Taiwan Tackles Gadget-Induced “Distracted Walking”

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
May 7 2014 2:29 PM

Taiwan Tackles Gadget-Induced “Distracted Walking”

464182501-pedestrian-types-on-her-smartphone-during-a-snowstorm
That'll be about $10.

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

With traffic accidents caused by distracted pedestrians reportedly on the rise throughout the world, Kotaku reports that legislators in Taipei have proposed fining people for crossing the street while looking at their phones. Rooted in an apparent fear of smartphone “addictions,” the bill would enact penalties of about $10 per infraction. It evidently seeks to model a (failed) traffic bill in New Jersey. 

The biggest challenge may be defining “distracted walking.” As Kotaku writes:

legislators say anyone who has their head down looking at a screen is considered distracted. That includes texting, gaming, and websurfing. However, people are concerned that it may also include talking on the phones.
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Texting-while-walking has been mocked around the world, with videos of people toppling into water fountains and down stairs while using their phones going viral online. The phenomenon prompted comedians to escort pedestrians around New York City, and there’s even an app that alerts smartphone users to surrounding dangers.

Mockery aside, there have been some pretty serious “distracted walker” accidents in Taiwan: This March, a young woman who was using her phone while crossing the street in the city of Kaoshuing was struck by an oncoming taxi and later passed away in the hospital. In 2013, a Taiwanese tourist had to be rescued after accidentally walking off a pier in Melbourne, Australia, while reportedly checking her Facebook page. In the United States, at least, a Pew Research survey revealed that 53 percent of cellphone users have encountered distracted walkers, and about half of 18- to 24-year olds admit to having bumped into something or someone while using their phones.

If Taiwan’s bill passes into law, the paltry fine seems unlikely to deter many of the country’s 14 million mobile Internet users. Making a real dent in the problem will probably require safety education programs, as well. As one Utah state representative quipped in the Salt Lake Tribune in 2012, in response to similar efforts in his state: “You can’t legislate [not being] stupid.”

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Anna Newby is a Slate intern.

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