- The Washington Times - Monday, September 26, 2011

CHICAGO — Move over, distracted drivers.

In the latest regulatory clash between modern technology and old-fashioned safety and common sense, the Windy City is trying to crack down on bicyclists who talk or text while cycling. The city could join a growing list of jurisdictions eyeing new restrictions on bikers using cellphones while pedaling.

“I’ve witnessed bicyclists texting while they’re in traffic,” said Alderman Margaret Laurino, chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety. “I’ve seen them talking on the phone. I’ve seen the same thing with motorists and pedestrians. It might be difficult to enforce the hands-free device for bicyclists. But this is a discussion we need to have with the community.”

Ms. Laurino recently introduced the bill to extend the city’s existing hands-free distracted-driving law — the first of its kind in the nation — from motorists to bicyclists.

“It really is about distracted drivers — no matter what you’re driving,” she added. “I’m looking to make the streets safer for everyone: motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians.”

Chicago is not the first city to crack down on texting-talking bikers. Philadelphia already has a similar ban, and states such as Oregon and Virginia are considering the idea. Surprisingly, in liberal California, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this month vetoed a similar text-talk ban for cyclists, but only because the law also jacked up the fines the state’s revenue-starved localities could impose for cellphone-using drivers.

Chicago touts itself as a bike-friendly area, and new Mayor Rahm Emanuel has promised 100 miles of protected bike lanes. Proponents of the new regulations say an anti-texting law for cyclists could contribute to safer bike lanes.

Chicago originally outlawed cellphone conversations for drivers in 2005, and tacked on a texting and Web-surfing ban in 2008. Now, they are looking to extend it once again to bikers.

“Whether you’re driving a car, truck or riding a bike, your focus should be on the road and the traffic around you — not what you’re going to have for dinner that night or what your Facebook friends are doing, or anything else,” said Brendan Kevenides, an associate at Patrick J. Kenneally in Chicago, who handles personal-injury lawsuits for bicyclists.

Besides, it’s only fair, he added.

“I think that if motorists are going to be barred from using phones, then bicyclists should as well,” he said.

Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists, agreed.

“When cyclists are on the road, they need to follow the rules and have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers,” he said. “We need to be paying attention the same way we want drivers to pay attention. We hold ourselves to the same standard.”

They agree it’s becoming a problem on the city sidewalks and roads.

Too often, Mr. Kevenides said, he has been annoyed by other bikers who are distracted by their phones. He said they ride too slowly, weave around in the road and slow down traffic. He hopes this bill will solve the problem.

“I do see bicyclists on their phones,” he said. “I’ve ridden my bike behind them, and it doesn’t make me very happy.”

Mr. Clarke called these multitasking bikers “menaces.”

“There are certainly cyclists who are not paying attention, who are a bit of a menace, and that’s an issue,” he said. “Talking or texting, that doesn’t seem to make any sense to me.”

But don’t expect distracted-driving laws to extend to pedestrians anytime soon.

“I don’t think people will ever be prohibited from walking and talking on the telephone,” said Scott Bricker, executive director of America Walks. “When are they walking? Can you walk in your house? Can you walk on the sidewalk in front of your house?”

• Tim Devaney can be reached at tdevaney@washingtontimes.com.

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