Chicago Considers Another Dumb 'Texting And Walking' Law To Raise Revenue

from the distracted-legislating dept

Since the advent of the smartphone, it seems that every few years or so, one government enttity or another suddenly has the brilliant idea that its constituency ought to have fines levied on them for “distracted walking.” This catchall term has a much more specific meaning with in the laws in question: walking and using a phone at the same time. While this nonsense began mostly in foreign countries, there a few states in America that have some flavor of this kind of law on the books.

And now my beloved hometown of Chicago is looking to join the nanny government ranks in the most Chicago way possible: by charging enormous fines for “distracted walking” in a fairly naked attempt to generate revenue for the government.

Aldermen Ed Burke (Ward 14) and Anthony Beale (Ward 9) introduced an ordinance Wednesday aimed at changing pedestrians’ bad behavior by fining them if they text or use a mobile device while walking through intersections in Chicago.

The measure proposed by Burke and Beale would fine pedestrians between $90 and $500 for each incident of using a mobile device while crossing a street or highway. The full City Council would have to pass the measure.

There are a myriad of reasons why these laws are silly. Given that we’re talking about pedestrians here, it seems clear that these laws are being pitched as an attempt to protect the safety of the very citizens it would fine. That kind of parental hue of government is generally pretty silly, but not nearly as silly as expecting that a $500 fine will get someone to not blindly walk across a highway while texting, but the very likely result of being splattered across the windshield of an SUV wouldn’t. In other words, were this crisis as dangerous as the good Aldermen suggest, the roads would be paved with blood, making for a perfectly suitable warning to distracted walkers. Notably, these deaths simply aren’t happening.

Which is entirely besides the point, because if a fine that can be up to $500 for something as subjective as distracted walking is anything other than a cash-grab by a municipal government whose efforts to balance its budget are comedic at Mel Brooks levels, then I can’t imagine what that other thing would be.

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Comments on “Chicago Considers Another Dumb 'Texting And Walking' Law To Raise Revenue”

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Jordan Chandler says:

Re: Re: Question

Actually it’s always been a bit of a legal conundrum for me…let’s say you’re a pedestrian, and I am in a car, and we are both legally doing our thing.

If the pedestrian decides to close their eyes and run into the street randomly, they are effectively “transferring” their liability to the car drivers. Assuming the car driver has enough time, it is their legal duty to stop and not run over the pedestrian, despite the pedestrian “transferring” the liability for their life to the driver without asking them first. In our society, the laws favor those in a physically precarious situation, even if they put themselves in that situation.

Mark Murphy (profile) says:

Re: Question

Presumably, that is already a crime.

For example, suppose that you are riding your bicycle and a pedestrian is walking with their head up and no headphones through an intersection when you have the right of way. If you have the right of way, the pedestrian is committing whatever the pedestrian equivalent is of a moving violation.

The fact that, in your scenario, the pedestrian is "heads down, headphones on" would not change that. So, whatever laws are against walking without the right of way would cover walking without the right of way with headphones on.

If there is no law against walking without the right of way, fix that, and it will neatly cover both the with-headphones and sans-headphones scenarios.

Jordan Chandler says:

Re: Re: Question

You’re right, but my main addition is that whereas before, by “staying the course”, you are in fact not breaking the law, whereby a ped starts walking in front of your car, by “staying the course”, suddenly you are committing a crime of vehicular homicide or battery should you NOT act in the pedestrian’s interest. Assuming they literally throw themselves in front of your car, you’re fine, but if you did have time and just don’t bother, the pedestrian has more of a case against you than you do against them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Question

While I do understand your point, this is functionally how all motor vehicle laws work. There’s nothing special about pedestrians, nor about distracted pedestrians here. If someone runs a red light in front of you and you “stay the course,” you are looking at vehicular homicide if you don’t act in that driver’s best interests. We, as a society, have generally decided that everyone has a responsibility to attempt to prevent accidents on roadways regardless of who is at fault, and that moving violations should not be punishable by death at the hands of whoever has the most momentum and decides that killing the other guy is worth getting to work 20 seconds earlier.

As for who has a better case, that’s a judge and jury problem, not a legislative one. Pedestrians are likely to have a better case because, in general, judges and juries are always more sympathetic to the party with more injuries to show. If you ran a red light and were hit by a Semi, you’d probably have the stronger case. Humans are like that and no amount of distracted walking laws are going to change that.

