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Watching Where You Walk

A moment of peace and solitude is hard to find in New York City and if N.Y. State Senator Carl Kruger has his way, it may get even harder. According to a number of news sources, Kruger plans to introduce legislation that would ban the use of personal gadgets like MP3 players or cellular phones when crossing the street in New York.

Essentially Kruger’s argument is that the devices pose a threat to pedestrians who are allowing themselves to become distracted by their devices and aren’t paying attention to traffic when crossing the street. If passed, the new law would make it possible for police to ticket anyone seen using such a device when crossing the street. Reportedly, they would be fined $100.

As a friend of mine pointed out, the practicality of enforcing such a law is questionable. I can’t tell you the number of people I see in the elevators in our own building every night who are already placing earbuds in their ears in anticipation of the commute home. Multiply that number by all of the office buildings in Manhattan and that’s quite a few people to track down and ticket.

Similar laws have already been passed in many states, including New York, that ban the hands-on use of cellphones when driving. They’ve certainly been effective in causing a chilling effect, but have not come close to eliminating the problem. In fact, when I’m driving on Long Island, I see a number of cellphone-wielding drivers daily; they only tend to really disappear when there’s a cop in traffic. I imagine that this street-crossing law would have the same outcome.

While it’s easy to see the potential safety benefits of such a rule (if they find an effective way to enforce it), I imagine many will bristle at the thought of such an intrusion on their walk to work. After all, it is pretty nice to be able to tune out for a few minutes on an island as dense with other people and their activities as this one is …