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Texting While Walking Still Dangerous, But Not Illegal

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Hoping to drum up revenue for the cash-strapped New Jersey city, Fort Lee officials on Thursday announced a ban on texting while walking.
Actually, not one word of that is true. But that didn't stop media the world over from reporting it, gleefully sparking the usual grumbling about nanny state governance and Obamacare.

What is true is that car-on-pedestrian traffic accidents have risen in Fort Lee. In a town of only 35,000 people, more than 20 have been hit by cars in 2012 alone; three of them died. Last year, 74 people were hit and two killed.

In a bid to shrink those numbers, town police are stepping up their efforts to nab jaywalkers, passing out $85 fines to people caught walking dangerously.

At least some proportion of people likely to engage in dangerous walking -- for example, into a mall water fountain or straight into the path of a lost bear -- will most likely be texting.

Savvy app developers have long suspected there was a market niche for this problem. They quickly latched on to a concept that began as a 2009 April Fool's joke, and now there are any number of iPhone (AAPL), Windows Phone (MSFT), BlackBerry (RIMM), and Android (GOOG) apps, including Email 'n Walk, Type 'n Walk, Text 'n Walk, Walk and Text, and TransparenTxt -- all of which use your phone's camera to show you the sidewalk in front of you as you go about your dangerous business.

Fort Lee Police Department Chief Thomas Ripoli didn't actually point to an instance of injury caused by a texting jaywalker -- in fact, he admitted one of the three deaths was a homicide. But he did note, “It’s not always the driver’s fault. Pedestrians are not always aware; they’re not watching where they are walking.”

Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich told Fort Lee Patch that bad drivers were also in police crosshairs. “There are decoy police that are out each and every day at most troubled intersections,” he said, saying he'd personally witnessed at least one troubling incident involving an undercover officer and an oblivious driver. "You cannot believe what people do here in Fort Lee, to the point that this guy is just a pedestrian, and cars are going within two feet of him. They deserve a ticket if that’s what they’re going to do.”

One issue the mayor and the police chief have managed to sidestep is Fort Lee's demographic makeup: 50% of the population is over 45, with nearly half of that percentage over age 65. And despite all the news coverage, on Sunday yet another car-pedestrian dustup took place, resulting in a 71-year-old driver being charged with failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk, careless driving, and making an improper turn.

To date, there's no ordinance against driving while aging. And no app.
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