Ontario quickly turns down Toronto's request to ban pedestrian texting on roads

Ontario is turning down Toronto city council's request to ban texting and walking while crossing the street, instead dishing out a bit of common sense advice.

Transportation minister offers common sense approach for pedestrians

Distracted walkers could be penalized if the province changes the Highway Traffic Act to clamp down on those texting and crossing the street. (Ben Margot/Associated Press)

Ontario is turning down Toronto city council's request to ban texting and walking while crossing the street, instead dishing out a bit of common sense advice.

Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca says pedestrians should keep their heads up while on the road and always be aware of their surroundings.

But, he says, the Liberal government has no plans to change the Highway Traffic Act, as Toronto requested.

On Thursday night, as council debated the city's first ever road safety plan, Coun. Frances Nunziata moved a motion to ask the province of Ontario to amend the Highway Traffic Act to make it illegal to use your phone or other mobile device while crossing the street.

The motion passed 26-15.

City council asked the Ministry of Transportation to consider an amendment that would prohibit "pedestrians from actively using a handheld wireless communication device or handheld electronic entertainment device while on any travelled portion of a roadway."
Jared Kolb, the executive director of Cycle Toronto, says the issue of road safety in the city has more to do with distracted drivers than pedestrians. (CBC)

In a statement, Del Duca notes that Toronto — and all municipalities — "are mature levels of government with powers to establish bylaws."

Motion passed but some councillors jeered

Coun. Mike Layton, who voted against the amendment, tweeted councillors must have been "distracted" when they voted for the motion.

"All of us are very frustrated when we see people with their heads down, looking at their devices," Layton said.

However, "actively using a hand held device" is too open to interpretation, he opined. 

'We're all now unsafe'

"I've seen cyclists nearly take out pedestrians because the pedestrian, with headphones on and a smartphone in focus, steps in front of someone who has the right-of-way because they're on a bicycle," said Coun. Shelley Carroll, who voted for the motion.

"So what we're saying is, once you're in the travelled portion of the roadway, everyone needs to be paying attention."

The main issue for Carroll is distraction. When no one is paying attention to their surroundings because they're focused on their phones, it's the pedestrian who pays the price.

"We're all now unsafe, especially the pedestrian," she said.

However, some still say it's up to drivers to watch for pedestrians.

Jared Kolb, executive director of Cycle Toronto, said he thinks the motion is "a little rich" and the onus should lie with the driver.

"With great horsepower comes great responsibility and at the end of the day drivers have a great deal of responsibility here," Kolb said.

"We need to really combat distracted driving, not distracted walking."

with files from the Canadian Press


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