Even with the newly updated distracted driving law that went into effect earlier this year in Washington State, it is technically legal to ride your bicycle and talk on your phone at the same time. Is this a good idea? Not at all.
A quick review, first, on why. No one's mind can effectively do two tasks at the same time. Multi-tasking is a myth, because the brain can't think two different things at the same time. Instead, it has to switch back and forth between them rapidly. In a car or on a road with cars, there are also many other things happening rapidly, such as two tons of steel, plastic, and fluids going faster than any human body could travel on foot. Let's imagine just one person is not paying attention to the surroundings because he is looking at his phone and doesn't see the bicyclist just up ahead. Hopefully the bicyclist is paying attention and is able to notice the distracted driver, and reacts defensively. Now imagine she's also on her phone as she pedals along, and at that moment hits the forward button to jump to the next song. One moment can change your life, and others', forever.
Distracted bicycling is on the rise, as more and more people get used to using their gadgets in any and all situations. A quick search showed only one observational study that counted the number of bicyclists using their phones while they rode in Boston, MA. The number of those distracted cyclists was nearly one third of the totall. Why are there not more studies or more laws? It only makes sense that distracted bicyling is at least as dangerous as distracted vehicle driving - but quite honestly, only for the bicyclist involved. I'm going to venture a guess that no insurance companies are lobbying for distracted bicycling laws, since a bicycle is not going to have the same impact damage that a car or truck hitting another vehicle will. Here are some fine points from Doug Dahl, Whatcom County's Target Zero manager.
In a car you have seat belts, air bags and crumple zones to protect you. On a bike, not so much. What kind of cyclist would take that kind of risk? Apparently, plenty. Maybe they thought that the limited potential to cause damage to others didn’t justify a law. A bike and rider weigh somewhere around 200 pounds or so; the lightest cars on the road are ten times that much, and a typical SUV is more like twenty-five times as heavy as a cyclist. Add the momentum of the vehicle and the potential damage is exponential. Cyclists just don’t present much threat compared to cars.
So, if you want to ride your bike while distracted, no police officer is going to be able to stop you. Considering 20% of all car vs. bike accidents involve a distracted vehicle driver, this decision would greatly up your chances of being in a serious bicycling crash. Instead, bicyclists should focus on being the biggest distraction on the road. It mostly comes down to being visible, and then more visible, and then any more visibility that you could throw in, you should. Lights, bright colors, and taking the full lane of traffic if there's not a bike lane running alongside it.
For more tips on safe bicycling, click here:
Have you been in a bike accident? Call me.