Japanese City Yamato Has Banned ‘Smartphone Walking’
The law, which came into effect last month, was heavily supported by Yamato’s 240,000 residents — reportedly, a public consultation was conducted prior to enacting the law, which found that eight out of 10 people were in favor of the ban. After a study conducted in two locations of Yamato this January found that 12 percent of 6,000 pedestrians were glued to their smartphones while walking, Mayor Satoru Ohki began making arrangements to impose the ban. Now, a recorded female voice cautions travelers arriving in Yamato, saying: “Using smartphones while walking is banned. Please operate your smartphones after you stop walking.” Instead, citizens are encouraged to use their smartphones “while standing still in a place where [they] won’t be a hindrance to others passing by.”
A study by a Japanese mobile company in 2014 had found that pedestrians lost 95 percent of their field of vision while staring down at a smartphone. Another study, published in BMJ Injury Prevention, had found that texting and scrolling on touchscreens led to an 800 percent spike in pedestrian injuries between 2004 to 2010. The researchers also found that almost half of pedestrians were distracted by their phones when crossing the street, leading them to walk into lampposts, step into oncoming traffic, and even trip. “Given the ubiquity of smartphones, social media, apps, digital video and streaming music, which has infiltrated most aspects of daily life, distracted walking and street crossing will be a road safety issue for the foreseeable future,” Dr. Sarah Simmons, lead author of the BMJ study, remarked.
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However, while Yamato became the first Japanese city to ban ‘smartphone walking,’ Japan is certainly not the first country to introduce measures in a bid to tackle this harmful practice. Chongqing in China, Antwerp in Belgium, and Washington, DC, in the US, had created “cellphone lanes” for pedestrians to use while on their phones. South Korea has installed flickering lights and laser beams at crossings, hoping this gets people to look up, and gets drivers to slow down. And, taking things another step further, Hawaii had enacted a law, under which pedestrians were fined for texting while walking through crosswalks in Honolulu.
But even though Yamato has introduced a ban on ‘smartphone walking,’ the law doesn’t penalize violators. “Co-operation is maintained through mutual monitoring within groups in Japan, while it is often maintained by democratic legal systems in Western cultures. Therefore, avoiding rejection from close relationship groups is critical for survival and success for Japanese individuals,” Dr. Yuko Watabe, a clinical psychologist at Tokyo’s Temple University Japan Campus, told BBC. “…there are laws that do not have punishments but are effective,” Naota Suzuki, a lawyer at Nakamura Law Offices in Shibuya, added.
“This law wasn’t designed to change anything tomorrow or the day after, or even in one year; my plan was to see it adopted in five-plus years. Ten years ago we made [a] law against walking and smoking. It took a while for it to be adopted, but after 10 years it worked,” Ohki said, adding, “I believe we can trust the people of Yamato to do the right thing.”