02

Blog

Distracted Biking — Focusing On The Mole Hill Rather Than The Mountain

Several cities or states have already banned cyclists’ use of handheld devices or headsets while riding. Distracted biking laws put the focus on the wrong target -- the real epidemic is distracted driving.

Distracted biking was the subject of a recent news article, Cities and States Try to Crack Down on Distracted Bicycling. The article’s back-and-forth debate centered on this question: do we need special laws to block cyclists from riding with earbuds or using handheld smartphones?

Several cities or states have already banned cyclists’ use of handheld devices or headsets while riding. The article details where those measures are in force and the specifics of each. Other states and municipalities are considering similar laws or regulations.

Those in favor of bike-specific legislation say bikers should play by the same rules as every other road user. Massachusetts State Rep. Steven Howitt recently introduced a bill to prohibit cyclists from using headphones while riding. “If they want to share the road, they have to share the responsibility as well,” Howitt said in the article.

BikeLaw’s own Peter Wilborn was one of the cycling advocates who weighed in on the debate. He was quoted as saying:

There’s a huge difference between distracted driving that kills someone and distracted biking that doesn’t. I don’t think we need laws specifically for this.

I’m with Peter on this one. I don’t want to downplay any crashes or injuries caused by distracted bikers. We can all agree that even one distracted urban cyclist who hits a pedestrian has caused one pedestrian crash too many. A biker who is at fault in that collision should be held accountable.

But let’s get real, people. Distracted biking laws in the U.S. focus on a mole hill when we should be looking at the mountain.

The Real Epidemic

The real epidemic is distracted driving. Epidemic is not my word, by the way — I lifted it from Distraction.gov, the federal government’s official website: “Distracted driving is a dangerous epidemic on America’s roadways.” Epidemic. As in a plague that’s going to get us all.

Head on over to distraction.gov and you’ll see just how widespread that epidemic is. Check these facts, the latest available on the government site:

  • In 2013, 3,154 people were killed in distracted driving crashes.
  • Approximately 424,000 people were injured in distracted driving crashes that same year.
  • In 2013, there were 480 nonoccupants such as pedestrians and bicyclists killed in distraction-affected crashes.
  • A quarter of teens respond to a text message once or more every time they drive. Twenty percent of teens and 10 percent of parents admit that they have extended, multi-message text conversations while driving.
  • Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. When traveling at 55 mph, that’s enough time to cover the length of a football field blindfolded.

Netherlands Study

To be sure, distracted biking can and does happen, and when it does, bike control may be negatively affected. Researchers in the Netherlands, where cycling is commonplace as a mode of transportation, published a 2013 study on distracted biking. An online summary of that study states:

Based on 1360 observations of bicycling behavior, this study shows that bicyclists who were using a cell phone, listening to a portable music device, or talking with other bicyclists exhibited more unsafe behaviors than those bicyclists who were not performing a secondary task. Furthermore, bicyclists who were performing a secondary task also more frequently created situations where other people had to evade them to avoid an accident. As with distracted car driving, the performance of a secondary task while bicycling may be unsafe for the person engaging in the behavior as well as for other people around them.

Given that study and the massive ridership in the Netherlands, that country has a sound basis for reshaping its laws on distracted biking. Here in the U.S., we would be well advised to take note of the study’s conclusions. But at this point, we don’t really need any new laws to address the problem.

The number of serious crashes in the U.S. caused by distracted biking is miniscule in comparison to other vehicle crashes. The sad fact is that distracted biking has not received that much statistical analysis in the U.S. because most of our cities don’t yet have the ridership numbers to justify those studies. There are a few exceptions. Researchers in New York recently conducted a study on technology-related distracted bicycling and helmet use among 25,000 cyclists. They found a relatively low rate of technology distraction.

Let’s Enforce Distracted Driving Laws

As cities across the country push to become bike friendly, you can bet your bottom bracket that more distracted biking laws will inevitably follow. That cyclist wearing earbuds will become an easy mark. Meantime, “[a]t any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving,” according to Distraction.gov.

Bike Law lawyers have represented many cyclists and several families of deceased cyclists who were injured or killed by distracted drivers.  Those cases don’t have to happen — and they wouldn’t if drivers would put down their smartphones and pay attention to the road.

