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Honolulu’s Pedestrian Cell Phone Law

Honolulu’s Pedestrian Cell Phone Law

As of October 25, 2017, it will be illegal to “view” an “electronic mobile device” while crossing a street in the City and County of Honolulu.  This recent law has attracted a large amount of media coverage locally and even nationally.  But what does this new law mean, and what kind of conduct is prohibited?

The law is a modification of the old Honolulu mobile electronic device law for driving.  That law became moot when the State passed its own version, but it now serves as the home for this new law.  The statute can be found under Revised Ordinances of Honolulu § 15-24.23, located here.

The actual prohibition is very short, and reads as follows:

“No pedestrian shall cross a street or highway while viewing a mobile electronic device.”

There is an exception for emergency responders and an affirmative defense for anyone calling 911.

A violation of the new law carries the following staggered fine scheme.  A first offense will be $15 to $35.  A second offense within a year of a first violation will be $35 to $75.  A third offense or more within a year of two violations will be $75 to $99.

The statute has definitions for the terms “mobile electronic device” and “viewing.”  The definitions are as follows:

“Mobile electronic device” means any handheld or other portable electronic equipment capable of providing wireless and/or data communication between two or more persons or of providing amusement, including but not limited to a cellular phone, text messaging device, paging device, personal digital assistant, laptop computer, video game, or digital photographic device, but does not include any audio equipment.

“Viewing” means looking in the direction of the screen of a mobile electronic device.

This is where things get tricky.  Of course a mobile electronic device includes your cell phone, but because of the definition including anything electronic that can transmit data, it also includes things like an Apple Watch or a Fitbit.  Basically anything electronic with a screen and data connectivity via wireless, wifi, Bluetooth, etc. is covered.  So unfortunately, the prohibition on devices is much broader than a normal person would think.

The definition of “viewing” is even more problematic.  If your eyes, however briefly, glance at a screen, you are in violation of the law.  Even worse, it doesn’t even have to be your own device.  The way the law is written, the device does not have to be yours or in your possession.  If the person in front of you holds their phone up in a crosswalk sufficiently high enough, and you happen to be looking that way and see it, that’s technically a violation.

In other words, any time you cross a street as a pedestrian, your eyes cannot fall upon the screen of a device that has data transmission capabilities.  You can’t look at your phone, your iPad, your smart watch, or your Fitbit.  You can’t look at someone else’s phone, or iPad, or smart watch, or Fitbit.  In my opinion, the (probably) unintentionally broad scope of the law makes it unconstitutionally vague.  Unfortunately, that kind of an argument wouldn’t do you much good if you get one of these tickets.

What can you do?  You will still be allowed to talk on the phone as you cross an intersection, so long as the phone is up to your ear and you’re not looking at it.  You can have your phone in your hand as you cross, but just don’t look at it.

Practically speaking, I suspect few, if any, police officers would cite you for incidentally viewing another person’s phone in a crosswalk or for looking at your watch.  Realistically, the best way you can avoid running afoul of this law by simply not looking at your phone when you cross the street, and to just be aware when you cross a crosswalk.

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