Since Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood made reducing distracted driving one of his top priorities, the dangerous practice has been the subject of heated debate among safety advocates, policy makers, and the insurance industry. The debate gets even hotter when distractions are targeted for non-vehicular modes of transportation, like walking and cycling. Currently, for example, New York City is considering imposing penalties for distracted walking, and here in California, the legislature has included cyclists in a once-popular law increasing fines for distracted driving, reports StreetsblogSF.
Cycling advocates, who originally supported the bill as a way to keep vehicle drivers focused on the road and decrease the risk of bicycle accidents, have soured on the new language, which would boost fines for distracted cycling from $20 for a first offense to $50, and from $50 for each additional citation to $100. “The consequences of a distracted driver are considerably more serious than the consequences of distracted cycling,” said California Bicycle Coalition Communications Director Jim Brown. “As far as I’m aware, there is no accident evidence that points to a problem…this law seems premature.”
For more than five years now, extending California’s distracted driving law has been the passion of State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), who told me in an interview last summer that it’s just a fix for the state’s 2006 distracted driving law, which excluded cyclists by mistake. “The cycling community is of mixed minds on this. Some don’t want cyclists to be fined, but a more serious faction says ‘look, we want to share the road, and we should be seen equally under the law,’” said Simitian, who is surprised by how much attention the bill has received. “Common sense tells us it’s not a safe habit, given all the risks that cyclists have to contend with,” he told Streetsblog recently.
But that’s not enough for cycling advocates, who worry that increasing restrictions on bicycles will scare interested commuters away. “Even worse, we wonder whether bicyclists would be cited more often than motorists because it’s so much easier to spot someone texting while pedaling,” said Andy Thornley of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “It’s already a problem of perception that individual bicycle riders seem to be noticed being naughty more than motorists, comfortably anonymous with their glass and steel boxes.”
Though the discussion about distracted driving continues, only a handful of states are considering non-vehicle distracted driving laws. But for me, due to a simple desire not to get hit by a car, bicycle or pedestrian, I’m going to avoid distractions on city streets and highways regardless of my state’s law.
Photo credit: Akuppa