Catherine Gaffaney is a general reporter based in Auckland.

Kiwis fail to stop, look and listen

Many of us are guilty of it: texting, using Facebook or checking emails while crossing the road.

Now legislation has been introduced in New Jersey that would slap a US$50 ($72) fine and possible jail time on pedestrians caught using phones while they cross. And in the German city of Augsburg, traffic lights have been embedded in the pavement - so people looking down at their phones will see them.

The Herald on Sunday carried out an unscientific experiment at the busy intersection of Victoria and Queen Sts in central Auckland during the lunchtime rush to discover the scale of the problem here. Observing one of the corners, between 1pm and 1.30pm, we spotted 39 people using their cellphones while crossing.

Some people looked up briefly while crossing. Others kept their heads down, oblivious to what was going on around them.

In the past 10 years, the Accident Compensation Corporation has paid out more than $150,000 for texting-related injuries to a total of 272 Kiwis.

About 90 per cent of injuries were a result of people tripping, falling or walking into things while texting.

The number has fluctuated over the years, with 35 people injured last year but just $7266 paid out. The most expensive year was 2010 with $32,253 for 30 people.

A police spokeswoman said pedestrians were subject to the same distraction-related risks as drivers.

"Simply making texting while crossing the road unlawful does not provide an effective solution to the overall distraction problem.

"People being aware of the risks and taking personal responsibility for their behaviour is the key to keeping them safe."

Between 2011 and 2015, distractions were factors in two pedestrian deaths. In the same period, 20 people died in crashes where cellphone use was a factor.

Associate Transport Minister Craig Foss said: "I encourage pedestrians to put safety first and avoid any distractions while crossing the road - that includes cellphones."

AA road safety spokesman Dylan Thomsen believed the New Jersey legislation sent a good message but the idea would be hard to police here.

"A few years ago, it became illegal to use a phone in a car unless it was hands-free but a lot of people still try to get away with it."

Thomsen said pedestrians should use their common sense. "Kids are taught to stop, look and listen before they cross the street but people tend to forget that when they get older."

- Herald on Sunday

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