Over the weekend, media outlets began reporting that a New Jersey town had officially instituted a ban on texting while walking, making it a fineable offense. Turns out, this "ban" was really just a mix-up with words by many in the media that misconstrued what exactly the local authorities were issuing tickets for.
As the Atlantic Wire points out, the official fineable offense is in Fort Lee, N.J., is jaywalking, which can include but is not limited to texting while walking:
Now, technically it's true that you can get a ticket from the police while you are texting and walking, provided that the texting turns you into a distracted jaywalker who creates a dangerous traffic situation. However, that does not mean that you can get an automatic ticket simply for texting while walking down the street and it definitely doesn't mean that there is a blanket ban on the practice. Yet, somehow over the weekend the story morphed into the just that. An ABC News television report on Fort Lee digs deep into the texting angle, breaking out footage of distracted walkers and ignoring the larger jaywalking picture to focus on the dangers of texting on the move.
The Associated Press reported a few days ago that the $85 tickets are for those "who don't stay in the crosswalks or cross an intersection against the light." This fine was instituted in light of more than 20 pedestrians being hit while jaywalking in the town this year, three of whom were killed.
The Atlantic Wire states the misrepresentation of the actual fine seems to have begun with with an ABC News blog post with the headline "Texting While Walking Banned in New Jersey Town." It does point out that several sources reported the details correctly:
This Sky News report also got the details right, but the new headline — "Fines For Texting While Walking In US Town" — seems to imply that texting alone would be enough to get you a ticket. Ditto this local Fox News report from Philadelphia, which also mentions how many tickets have issues, but not that they were for the larger crime of jaywalking — not necessarily texting. The Daily Caller went ahead and said it outright: "The town issued 117 tickets for texting while walking."
The Blaze's report, which quoted a Fox News story, noted the fine is for jaywalking, but we asked, "Is 'text-walking' the new drunk driving?"
So why did everyone jump on the story? For starters, banning texting while walking does seem to be an overreach. But the Atlantic Wire adds another reason: "who doesn't love a good texting debate?"
The Atlantic Wire reports MSNBC followed up with the police chief of Fort Lee, who clarified his early remarks that there was in fact no ban on the practice.
Featured image by Kalani Gregoire via Flickr.