Toronto

Phones down, heads up when walking: Ontario private member's bill wants fines for phone zombies

A private member's bill to be put forward by Liberal MPP Yvan Baker aims to curb distracted walking in the province. The move follows one U.S. city's vote that passed a historic law banning pedestrians from looking down at their smartphones while crossing the street.

Liberal MPP Yvan Baker will unveil 'Phones Down, Heads Up Act' on Monday

Distracted walkers could be penalized if the province approves private member's bill to clamp down on those texting and crossing the street. (Ben Margot/Associated Press)

A private member's bill to be put forward by Ontario Liberal MPP Yvan Baker aims to curb distracted walking in the province. The move follows one U.S. city's vote that passed a historic law banning pedestrians from looking down at their smartphones while crossing the street. 

Baker, MPP for Etobicoke Centre, told CBC Toronto he was inspired by Hawaii's largest city, Honolulu, which adopted its so-called "zombie law" earlier this month. It cracks down on people who are texting or not paying attention while crossing the street. They can be fined up to $35, or even more for repeat offenders. 

"The purpose of this bill, first of all really, is to just raise awareness," Baker said, noting that pedestrians need to understand the risks of having their eyes glued to their mobile devices when they step off the curb.

"Experts tell us that if you are distracted while you're crossing the street, looking down at your phone, then you're at risk of hurting yourself and maybe hurting somebody else, as well."  

The "Phones Down, Heads Up Act" will be tabled at Queen's Park on Monday. 

Liberal MPP Yvan Baker is set to unveil the 'Phones Down, Heads Up Act' as a private member's bill on Monday. (CBC)

"It's really about making sure you know what's going on around you and being able to respond," explained Baker, who hopes road safety will be improved as a result.  

If the bill passes, it will serve as an addition to the Highway Traffic Act, he added. 

Last year, 42 pedestrians died in the city, making it the deadliest on record since 2002, when 50 pedestrians died.

As a result, Toronto city council tried to ban distracted walking. Council voted 26-15 to ask the province to amend the Highway Traffic Act to make it illegal to use your phone or other mobile device while crossing the street.

But the province quickly turned it down.

At the time, Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca said pedestrians should keep their heads up while on the road and always be aware of their surroundings. He also noted that Toronto — and all municipalities — "are mature levels of government with powers to establish bylaws."

'Great way of just saying hey, wake up'

But this isn't enough, said Toronto police Sgt. Jeff Zammit.

Zammit sees people walk into traffic while texting on their phones every day.

He thinks people will only get the message if they are facing a ticket, and it gives police the platform to flag this dangerous behaviour.

"This is a great way of just saying, 'hey, wake up because you're going to get a ticket if you don't, or you're going to get injured and end up in hospital,'" he told CBC Toronto. 

Pedestrian Angel Lavoie, who said she tries to use her peripheral vision while looking down at her phone and walking down the street, admitted if she were faced with being fined, she would think twice about doing it. 

"If it becomes a law, I'll have to follow it," she said. 

With files from CBC's Greg Ross

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