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In the Name of 'Safety': State Lawmakers Propose to Ban...Pedestrian Headphones?


How far will legislators go to keep you "safe"?  Give them an inch...

Arkansas state senator Jimmy Jeffress tried to take a mile last week, but a flurry of national attention led the Democrat to abandon his proposal Tuesday that would have prhibited pedestrians from wearing headphones in both ears while on the street or sidewalk -- all in the name of safety.

Arkansas Sen. Jimmy Jeffress said he didn't originally think that his proposal would have passed the Legislature, but at least wanted a conversation about the dangers of pedestrians paying more attention to their gadgets than their surroundings.

"I got the dialogue before I got it to committee," Jeffress said shortly before withdrawing the proposal he introduced less than a week ago.

Jeffress, a Democrat from Crossett, acknowledged that he was backing away from the idea partly because of backlash from opponents of the ban. Jeffress' proposal, which did not specify any penalty, would have allowed pedestrians to listen to music in one earphone.

"I've had about half a dozen positive hits on it and ten times that many against it. That's the thing," Jeffress said. "I think it's just time to let everybody know to quit e-mailing me."

But another state lawmaker, New York Sen. Carl Kruger, is doubling down on his own efforts to ban pedestrians' use of electronic devices while crossing streets in cities with a population of 1 million or more. In fact, Kruger condemned Jeffress for backing down on his public safety proposal.

"I don't know [Jeffress], but shame on him because in the process that goes forward it's not a question of whether or not you pass a bill," the Democrat from Brooklyn said. "You also file a bill because it may be a cornerstone for others to use."

According to the Associated Press, Kruger has actually been pushing for his ban since 2007 but believes his best chance may come this year. "It's important to press the issue, because it's an issue worthy of the pressure," he said. "There is a definite, demonstrated need for this legislation."

Kruger claims stringent restrictions on use of electronic devices are needed, pointing to a series of accidents in his home district involving distracted pedestrians.

Self-identified libertarian commentator John Stossel sounded off on both legislators' proposals with predictable scorn.

"What's next: no walking and chewing gum because some Americans can't?" Stossel wrote Tuesday. "Just because something is wrong or dangerous doesn’t mean that banning it will solve the problem."

But earlier this month, the Governors Highway Safety Association warned that pedestrian fatalities have risen slightly in recent months and on a national scale, pedestrians make up about 12 percent of traffic fatalities.

"It's not just distracted drivers," a spokesman for the safety group noted.  "We focus a lot on distracted drivers, but we also need to focus on distracted walkers and joggers."

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