Will New York Ban Cell Phones for Pedestrians?

A Democratic state senator wants to prohibit New Yorkers from using their mobile devices while crossing the street.

New Yorkers should be stopped from talking on their cell phones when crossing the street, says state Senator Carl Kruger. The Democrat has introduced legislation that would fine people $100 when they’re caught using a mobile device nevertheless.

“You can’t be fully aware of your surroundings if you’re fiddling with a Blackberry, dialing a phone number, playing Super Mario Brothers on a Game Boy or listening to music on an iPod,” according to Kruger.

On his website, the senator cites a rise in “accidents stemming from pedestrian distraction,” including the unfortunate demise of a young man who was crushed by a truck while listening on headphones to music and a woman “engrossed in conversation on her cell phone walking straight into a park fountain.”

The Arkansas legislature is considering a similar proposal that would ban pedestrians, runners and cyclists from wearing headphones in both ears.

In Arkansas, they don’t even know how many people were hurt because they were “distracted” and didn’t pay attention to traffic. In Kruger’s case, a mere handful of incidents is plenty to warrant a new law.

What is lost on both is that government does not exist to protect people against their own stupidity. Freedom means that people have a right to be irresponsible, as long as they don’t hurt anyone else in the process.

Would Kruger support a law that prohibits attractive woman from wearing miniskirts because it might distract drivers and cause an accident? By the same logic, why not ban cell phones from public spaces altogether? People might bump into one another on the sidewalk if they’re “engrossed in conversation.”

In reality, no law can ever manage to remove risk from our lives entirely. Lawmakers should resist their paternalistic urge to try to shield people from the perils of their modern day world. When the likes of Kruger and his colleagues in Arkansas start talking about the “potentially deadly dangers that lurk outside the deceptive serenity of your iPod,” the only proper response is — “Leave us alone!”