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Arkansas joins NY fight on distracted walkers

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Attention, texting pedestrians and iPod-obsessed runners on the street: You may soon get unplugged.

After targeting drivers who paid more attention to phone calls and text messages than the road, lawmakers in Arkansas and New York are now looking to crack down on pedestrians equally distracted by their own electronic gadgets.

Lawmakers in both states have proposed restrictions on using cell phones and music players such as iPods by people running and walking on the street or sidewalk. The apparent message: Distracted pedestrians are dangerous.

"We focus a lot on distracted drivers, but we also need to focus on distracted walkers and joggers," said Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, a national group representing states' highway safety offices.

The proposal in Arkansas would prohibit pedestrians from wearing headphones in both ears while on, parallel or adjacent to a street, road, intersection or highway. The measure also applies to runners and cyclists and would allow pedestrians to wear headphones in one ear.

"You might not get the full effect of the Boston Symphony Orchestra with one ear, but you at least will be aware of your surroundings," said state Sen. Jimmy Jeffress, a Democrat who proposed the legislation, which he said is aimed more at increasing awareness than punishment.

In New York, State Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn) has been trying since 2007 to prohibit people from using cell phones, iPods and other gadgets while crossing the street in major cities. The proposal would ban the use of an electronic device in the crosswalk in a city with a population of 1 million or more. Violators would face a $100 civil fine.

Kruger said a series of accidents in his district made him concerned about the number of pedestrians he saw paying closer attention to their devices than what was in front of them.

"They were basically oblivious to the circumstances around them," Kruger said. "They got wired up, and . . . their head was just in a different place. I don't think it's that much different than a ban on cell phones while driving or any other distraction."

Most states have been tackling distracted driving in some fashion, with 30 states and the District of Columbia banning texting while driving. Many states also have put other restrictions on the use of cell phones, particularly by teen drivers.

Earlier this month, the Governors Highway Safety Association reported that pedestrian fatalities rose slightly in the first half of 2010, compared with the same period in 2009.

Jean Knaack, executive director of the Road Runners Club of America, said her group recommends against headphone use while running or advises runners to use only one earphone.

"I certainly would rather see it be more of an education campaign than an outright limitation," Knaack said. "There are some people who have just convinced themselves they can't run without it. They need that crutch to be able to get out and do it."

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