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In Honolulu, walking and texting can cost you $99. But in Boston, phone zombies roam free

A pedestrian checked her cellphone as she walked across Commonwealth Avenue.
A pedestrian checked her cellphone as she walked across Commonwealth Avenue. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

It was evening rush hour on Congress Street, and six lanes of buses, vans, cars, trucks, and bikes were fighting for position. The tension — HONKKKKK!!! — was palpable.

Well, to some.

Phone zombie Kaitlin Mulcahey crossed the major Boston thoroughfare with nary a care in the world beyond her own palm. She was communing with her screen when she was startled by a reporter on the sidewalk.

The question: What vital issue is demanding your attention?

The answer: A GIF showing the “Home Alone” kid staring out a window, with the caption “When Halloween’s over and you can start playing holiday music.”


As our work and lives and even leisure move ever faster, and the pressure escalates to respond immediately to e-mails — or Facebook posts — lawmakers around the country are trying to rein in the mobile madness.

In late October, Honolulu started ticketing pedestrians who cross the street while texting or viewing a screen. Violators can be fined up to $99. In September, the New York State Assembly passed a law that directs New York City to “study and report on its efforts to educate pedestrians and drivers on the dangers of pedestrians being distracted by use of a mobile device.”

In Boston, screen addicts can roam free, at least for now. But a bill in the Legislature aimed at preventing jaywalking includes enhanced fines if the violation occurs while the person is using a mobile electronic device and/or wearing earbuds or headphones. Jay-texters could face fines of up to $200. The bill is scheduled for a hearing on Monday.

In July, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation launched a statewide safety campaign aimed at raising awareness among drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. Ads highlight crash statistics such as “1 in 4 deaths in motor vehicle crashes involve people walking or bicycling.”


Over the past eight years, there has been a decline in overall motor vehicle fatalities and injuries, the department said, but fatalities and injuries involving people walking and cycling have increased.

Spokeswoman Jacquelyn Goddard said law enforcement officers have told the department they have seen a greater number of walkers, cyclists, and drivers traveling while using technology. But, Goddard e-mailed the Globe, “MassDOT does not [have] data to indicate how the use of technology played a role in injuries or deaths.”

Even as the griping about mobile texters escalates, a majority of people interviewed — including a vigilante who doesn’t move out of the way of oncoming texters — said the cost of enforcing any law wouldn’t be worth it.

And, it turns out, no one hates distracted walkers more than the perpetrators themselves.

“It’s my most embarrassing habit,” said Julie Gladu Hall, a marketing executive in Charlestown. “It’s like I feel I’m so important that I can’t look up in a crosswalk.”

For the record, she does not feel so important. What she does feel is an irresistible tug.

“I’ll make a conscious effort not to check e-mail when I’m walking, and to be mindful, and look at the trees and the birds,” she said. “But then I get this gnawing feeling — I’ll just return that one text or e-mail . . . ”

Pedestrians in Copley Square were oblivious to traffic — or other pedestrians.
Pedestrians in Copley Square were oblivious to traffic — or other pedestrians.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

In Canton, real estate agent Melissa Kramer Mayer also (kind of) wants to stop her mobile habit, “but every second of the day counts,” she said.


To her way of thinking, if she doesn’t squeeze in e-mailing, texting, Snapchatting, Facebooking, tweeting, direct messaging, and instant messaging while she’s on the move, “I’d be working 24 hours a day.”

So how much time does she actually save?

“You can check things off the list,” she began, but then she thought about how every text seems to trigger a new text, and finally concluded: “You lose time.”

Many distracted walkers say their own distracted walking is fine — they know how to do it. The problems come from people who don’t know the art of mobile multi-tasking.

“I’m on a campus where people walk into you without apologizing,” said Iqra Niazi, a Northeastern University sophomore who was striding down State Street while scrolling through Instagram earlier this month.

By contrast, when her social-media-checking needs threaten to send her careening into a stranger, she apologizes — even if they are sometimes so rude as to give her a dirty look.

A few blocks away, Greg Kerkorian, an insurance broker, was striding through the hectic streetscape while texting with friends — the very behavior he discourages in his fiancee.

“I get on her case” about walking and texting, he said, seemingly unaware he was doing just that.

Meanwhile, as bad as texting and walking is, there is, of course, something much worse. As Bill Beizer, of Newton, put it: “If everyone who was texting while driving was walking instead, we’d all be a lot better off.”


Beth Teitell can be reached at beth.teitell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @BethTeitell.