Last year the California State Senate passed a bill that fines bicyclists who text while riding, and this April the bill was extended to include bicyclists who talk on handheld phones whilst riding as well.
Riders who break the law face a $20 fine for the first offense, and a $50 fine for each additional offense. It must be stressed however, that former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into a similar ban for drivers back in 2008.
So isn’t this really just leveling the playing field?
Similar moves have failed in other states. A bill that would have banned cellular phone use by bicyclists in Virginia died in committee in February. A quick search online found that many cyclists are up in arms that they can’t pedal and text or talk.
Personally, I think this is a wise move.
Texting is extremely dangerous to do while driving, and it is probably worse for a bicycle rider; especially considering this thing called balance comes into play. Imagine a rider on the road, in traffic, barely in control — texting; even in parks and on bike paths it puts other users at risk.
As a long time resident of New York City, it was a common sight for me to see people gabbing on their phones while riding the loop in Central Park. This one handed riding makes it difficult to maintain control and more importantly brake accordingly.
But worse it causes distracted riders. I cannot tell you how many times I had to yell to get someone’s attention while trying to pass — as the rider was engaged in conversation on their phone — and then the rider ended up enraged at me for yelling to gain their attention so that I could safely pass.
That said, I’ve always answered my phone. I mean, it might be an important call.
So I can tell you from my own firsthand account that it is more difficult to control the bike on the winding roadway. However, whenever I felt that it wasn’t a quick, “are you at the park yet” type of call from a buddy or my wife, I tended to stop to the side to finish the call.
Most conscientious riders would do the same thing.
And maybe this is the bigger issue. Not to sound like a bicycle elitist or anything, but it was generally the casual riders who most often decided that an hour long ride was a great time to catch up on the phone for an hour.
Is it the phone’s fault?
There is another issue here, it isn’t so much the use of the mobile phones, but how distracted a rider may be. Many states ban headphones while driving, an irony given that drivers can turn the stereo up so loud as to make no difference. But now there are bans of headphones while riding, and particular restriction has been debated longer than mobile phones have been commonplace.
Oregon had introduced a house bill in January that would prohibit bicycle riders from using “listening devices” and this would include mobile phones and MP3 players, as well as headphones with fines up to $90. Other states and communities have bans on headphones as well.
In the end it really comes down to common sense. From my own experience, it is commonplace to see runners with headphones, while many cyclists wouldn’t be caught dead wearing headphones. This isn’t to say that runners are more dangerous (I run and cycle, sometimes doing both in the same day) or cyclists safer. Rather it’s about being aware of the surroundings and the environment. Runners remain pedestrians whereas bicyclists need to follow the rules of the road.
Headphones are dangerous in general because they block the noise, but the level of distraction is far less. So if you can ride safely and legally with headphones — such as on a lightly traveled bike path — then headphones might not be a problem.
Regardless the best strategy is to pay attention, and that might mean making time to focus on riding, and find a different time to text and talk.