By Eric M. Johnson
(Reuters) - A ban on pedestrians looking at mobile phones or texting while crossing the street will take effect in Hawaii's largest city in late October, as Honolulu becomes the first major U.S. city to pass legislation aimed at reducing injuries and deaths from "distracted walking."
The ban comes as cities around the world grapple with how to protect phone-obsessed "smartphone zombies" from injuring themselves by stepping into traffic or running into stationary objects.
Starting Oct. 25, Honolulu pedestrians can be fined between $15 and $99, depending on the number of times police catch them looking at a phone or tablet device as they cross the street, Mayor Kirk Caldwell told reporters gathered near one of the city's busiest downtown intersections on Thursday.
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"We hold the unfortunate distinction of being a major city with more pedestrians being hit in crosswalks, particularly our seniors, than almost any other city in the county," Caldwell said. Honolulu data on distracted-walking incidents was not immediately available.
Caldwell signed the legislation on Thursday after it was passed in a 7-2 vote by the city council earlier this month, city records show. ( http://bit.ly/2veHFau )
People making calls for emergency services are exempt from the ban. ( http://bit.ly/2v76lRA )
More than 11,000 injuries resulted from phone-related distraction while walking in the United States between 2000 and 2011, according to a University of Maryland study published in 2015.
The findings pushed the non-profit National Safety Council to add "distracted walking" to its annual compilation of the biggest risks for unintentional injuries and deaths in the United States, highlighting the severity of the issue.
"Cell phones are not just pervading our roadways but pervading our sidewalks too," Maureen Vogel, a spokeswoman for the council, said in a phone interview on Friday.
Efforts to save pedestrians from their phones extend beyond America's shores. London has experimented with padding lamp posts to soften the blow for distracted walkers, according to the Independent newspaper.
In Germany, the city of Augsburg last year embedded traffic signals into the ground near tram tracks to help downward-fixated pedestrians avoid injury, local media reported.
Opponents of the Honolulu law argued it infringes on personal freedom and amounts to government overreach.
"Scrap this intrusive bill, provide more education to citizens about responsible electronics usage, and allow law enforcement to focus on larger issues," resident Ben Robinson told the city council in written testimony.
(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Patrick Enright)