Cellphones present a wide range of distractions and many states have passed laws to limit their use. It’s illegal to operate a cellphone behind the wheel in 15 states including California.
Cellphone users can also encounter danger if they talk or text while walking.
At its meeting last week, the Calabasas City Council discussed imposing a fine if a person is caught using their cellphone while walking across the street.
The law comes from the City of Montclair in San Bernardino County. Montclair adopted an ordinance in 2016 that made it an infraction to cross the street while using a cellphone for talking and texting and while wearing headphones. The first offense is a $100 fine. A second offense within a year is $200, and any subsequent offenses within a year are $500 each.
Jon Hamilton, the administrative services director for the City of Montclair, said the ordinance, which went into effect in January, is mostly about teaching people to pay attention to their surroundings. After a few months of educational outreach, he said, police officers will have the authority to issue fines to offenders.
“If we have someone listening to music approaching an intersection and they can be seen looking both ways, actively taking care of themselves, the officer is going to keep driving,” Hamilton said.
“The spirit of the law is to cite the person that is ignoring their own safety and being distracted by the use of their phone.
“The pedestrian that is being vigilant and looking both ways, would they be in technical violation of the law? Yes, but not the spirit of the law, which is how our City Council has instructed police to enforce the law,” Hamilton said.
But a majority of Calabasas council members say they oppose the law. They feel it might be too regulatory and they question some of the data behind the ordinance as it relates to pedestrian injuries.
The council voted to put the issue before the public safety commission, which will make a determination on whether the city should embark on an educational campaign about distracted walking and driving.
Part of city staff’s presentation on the issue included a compilation of videos showing pedestrians looking at their phones and walking into fountains, mailboxes and lampposts. One clip showed a distracted pedestrian coming face to face with a bear that had wandered into a neighborhood. The incident was recorded by a local news crew filming from a helicopter.
Councilmember Alicia Weintraub said there are already laws in place that prohibit dangerous activity in the city’s roadways.
“It’s too regulatory for me, for everyone’s individual rights. Getting into what types of behavior we’re allowing people to do while crossing the street, that’s too personal for me,” Weintraub said.
“I can’t support it because of the individual things we would be regulating, but I would support educating the community about the dangers of distractions while you’re walking or driving,” she said.
Jim Jordan, Calabasas director of public safety, put it this way:
“You can’t regulate stupid,” he said at the meeting.
“I truly think that common sense goes a long way.”