Press "Enter" to skip to content

San Mateo County Blames Traffic Hazards on Pedestrians

Photo: Richard Perry / New York Times

On Tuesday the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed that pedestrians are to blame for hazardous conditions on California streets, and passed a resolution urging the California Legislature to “take action to promote traffic safety by prohibiting use of cell phones while crossing streets.”

Supervisor David Canepa proposed the resolution after hearing of a new Honolulu law that forbids people walking from viewing an electronic device while walking across an intersection. The law has already inspired copycat politicians in Stamford, Connecticut and Cleveland, Ohio to propose their own pedestrian-blaming cell phone bans.

“The California Vehicle Code… recognizes that each pedestrian has a duty of using due care for his or her safety while crossing roadways,” states the San Mateo County resolution. “but, as the statistics show, the safety of pedestrians continues to be compromised by use of mobile electronic devices while crossing the street.”

San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa.

The resolution claims “a dramatic increase in pedestrian injuries due to cell phone-related distracted walking,” citing a 2013 Ohio State University study that found that phone-related pedestrian injuries had risen from 1 percent to 4 percent of all pedestrian injuries. In percentage terms, the increase is indeed “dramatic” but because the use of electronic devices remain a tiny contributor to injuries, bans such as those approved by Honolulu will result in no safety improvement.

“California Walks believes this and efforts like it are extremely misguided and have no basis in data,” said California Walks Deputy Director Jaime Fearer of San Mateo County’s resolution.

Like the Honolulu law, the resolution ignores distracted use of mobile devices by motorists, who would still be allowed to look at them while driving through intersections. Rather than addressing the real traffic safety hazards faced by people walking, the resolution blames pedestrians for endangering themselves.

Canepa reported that a California State Assembly member has already agreed to sponsor legislation banning the use of mobile devices by pedestrians, but declined to disclose the Assembly member’s name.