By Gary Buiso
“Drop the iPod and put up your hands!” could soon be a familiar—if bizarre—demand heard on streets statewide, if one local lawmaker has his way. Late last week, State Senator Carl Kruger introduced legislation that would ban the use of any portable electronic device—cell phone, music player, gaming unit—while crossing the street. Violators could face a $100 fine and a criminal court summons. Kruger cited two recent deaths as the impetus behind his proposed prohibition. On Jan. 11, a 23-year-old man was struck and killed while listening to his iPod on Avenue T and East 71st Street. On Sept. 1, Kruger said, a man listening to music was struck and killed by a city bus at the intersection of Flatbush Avenue and Avenue U. Kruger said he has observed a Timothy Leary-esque phenomenon sweeping the state. “People are tuning in and tuning out,” Kruger said. He dubbed the phenomenon “iPod oblivion.” “People are oblivious to the world around them,” he said. And that’s not safe, he said. “We shouldn’t be seeing people walking on the street out of tune with the world around them,” Kruger said. The bill has already garnered international attention. Kruger told this paper this week that the bill has fulfilled its purpose: “Raising awareness, creating a dialogue and bringing the issue to the forefront.” Kruger cited “support” he said he received in a recent article in the New York Times. The Times article concludes, “Sure, people will get hit by buses while listening to iPods. But then, they’ve been getting hit by buses for decades anyway—while reading a newspaper, talking to companions or simply daydreaming about a better day. Perhaps Mr. Kruger would like to outlaw daydreaming in crosswalk, too.” Kruger brushed aside any criticism he has received. He said talking to a friend while walking, “doesn’t approach the level of distraction” as having an iPod “blasting in your eardrum.” “I think if this is made a regulation, people will learn that it’s beneficial to them and to their family.” “Cough medicine taste awful, but it works,” he offered. In his justification for the bill, introduced Feb. 8, Kruger wrote, “This legislation is seeking that people take a few seconds of their time to stop using their electronic devices while crossing the street. A few seconds that can save a person’s life.” It not only targets pedestrians. “Music-loving” cyclists and joggers would be forced to limit their exercise to the local park, Sen. Kruger noted. “This is not about civil liberties—this is about public policy. It’s a question of public safety,” Kruger said. The bill would apply only to large city’s with a population of one million or more people, throughout the state, Kruger said. He insisted his bill is not draconian, and rejected the idea that he is a Luddite. “You want to jog in the park or sit in your backyard and listen to an iPod—that’s fine. No one is trying to interfere with your way of life,” he said. Kruger said his bill is just good public policy—and not a case of government overstepping its bounds. “If you are committing suicide, the government will interfere with that,” he said. He said he appreciated gadgets as much as the next lawmaker. “I’m not anti-technology. I’m very attuned to technology but at the same time, every opportunity presents a challenge. The challenge here is to use it in an appropriate fashion.” “A little wine is good for you. A lot of it makes you an alcoholic,” he reasoned. Asked about the practicality of enforcement, Kruger had this to say: “[It is] the same way police can issue a summons for jaywalking.” He said he was not necessarily looking for credit for the bill. His only hope is to get something on the books “to act as a deterrent to doing this kind of reckless act.” “I’m doing it on a state level, but it can easily be done by the City Council,” he said. City Councilmember Lew Fidler, the assistant majority leader, said that he recognizes the problem, “but the solution might be a little farther than I would be willing to go.” “It’s a little too severe,” Fidler added. “Once a week I notice someone in total la-la land when they’re on a cell phone,” he said. “But saying that you can’t be on a cell phone when you cross the street is like saying you can’t use a hands-free device while driving a car.” “I don’t see how that’s any more or less dangerous,” Fidler continued. Kruger’s solution, the city lawmaker said, is “a little too severe,” Fidler said. Kent German, a senior editor at CNET, the San Francisco-based media company whose website provides technology news and reviews, said Kruger’s proposal seems “a little odd.” “Is it different from talking to your friends?” he wondered. “I think it’s a little overzealous.” German, whose specialty is cell phones, asked, “Are people supposed to put their phone down when they cross the street?” “That’s the whole point of cell phones—that you can use them anywhere,” he continued. He said not being allowed to drive a car and hold a cell phone—which is a state law—seems more valid. “You don’t need your hands to walk,” he noted. Told that elected officials are often spotted chatting on their cell phones, Kruger said, “I plead guilty.” “I think that it’s wrong. I’ve stopped. If I get a call, I look at it, and see if it’s an emergency.” “I may answer but certainly I don’t cross,” he said. Instead, he continued, “When I talk, I stay on the sidewalk and stand still.” Kruger said he does not own an iPod. “I don’t even know how to use the cell phone. I know when it rings, you answer it,” he admitted.