Should Texting While Walking Be Illegal?

Heather Weston

School’s done for the day. On your walk home, your phone starts buzzing with texts. Just as you begin to respond—SCREECH! A car slams on its brakes. You have accidentally walked into a busy intersection.

Situations like this have become increasingly common. Nearly 6,000 pedestrians were killed in the U.S. in 2016, a 9 percent increase from 2015. Some experts attribute the jump, in part, to distracted walking.  

Now, officials in Honolulu, Hawaii, think they have a solution. They recently passed a law banning people from looking at their phones while crossing the street. Violators can be fined up to $99. Honolulu is the first major U.S. city to enact such a ban, but several other places are considering similar legislation. 

Supporters say laws against distracted walking are needed to protect pedestrians, especially in high-traffic areas. They say people who stare at their phones while crossing the street are more likely to use poor judgment and get injured than people who are alert.

Some people, however, say the laws are misguided. They say distracted drivers are the problem, not pedestrians. Reducing speed limits and encouraging drivers not to use their phones would go further in preventing accidents, they say.

Should texting while walking be illegal? Two experts weigh in. 


When people use their phones while walking down the street, they put themselves and others in danger. That’s why I introduced Honolulu’s new law to improve pedestrian safety—with the backing of high school students in my district. But the issue affects more than just my constituents. Nationwide, there were more than 11,000 distracted walking injuries between 2000 and 2011 involving the use of a cell phone—and safety experts suspect that many more incidents went unreported.  

Distracted drivers are obviously a huge part of the problem. But distracted pedestrians are to blame as well. People who use their phones are often unaware of their surroundings. They don’t notice oncoming vehicles. They trip over curbs or other obstacles. They even walk into motionless objects, such as street signs, trees, and benches.

People who use their phones while crossing the street are more likely to get hurt.

Walking requires decision-making and an awareness of what’s around us—especially while crossing roadways. Studies, including one by students in Honolulu, show that pedestrians using their phones are more likely to make unsafe judgments about when to cross streets and take longer to make it to the other side than nondistracted walkers. They are also more likely to be injured. And those injuries aren’t just a bumped knee or a bruised ego. They often include broken bones, sprains, and concussions.

When I was a kid, we learned to look both ways before crossing the street. I’m hoping this legislation will help bring that back—and reduce injuries and save lives as a result. I also encourage other U.S. cities to follow Honolulu’s lead and enact similar laws. After all, updating your Snapchat story isn’t worth risking your life. Distraction can have deadly consequences.  

—Brandon Elefante
City Council Member, Honolulu, Hawaii


Traffic deaths are one of the most serious public health problems in the world. In the United States alone, more than 40,000 people were killed in car crashes in 2016. But those accidents weren’t caused by people texting while walking. Instead, people driving dangerously were overwhelmingly to blame. Some people speed or drive drunk. Others text, make phone calls, or focus on something other than the road. Research shows that distracted drivers kill 10 pedestrians every day—and that’s just in the U.S.

Texting while crossing the street is clearly a very bad idea. I don’t do it, just like I don’t text while walking down the stairs. But making it illegal is not going to have a significant impact on reducing motor vehicle deaths. There is no evidence that pedestrians’ phone use plays even a small role in traffic danger. And targeting pedestrians would distract police from focusing on dangerous drivers.

Designing safer streets is the most effective way to protect pedestrians.

Take New York City, for example. In 2001, more than 190 pedestrians were killed across the city. In 2017, that number dropped to 101, almost half as many. Fewer people died even though smartphone use had dramatically increased. 

What made New York City streets so much safer? Better crosswalks. Traffic engineering that gave people more room to walk. And better-designed lanes that forced people to drive more slowly and safely. Research has shown that designing safer streets is the most effective way to reduce traffic deaths. 

We need to get serious about traffic safety—and that means focusing on the real causes: dangerous drivers and unsafe roadways, not pedestrians. We will succeed only if we don’t spend our energy on the wrong problem, like texting while walking.   

—Janette Sadik-Khan
Former New York City Transportation Commissioner

CORE QUESTION: What evidence does each writer use to support his or her claims? How does each writer address the other side’s arguments? Who do you think makes the stronger case? 

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