However, the ordinances include no penalties, and efforts are focused simply on raising awareness. The question now is whether the ordinances can help reduce the use of phones while walking amid a growing number of accidents involving the practice.
Many people were seen walking around with smartphones on a recent day in a square lined with cafes and restaurants in front of JR Nippori Station in Arakawa Ward. A young woman was spotted walking around watching a video with earphones on her smartphone. There also was an elderly man stepping onto an escalator while searching for something online.
A 33-year-old woman working in the design business said she didn’t know about the ordinance. “I often walk around looking at a map app to find the place I want to go. Since it has become the norm, I can’t stop walking around while using my phone unless I get fined,” she said.
The ordinance, which went into effect in the ward in January, defines using a smartphone or other kind of mobile phone while walking or doing other things as “walking while staring at an image displayed on a smartphone or other device,” and states that such an act must not be committed in public places such as streets, parks and station plazas. It says, “One should not interfere with the passage through or use of public places by others when using a smartphone.”
The use of voice and other apps to assist the physically disabled in walking is excluded from the ban on the grounds of special circumstances.
The Honolulu city government in Hawaii bans pedestrians from looking at mobile phones while crossing the road, and it fines violators.
However, Isamu Chatani, chief of the ward’s community safety section, said: “If we set a penalty, we would have to constantly monitor pedestrians, which is not realistic. We rarely see people talking on the phone in the train these days even though there is no penalty for doing so, since people are becoming more aware that it is a breach of manners. It is important to take the time to make people aware of the problem of walking while playing with a smartphone, too.”
Operating a smartphone while driving a car or a bicycle is subject to penalties as it is prohibited under the Road Traffic Law and traffic rules set by prefectural governments. On the other hand, there is no law against walking while using a smartphone, although the practice has led to many accidents.
According to the Tokyo Fire Department, in the five years up to 2019, 177 people were taken to hospitals due to accidents related to using phones while walking. They included a case in which a person fell from a train station platform onto the tracks and injured their back. Another person fell and was injured after failing to notice a step.
In light of these situations, Yamato enforced the nation’s first ordinance to prevent people from using a phone while walking in July last year. According to the city, a survey conducted before the ordinance was in place showed 12.1% of pedestrians used a smartphone while walking. But the figure fell to 6.6% after the ordinance was enacted.
A city official said, “We believe people came to be widely aware of the issue as a result of our efforts to raise their awareness, such as posting posters in train stations and on public streets.”
Adachi Ward also enacted a similar ordinance. One feature of the ordinance is that it even prohibits talking on a phone while walking. A ward official said: “Some people say it’s too strict — but it can be dangerous if you become too focused on the conversation on the phone. We want people to stop when talking on the phone, too.”
Three major telecommunication companies — NTT Docomo, Inc., KDDI Corp. and SoftBank Corp. — in 2013 started providing an app that warns people when it detects them walking while using a phone. However, Softbank and KDDI both suspended the service in recent years, mainly because it was underused. Docomo offers the service only as a function of phones designed for children.
Katsumi Tokuda, a professor of barrier-free theory at the University of Tsukuba, said: “If accidents involving other people occur frequently, I think it would be a good idea to consider an ordinance with penalties for certain places where people’s lives can be at stake, such as train station platforms. It is important for local governments to raise awareness by calling for more specific measures, such as stopping at the side of the road or near a wall when using a smartphone, rather than simply repeating, ‘Don’t use your phone while walking.’”
Published : July 19, 2021
By : Yuri Ishihama and Mayumi Kamizono/The Japan News/ANN