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Don’t Look Now, But Checking Your Phone in a Honolulu Crosswalk Could Cost You

Banning staring at your phone while crossing the street may seem like a no-brainer, but many are wondering if Honolulu doesn’t have better things to focus on—like rail and homelessness.


Texting at crosswalk

Photo: Thinkstock


Sure, it’s common sense. Soon it will be the law. As of Oct. 25, “No person may cross a street or highway while viewing a mobile electronic device,” declares Bill 6, passed in late July by the Honolulu City Council to take effect 90 days after Mayor Kirk Caldwell signed it into law.


In early versions, it wasn’t easy to define what constituted “viewing” and what devices qualified for inclusion. Phones, personal digital assistants, pagers, video games, laptops and “any digital photographic device” made the final cut. Fines start at $15 for the first citation and rise according to the severity and frequency of the offense, all the way up to $99.


Introduced by council member Brandon Elefante, Bill 6 rode a global wave of concern. First came “driving while texting” laws. Then herds of Pokémon Go players turned crosswalks and intersections into slalom courses. In London, authorities padded lampposts after a spate of “texting injuries” in Brick Lane. To save “digital zombies” from themselves, cities around the world have taken to stenciling instructions on sidewalks at intersections; some even embed traffic signals at toe level.


In London, authorities padded lampposts after a spate of “texting injuries” in Brick Lane.


As the bill became law, The Atlantic magazine published a scary study on the effect of phone use on teens. “Has the smartphone destroyed a generation?” quickly went viral.


There have been objections. Council members Ann Kobayashi and Ernie Martin both voted against the bill, citing concerns about overregulation. Digital natives wondered if this was another case of old fogies bashing millennials. A letter to the newspaper noted the absence of action on rail and homelessness.


Curiously, there seems to have been no consideration of the Fitbit or Apple Watch in drawing up the bill. Do we dare lift a wrist, à la Dick Tracy, to swiftly eye an incoming Google Alert? “Officer, I was shielding my eyes from the sun,” may not cut it in court.


But, with a good lawyer, we think it might.




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Honolulu Magazine May 2020
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