Hawaii law makes it illegal to cross street while looking at electronic device

Written by: 
Josh Mason

A new bill that punishes pedestrians for viewing electronic devices while crossing a street was passed by Honolulu City Council and will be enforced by the Honolulu Police Department starting Oct. 25, according to NPR. Dubbed by media outlets as a ban on texting while walking, Bill 6 (2017) is not limited to cell phones or texting.

Section 15-24.23 (a) states, “No pedestrian shall cross a street or highway while viewing a mobile electronic device.” The bill defines mobile electronic device as “any handheld or other portable electronic equipment capable of providing wireless and/or data communication between two or more persons or of providing amusement,” which includes cell phones, laptops, video game devices, and digital photographic devices (cameras) and other similar devices. It defines the term “viewing” as looking in the screen’s direction.

However, using the device to make a 911 emergency call is an affirmative defense to the violation. Emergency responders such as firemen or police are also exempt from the violation “while in the performance and scope of their official duties.”

Earl “Torch” Morris, the director of Campus Security, said he thinks the law is a good idea. He said it’s important for students because of how dangerous Kamehameha Highway can be. “Kam Highway is only a two-way road,” he said. “It’s a narrow road with very little forgiveness. It’s hard enough to cross the road with all the drivers who are distracted anyways. A lot of them are looking at the ocean or on their electronic device.”

Though it’s been referred to as a ban on texting while walking by some news organizations, the law does not contain the word “text” or “texting” but includes any viewing of electronic devices.

Audio equipment is not in violation however; pedestrians can wear headphones and be listening to audio files while crossing. Torch said, “I’ll be honest with you, I don’t even like earbuds when you’re crossing the road. You need to hear what’s coming.”

Torch said communication between driver and pedestrian is the key. “We need to give the pedestrian and the driver as much of an opportunity to be able to negotiate that intersection as safely as possible. And frankly if I’m crossing the street and looking at my [device], I don’t see the cars coming.”

Pedestrians have the right of way when crossing the street so long as they can do so safely, said Torch. He stated, “You can’t just walk out in front of the car and assume that you have the right of way. So a driver has to be able to see you and be able to react and respond. I like the idea of keeping them off their phones.”

On BYUH campus, there have not been any accidents involving electronic devices according to Torch, though he said, “I do see a lot of students crossing back and forth on their skateboards. I’ve seen several skateboard wipe outs from people texting while riding their boards or bicycles, but with vehicles we really don’t have a problem.”

Torch estimated 75 percent of accidents on campus are from drivers backing improperly. “Most of the time, it’s because of improper backing, improper lookout. They back into somebody. I think probably about 75 percent of accidents on campus are backing.

Honolulu is the first county to enact this kind of law, though police in Fort Lee, New Jersey started fining pedestrians who were caught using their phones while walking with jaywalking tickets, according to ABC News.

Overall, Torch expressed trust in BYUH students. “We really don’t have that problem here on campus. Most of the kids are pretty good, most of the drivers are pretty good. Most of our accidents are improper backing, but the reality is they could be backing up while on their phones. But they didn’t tell me,” he said while laughing.

Date Published: 
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Last Edited: 
Tuesday, October 24, 2017