Lonesome- One Student

A student on their phone in front of Social Science Centre.

If an MPP has his way, using your phone while crossing the road is about to become illegal — but the "zombie bill" misses the mark. 

An Ontario MPP is set to propose the "Phones Down, Heads Up Act," which will fine distracted pedestrians up to $50 for crossing a road while using electronic devices. A subsequent offense would rack up a fine of $75 and a third would be $125.

The bill is certainly well-intentioned, aiming to reduce accidents by discouraging distracted walkers. In 2016, 42 pedestrians were killed in Toronto; a 2015 report found that inattentive pedestrians were "40 per cent more likely to be injured or killed in a collision with a vehicle."

However, its intentions are far outweighed by its many flaws. For one thing, it's too specific: it would make more sense as a bill legislating against distracted crossing, rather than one targeting cellphones or electronic devices in particular. Why is crossing the road reading a book, for example, any better than an iPhone?

Enforcement of this bill would be nigh on impossible, unless we have an officer on every street corner. What if you're looking for directions on your phone or quickly checking a text message? How about checking the time or scrolling through a music library? It's unclear what will constitute a violation of the proposed law and how police will determine them.

Further, this bill would put the onus on the pedestrians — the victims of the accidents — rather than the drivers. Surely distracted drivers, or better infrastructure, should be the target of pedestrian safety laws. After all, distracted driving is the number one cause of deaths on Ontario's roadways. In the province last year, the OPP attributed 65 deaths to distracted driving, more than those caused by drunk driving, speeding or unworn seatbelts.

Then again, maybe enforcement's not the point: like jaywalking, this is an attempt to provide a legal disincentive for an obviously unsafe practice. Jaywalking is also rarely enforced, but it still serves as a societally-endorsed warning against crossing in traffic.

In Ontario, 11 out of 95 pedestrian deaths in 2010 involved "people distracted by a cellphone or electronic device." While that's not an insignificant number, it's not enough to warrant this sort of sweeping legislation. The use of taxpayer money, legislative overreach and enforcement obstacles all point to this being a pointless bit of signalling. You can't legislate every problem away, after all.

Yes, it's primarily meant to send a message: but it's a message to the wrong people. Return to sender, Ontario. Let's focus on the people in the 10-tonne, hurtling boxes of steel, not the pedestrians on crosswalks.


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