introduced Bill 6 on behalf of community members and students belonging to Youth for Safety clubs at Aiea and Waipahu high schools who said they wanted to send a message to their peers.
"As technology has advanced, we sometimes forget about the real issue, and that's about safety," Elefante said.
Kel Hirohata, a Waipahu High teacher who advises the school's Youth for Safety program, said his students found "eye-popping" statistics about incidents caused by crossing and texting. One of his students said her peers at the school said that if it wasn't law, they would ignore warnings not to walk and text, Hirohata said.
"Now that it is the law, I think we're going to have more people -- students -- listening to what's going on," he said.
Caldwell signed the bill at downtown's Tamarind Park, where many of the pedestrians behind him on Bishop and King streets were texting while crossing.
"You would think you wouldn't have to tell people to not text in a crosswalk because you may be walking against a light and get hit," Caldwell said.
Roads are too often designed with vehicles in mind when all modes of transportation should be accommodated, Caldwell said. "It's car-centric. ... We want to protect pedestrians both as they walk on our sidewalks but also our crosswalks," he said.
The City Council approved the measure July 12 by a 7-2 vote, with members Ann Kobayashi and Ernie Martin voting "no."
Both contended the bill represented over-regulation by the government.
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