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Hawaii distraction law looks the wrong way

A new law intended to lower Honolulu's pedestrian death-rate, which is among the highest in the country, is targeting the wrong cause and may not effectively deter this fatal injury. The new measure was signed into law in July and penalizes pedestrians who cross a street while looking at their cellphone.

However, this measure perpetuates the falsehood that pedestrians are responsible for their own injuries. There is almost no evidence that pedestrians are involved in accidents because they are looking at their own electronic devices.

The new city ordinance imposes a $35.00 for the first offense, $75.00 for the second and $99.00 for the third. The city councilman who introduced the measure was inspired by speaking to high school students.

The Governor's Highway Safety Association (GHSA) predicted, in March, that nation's pedestrian fatalities would rise by 11 percent between 2015 and 2016, which would be the largest rise since records on these accidents were kept. This follows a 9 percent increase between 2014 and 2015.

Total highway deaths also had record increases. These fatalities grew by 8 percent in 2015 and are estimated to increase by 10 percent during the first six months of 2016. Pedestrian deaths constitute 15 percent of these fatalities.

However, the GHSA found that 74 percent of pedestrian fatalities take place in the dark. Four out of five pedestrian deaths take place outside of intersections and in suburban areas, which prioritize vehicles.

Also, drunk drivers killed 15 percent of pedestrians, and over a third of the pedestrians were above the legal limit to legally drive. Zendrive, the tracker of behavior, reported that motorists with smartphones use them while driving 88 out of 100 times.

This indicates that visibility, design of the road and driver attention play a larger part in accidents than pedestrian distraction. Enforcement of laws against distracted driving and use of speed cameras and red-light cameras are also potentially effective measures in protecting pedestrians against a fatal accident by identifying and punishing unsafe drivers.

If a pedestrian is killed after being hit by a car, an attorney can help the victim's loved ones seek compensation in a wrongful death lawsuit against the reckless or negligent driver. These lawyers can help seek evidence and protect victims' rights in these lawsuits.

Source: Slate Magazine, "The absurdity of Honolulu's new law banning pedestrians from looking at their cellphones," Henry Grabar, July 28, 2017

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