Run free, but not with headphones

Many campus joggers wear headphones to distract themselves from potential cramps or the dull journey to class. Photo by Emily Waller / [email protected]

Many students on campus wear headphones when jogging or walking to distract themselves from potential cramps or the dull journey to class.

However, a Jan. 25 report in The New York Times said New York is currently pushing legislation to prevent pedestrians from listening to the latest hits while working out or jaunting to class.

The New York bill would prevent pedestrians from using all portable electronic devices such as mobile phones, iPods and other gadgets while crossing the street. The bill is applicable to any pedestrian, exercising or not.

Similar bills have been re-introduced in states such as California, where bicyclists are fined $20 for using mobile phones and multi-tasking while riding. In Oregon and Virginia, bills are pending that would restrict bicyclists from using their mobile phones and MP3 players while riding.

New York State Senator Carl Kruger (D) proposed the bill because he has become alarmed by the amount of distractions he saw on the streets, the report said.

Edward Korabic, chair and associate professor of speech pathology, agreed pedestrians are distracted by the music they are listening to when crossing the streets and at risk because they cannot hear.

“We take our sense of hearing for granted,” Korabic said.  “It depends on what you are listening to and what you have the volume set at, but if you can’t hear your surrounding environment, it can result in a severe injury.”

A pending question is whether Milwaukee or Wisconsin would see a similar bill cross local legislators’ desks.

Patricia Bradford, an associate professor in the Law School, said in an e-mail she did not know if it was possible for a similar bill to be assembled.

She added she has not heard of anything of the sort coming to Milwaukee or Wisconsin anytime soon.

The government’s use of funding has been questioned in regard to another bill restricting mobile devices.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, as of January 2011, 30 states have banned texting while driving, and eight states have banned handheld cell phone use while driving.

Trying to hunt down pedestrians wearing headphones would be another menial task for officers to complete when they could be finding real criminals, Korabic said.

Korabic does not agree with having the government regulate whether a person can have headphones on while outside doing physical activity.

He said providing a public forum or awareness campaign to get the public safety message across would have a greater impact.

However, he does not disagree with the motives.

“When crossing the street, you use your sense of hearing, and using mobile devices such as iPods and having the headphones in your ears jeopardizes your life,” he said.

The government does have the ability to pass such laws, said Matthew Parlow, an associate professor in the Law School.

“Based on the powers given to the states through the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and how those powers have been interpreted by courts (including the U.S. Supreme Court), I think that states have the authority to adopt such laws and courts would likely uphold them,” Parlow said.