New legislation keeps California pedestrians focused on the road

Mackenzie Clarke , Managing Editor

At a meeting on Sept. 12,  San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa and other Supervisors voted unanimously in favor of a resolution to ask state lawmakers to pass the requisite legislation necessary for the enactment of a distracted walking law to mitigate distracted pedestrian street-crossing and subsequent safety hazards.

The ban on cellphones, came to fruition amidst Pedestrian Safety Month. The effort to protect pedestrians has recently become more impactful due to an increase in pedestrian fatalities in the state. According to the Office of Traffic Safety, 892 pedestrians were killed on California roadways in 2016, accounting for 24 percent of all roadway fatalities that year.

While the law has been met mostly with approval, there are still some who view it as another example of the intrusion of the government on people’s everyday lives. The proposed ban has been likened to the seat belt legislations of 1983, which enforced the necessity of wearing seatbelts for all passengers in a car. Similar to this law, the cellphone law is not intended to inconvenience pedestrians, but rather protect their lives.

This is a 21st century solution to a 21st century problem.”

— San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa

“This is a 21st century solution to a 21st century problem. People use their phones all the time and they’re communicating on a very high volume with them.” Canepa said. “If you’re staring down at your phone, you can’t look both ways [when crossing the street].”

As Redwood City increasingly becomes more of a microcosm of the bustling climate of the Silicon Valley, distracted walking is subsequently also on the rise. With the number of new businesses and startups downtown, there is a high density of pedestrians, bikes and cars during commute hours.

“My hope for this is to to bring awareness to the public safety issue and make sure that people are aware and just being safer. This is going to ensure that pedestrians have to look up before entering the street,” Canepa said. “When you mention a fine, it goes to the top of the list of people’s priorities.”Because California does not enforce laws on a county level, this issue is not solely of the concern of San Mateo County—but the entire state. The ban is currently in the process of being proposed in Sacramento. Additionally, the state is governed by the California Vehicle Code, so the bill cannot be implemented if it preempts state law.  The long and arduous process begins with the proposed law being taken to a California Assembly member in January 2018 along with other bills, and if it passes through multiple Assembly and Senate committees and approval, the bill will become a law in January of the following year 2019.

In all, Canepa hopes for a safer environment for both pedestrians and drivers.

“I want this to make people think twice. You hate to legislate common sense, but in this case, we did it.”