Riding a bicycle on a busy street while using a cell phone is contrary to what most would call common sense. Biking and talking may soon be a violation of the law as well.
Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) introduced Bill 1475 to the senate floor last Friday. If passed, the legislation would increase fines for automobile drivers who text or talk without a hands-free device and would also ban bicyclists from engaging in the practice.
The language of the bill regarding bicycle riders is unambiguous.
“A person shall not ride a bicycle or drive a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone unless that telephone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking, and is used in that manner while riding or driving,” the bill read. If passed, it will take effect this summer.
“This conforms the provisions of law to both drivers and cyclists,” Simitian said.
He added the first California legislation banning talking and texting in cars that passed in 2006 left the legality of cell phone use while bicycling unclear.
“I come from Palo Alto – bicycling as transportation is big in my district,” he said. “[Bicyclists] should have the same rights and for that matter the same responsibilities as drivers. I support the notion that everyone on the road should obey the same rules.”
This law will be applicable only on public roadways, which includes bike lanes on the UC Davis campus.
“I think this is a really good thing,” said UCD police officer Ralph Nuño, who patrols campus on a bicycle.
The distraction from a cell phone presents the same hazard whether the person doing it is riding or driving, he said. A bicycle is defined by California law as a vehicle.
“Why shouldn’t the laws apply to all vehicles the same way?” he said.
It is already illegal to ride a bike with ear-buds in both ears. Nuño said that the only thing he stops people for more than using ear-buds in each ear is ignoring stop signs.
“As far as using a cell phone and riding a bike, that is probably the second or third biggest complaint I get,” Nuño said. “People ask me, ‘Did you see that? Why can’t you give them a ticket for that?'”
He added that the law would be easy to enforce.
“I don’t have a position from state-wide cycling groups but I’m sure they understand. They have been the biggest supporters of hands-free legislation [in cars] which makes sense because bicyclists are very vulnerable on the road,” Simitian said.
Not everyone is reacting warmly to the legislation.
“Are you kidding?” said Madara Jayasena, a junior international relations and communication double major. She admitted to riding and talking on the phone often.
“I think that’s the only time I have to talk to anyone. Are you serious? I already get stopped by the bike cops all the time,” she said, before pocketing the cell phone she had been holding and hopping on her bike to go to class.
SAMUEL A. COHEN can be reached at email@example.com.