The idea that pedestrian distraction is a significant source of harm is starting to shape public policy in tangible ways. The Honolulu City Council recently passed a bill to outlaw looking at a mobile device while crossing the street — on foot, at least. If you’re driving, it would still be lawful to look at your dash-mounted phone while crossing an intersection. (The mayor has yet to take a position on the bill.)
If the Honolulu bill passes, it could simply serve as a pretext for arbitrarily harassing pedestrians. And as Systemic Failure notes, it could even increase traffic risks by creating a more permissive atmosphere for driving behaviors that pose a greater threat.
Meanwhile, automakers are making in-dash computer systems a standard feature in cars without arousing much alarm from safety scolds.