David says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Question

In Germany, it’s not a matter of a sympathetic jury any more. Operating dangerous equipment like automobiles is subject to strict liability that does not depend on culpability. A pedestrian does not pose a comparable danger, so the consequences of a car/pedestrian collision will always be accounted to a significant degree to the driver’s liability because that is a risk he has chosen to accept by operating a potentially lethal vehicle in furtherance of his own interests.

So as a car driver, you’ll be liable for part of the damages in driving over a pedestrian even without breaking traffic rules or laws or being able to prevent the accident. That’s a risk you have to accept in the course of choosing to operate dangerous equipment: why should a pedestrian bear the consequences arising from your life choices?


Re: Re: Re:3 Act like a child, get treated like one.

Why should I be punished because you are a reckless moron? The fact that I am operating a dangerous device doesn’t absolve you of personal responsibility for your own actions.

The fact that Americans have a wide contempt for the law is why fines like this get imposed. You can’t trust Americans to not do the most stupid thing possible and then defend their total lack lawlessness and common sense.

YOU should look after yourself. You should have enough sensible fear of the 2 ton rolling death to avoid doing obviously stupid crap.

Since basic survival instincts are not enough here, the state has to act like a nanny. This isn’t just a mindless power grab. It’s a reaction to adults acting like children.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Act like a child, get treated like one.

“You can’t trust Americans to not do the most stupid thing possible “

Clearly it is only people in America (did you mean the USA?) that are afflicted with this aliment while the rest of the world is not. Is it in the water? Maybe it is the result of pesticide use that the rest of the planet has outlawed? It could be lead in the water pipes.

Nahhh – nothing to worry about, damn the torpedoes – full speed ahead.


Re: Re: Re:3 Question

No, those laws existed before you were even born. The same goes for the doctrine of contributory negligence. You can’t weasel out of your own personal responsibility.

YOU are why fines like this get imposed.

Regardless of whatever fantasies the Germans have come up with, the laws of physics are unavoidable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Question

“You can’t weasel out of your own personal responsibility”
– And that would be .. not walking out in front of your vehicle? When did I do that, and where?

“YOU are why fines like this get imposed”
– I am? I have not walked out in front of your or any other vehicle while on my cell phone.

What if I do not even own a cell phone … am I still the one to blame for all this? Of course! Why not?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Question

The solution, which isn’t a great one, is to expect other road users to do stupid things and act accordingly—which any good cyclist is already doing with respect to motor vehicles. If it looks like someone’s going to cross without looking: brake, steer around, and/or use a bell/horn/voice.

And to quote the article:

That kind of parental hue of government is generally pretty silly, but not nearly as silly as expecting that a $500 fine will get someone to not blindly walk across a highway while texting, but the very likely result of being splattered across the windshield of an SUV wouldn’t.

The law would not make it illegal to enter the roadway without looking, only to use your phone while in it. They’re fining the wrong behaviour. It’s illegal to use your phone while crossing, even if you looked carefully first and are 100% sure there’s no chance of conflict. But it’s totally fine to mindlessly drop your phone into a pocket and cross the roadway without looking.

Anonymous Coward says:

u let all hang out mr geigier and we laugh is so small

remind when i am live in chiba prefect (atside tokyo this joke went by me:

two girls cross street one each side in rain
they ar umbrellad up bump into other and fall down
up they rise for yelling (much long funny in japanse
until a bus haas to stop and tootle horn
they turn and go back same side
(bus passes

(explain we r having old say like: a bus flattens two argument as once

i should explain joke last night; whenmouse ran up her leg, she had old fashin pants (loose

Jordan Chandler says:

Right of Way

Right of way is a term used to describe “the legal right, established by usage or grant, to pass along a specific route through grounds or property belonging to another”, or “a path or thoroughfare subject to such a right.

If you are facing a red light, and walk against it, a pedestrian does not magically gain right of way. The car has the right of way, though that does not obviously give the car permission to mow down the pedestrian.

Matthew A. Sawtell (profile) says:

Let's cut the cr@p Tim, you really know why...

… the City of Chicago, and County of Cook are BROKE, and the recent push back on the Cook County Sugary Beverage Tax ( has the powers to be in City and County Hall scrambling to make up the growing amounts of shortfalls.

Hell, I am surprised these powers to be have not attempted some sort of Regional Income Tax Assessment like what was done in Ohio, or simply attempt to muscle the Cook (along with DuPage and Will) County Suburbs into a ‘mutual vital services pack’ like the City of Toronto and York in Ontario. Then again, if there was not already a mass migration now, there would be then.

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