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Bill to ban texting in crosswalkswon't work, but changed attitudes would

By Cynthia Oi

LAST UPDATED: 06:27 p.m. HST, Aug 05, 2011

The City Council, in particular member Ann Kobayashi, has been subject to mockery for a proposal that would make outlaws of texting teens and Blackberrying businesswomen for simply holding their e-devices while plodding across Beretania Street.

The bill amends an ordinance that right now bans people from using cellphones and other hand-held electronic equipment while driving motor vehicles — but the addition is so poorly defined that simply toting an iPad while traversing Ena Road could put a person in a cop's crosshairs, akin to possession of an illegal drug.

As silly as the measure sounds, Kobayashi and the constituent upon whose request she introduced the measure did have a good point to make — that such devices tend to distract their owners from the matter at hand, which is to get through traffic safely. People are prone to overestimating their ability to multitask.

Though pedestrians do have the right of way, they need to move as efficiently as they can because they are sharing occupancy of the streets with cars, like they share space while window-shopping at the mall. Dilly-dallying or stutter-stepping because they are caught up in a video or reacting to a surprisingly sweet tweet can leave a vehicle and its driver hanging okole in an intersection, a disruptive if not unsafe situation.

Of course, there are those annoying pedestrians who deliberately saunter in front of waiting cars, gambling that most drivers aren't insane enough to run them over, and there are, of course, the slightly unstable motorists who edge their cars forward to herd walkers to the sidewalk.

But there's no way to completely legislate attitude.

There is always going to be an all-about-me individual who thinks rules are meant for others. Even the people we expect to obey laws sometimes flout them, like the police officer who on a recent night switched lanes twice — right to left and back again — within three blocks on King Street then made a right turn without once flipping her blinker, much to the consternation of the driver of a sleek BMW who braked to avoid the blue-and-white.

It's funny how using a smartphone can make people foolish. Being able to call family members before buying plate lunches is a great advantage, but doing so at the moment the counterperson is poised to take the order while seven hungry diners are lined up in back isn't a good idea. It's inconsiderate.

Councilwoman Kobayashi did not say why the constituent asked that the e-device ban be extended to pedestrians (and bicyclists, by the way), but I don't think it was because the Council is trying to control people's lives, as one resident asserted at a meeting last week. More likely the constituent encountered an environment in which distraction created danger or just plain irritation.

Whatever the reason, the result is the impractical, unenforceable bill that will not solve the problem where courtesy and being mindful of others will. Though Honolulu is changing into a city of carelessly indifferent citizens, there remains a sense of solicitude that needs to be revitalized.


Cynthia Oi can be reached at coi@staradvertiser.com.

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