What Ever Happened to ‘Look Both Ways’?

Published April 1, 2007

I know it has become a bit passé to talk about personal responsibility these days. Ours is a “it takes a village to raise a child” world. We’re told we have to look out for each other in this big village to ensure no one becomes the village idiot. And so we get laws like this new one from New York that would ban the use of electronic devices such as iPods, BlackBerrys, and cell phones while crossing streets of the Empire State’s major cities.

According to CNet’s description, a bill due to be released in late February “would effectively make it illegal to use any kind of portable electronic device–a music or video player, cell phone, smart phone, gaming device, etc.–while crossing the street in cities such as New York, Albany, and Buffalo. Offenders would be slapped with a $100 fine and a criminal court summons. Joggers and bicyclists would have to limit their iPod use to city parks in which no street crossing would be involved.” Apparently the sponsor of the bill became concerned after a 23-year-old Brooklyn man walked into the path of a city bus while listening to his iPod.

That certainly is a tragic story, and I hate to sound cold-hearted about this–but is the problem here the iPod or the guy simply failing to look both ways before he crossed a busy street? Personally, when I’m walking the busy streets of Washington, I am usually listening to my MP3 player and reading a newspaper or magazine at the same time. When I look around, I notice plenty of people around me are doing the same thing. But there’s no epidemic of deaths from us all stumbling into oncoming traffic while in a zombie-like trance from listening to music or reading papers.

Moral of the story: Most of us know how to walk and chew gum at the same time. For the handful of those who don’t I suppose you could make a Darwinian argument: Banning portable media devices on streets isn’t going to stop that crowd from doing stupid things that put their lives in danger anyway.

Adam Thierer ([email protected]) is senior fellow and director of the Center for Digital Media Freedom at the Progress & Freedom Foundation.