We have lots of distracted driving laws on the books that need to be enforced.  Let’s deal with that epidemic first. Before it gets all of us.

Comments

Rachael Maney Nov 28, 2018

I asked my 7 year old son, Will, to draw me a picture of each of these things: life with cars; life with electric cars; life with autonomous cars; they all looked the same. But the fourth picture- life in a modern, forward thinking, and environmentally, economically, and socially responsible place- looked very different. Even […]

Read More
Matt Johnson Nov 06, 2018

We were somewhere around Denison on the edge of the corn fields when the Eurostyle Chamois Butter began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded, maybe we should stop at a watering station…” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us, and the road was full of […]

Read More
Peter Wilborn Oct 02, 2018

October is a big month in the triathlon world, with the Kona Ironman World Championships on the 13th. So it is good news that Triathlete Magazine chose its October issue to focus on bicycle safety and advocacy. Bike Law Director (and our resident triathlete) Rachael Maney was featured and interviewed in the piece. She shared […]

Read More
Peter Wilborn Sep 28, 2018

Chicago has become one of the nation’s top cycling cities, but along with more has come an increase in dooring crashes. A Chicago news channel has covered the issue and interviewed attorney Brendan Kevenides, Bike Law’s legal resource in Illinois. Brendan explained the growing risk to cyclists and how the “Dutch Reach” can help.  The […]

Read More
Amy Benner Johnson Sep 21, 2018

Drivers are coming within less than 1.5 feet of cyclists on the road in Knoxville with alarming regularity. Drivers are coming within less than two feet of cyclists on the road in Knoxville with alarming regularity. It’s not your imagination. It’s not all in your head. Your combined senses of touch, sound, and sight all […]

Read More
Rachael Maney Sep 12, 2018

You may have already seen the video below. If you haven’t, please watch. On Tuesday, August 24th just before 7PM, Jeff McCord and approximately 20 other cyclists were stopped at the intersection of Karl Daly and Grants Mill Road in Irondale, Alabama, a town outside the city of Birmingham. As McCord waited for an ambulance […]

Read More
Rachael Maney Aug 30, 2018

In 2010, Richmond, California got lucky when Brooklyn born Najari Smith planted roots in the Bay Area city, quickly claiming a very important role in his new community. Having given more than 1,100 bikes to Richmond’s youth and community members in the last 6 years, Najari’s vision and mission to promote a bike-centric lifestyle has […]

Read More
Bruce Hagen Jul 17, 2018

On July 11, 2018, a very experienced rider and friend to many in the Rockdale County area, Albert “Ab” Roesel, was killed while out on a rural road doing a ride that he no doubt had done many times before.  Ab was 75 years old.   The police investigation concluded that Ab had been headed Southbound, […]

Read More
Brendan Kevenides Jun 04, 2018

At sea a boat under power must give way to a more vulnerable craft.  The law requires that a power driven vessel give way to a sailing vessel.  A sail boat must give way to a craft engaged in fishing. These simple rules are consistent with the maxim that with greater power comes greater responsibility. […]

Read More
Commuter Bike
Bruce Hagen May 29, 2018

Recently, my wife and I moved into a new home that’s closer to my office, which has allowed me to start commuting by bike.  I rode my bike to and from my office 4 consecutive days before my schedule forced me back into the car. My hope and plan is to commute by bike at […]

Read More
Pat Brown May 10, 2018

Strength, ambition, and courage are just a few words that come to mind when we think of Anthony Lue.  Growing up, Anthony enjoyed playing competitive sports such as baseball, volleyball, basketball and mountain biking, but his true passion was discovered on his high school track.    After winning gold for 100m hurdles at the provincial championships […]

Read More
Lauri Boxer-Macomber Apr 30, 2018

Following a horrific bicycle crash in 2016, Dr. Michael Rifkin has become a new type of bicycling advocate — one who is deeply committed to ending distracted driving. Read his op-ed on Making Distracted Driving in Maine Taboo here. Dr. Rifkin’s piece reminds us that we can be distracted by our phones and other electronic devices even […]

Read More
Load More