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

Atlanta Slow Roll
Bruce Hagen Apr 18, 2019

Bike Law Ambassador Niklas Volmer and Bike Law Georgia client Jordan Streiff have had enough of the City of Atlanta’s lip service and hypocrisy when it comes to building out meaningful bike infrastructure and decided it was time to do something about it. For some context, the City of Atlanta has promised to invest $250,000,000 […]

Read More
Danny Feldman Apr 17, 2019

ALABAMA BICYCLE LAWS It’s important to know your legal rights (and duties) when bicycling in Alabama. It is especially important after a bicycle accident (we call them bicycle “crashes” and explain why here). For any questions about the State’s bike laws, or about your rights to the road, contact attorney Danny Feldman directly. Right to […]

Read More
Rick Bernardi Apr 16, 2019

From the beginning, the Bike Law Network has had a singular focus—helping cyclists who have been injured find justice. Well, what’s so special about that? Lots of lawyers take bicycle accident cases. But the Bike Law Network is different—the lawyers in the network are cyclists themselves, and they’re passionately committed to protecting the rights of […]

Read More
Bike Walk Macon, Georgia
Bruce Hagen Apr 11, 2019

Rachel Hollar is the energetic spark behind the success of Bike Walk Macon, the leading advocacy group in the Macon-Bibb County area.   I recently had a chance to catch up with Rachel to discuss how cycling culture has changed in the Macon area since Rachel founded Bike Walk Macon in 2015.    Back in 2015, […]

Read More
Charlie Thomas Apr 11, 2019

LOUISIANA BICYCLE LAWS It’s important to know your legal rights (and duties) when bicycling in Louisiana. It is especially important after a bicycle accident (we call them bicycle “crashes” and explain why here). For any questions about the State’s bike laws, or about your rights to the road, contact attorney Charlie Thomas directly. Right to […]

Read More
Amy Benner Johnson Apr 10, 2019

TENNESSEE  BICYCLE LAWS It’s important to know your legal rights (and duties) when bicycling in Tennessee. It is especially important after a bicycle accident (we call them bicycle “crashes” and explain why here). For any questions about the State’s bike laws, or about your rights to the road, contact attorney Amy Johnson directly. Right to […]

Read More
Ann Groninger Apr 10, 2019

NORTH CAROLINA BICYCLE LAWS It’s important to know your legal rights (and duties) when bicycling in North Carolina. It is especially important after a bicycle accident (we call them bicycle “crashes” and explain why here). For any questions about the State’s bike laws, or about your rights to the road, contact attorney Ann Groninger directly. […]

Read More
Brian Weiss Apr 10, 2019

COLORADO BICYCLE LAWS It’s important to know your legal rights (and duties) when bicycling in Colorado. It is especially important after a bicycle accident (we call them bicycle “crashes” and explain why here). For any questions about the State’s bike laws, or about your rights to the road, contact attorney Brian Weiss directly. Right to […]

Read More
Bruce Hagen Apr 10, 2019

GEORGIA  BICYCLE LAWS It’s important to know your legal rights (and duties) when bicycling in Georgia. It is especially important after a bicycle accident (we call them bicycle “crashes” and explain why here). For any questions about the State’s bike laws, or about your rights to the road, contact attorney Bruce Hagen directly. Right to […]

Read More
Bryan Waldman Apr 10, 2019

MICHIGAN BICYCLE LAWS It’s important to know your legal rights (and duties) when bicycling in Michigan. It is especially important after a bicycle accident (we call them bicycle “crashes” and explain why here). For any questions about the State’s bike laws, or about your rights to the road, contact attorney Bryan Waldman directly. Right to […]

Read More
Lauri Boxer-Macomber Apr 10, 2019

MAINE BICYCLE LAWS It’s important to know your legal rights (and duties) when bicycling in Maine. It is especially important after a bicycle accident (we call them bicycle “crashes” and explain why here). For any questions about the State’s bike laws, or about your rights to the road, contact attorney Lauri Boxer-Macomber directly. Right to […]

Read More
Joe Piscitello Apr 05, 2019

PENNSYLVANIA BICYCLE LAWS It’s important to know your legal rights (and duties) when bicycling in Pennsylvania. It is especially important after a bicycle accident (we call them bicycle “crashes” and explain why here). For any questions about the State’s bike laws, or about your rights to the road, contact attorney Joey Piscitello directly. Right to […]

Read More
Load More