By Kurtis Alexander – Santa Cruz Sentinel
Posted: 02/22/2010 06:44:10 PM PST
Bicycle riders, get ready to hang up your cell phone – or get ticketed.
State Sen. Joe Simitian, who represents part of Santa Cruz County and famously authored California’s hands-free driving law, now has his sights on bicycles.
Cell-phone legislation introduced by the Palo Alto Democrat on Monday not only beefs up penalties for automobile drivers who continue to flaunt their phone behind the wheel but extends the higher fines to bicyclists who talk or text behind the handle bars.
“Most folks in the bicycle community are of the point of view that they should have the same rights, laws and responsibilities (as automobile drivers),” Simitian said. “This is designed to conform the rules of the road.”
Simitian’s legislation would boost fines for driving while phoning from $20 to $50 and texting fines from $20 to $100 – the same would apply to bicyclists. The amount violators would pay would actually be much more because of processing fees.
In addition, Simitian’s bill calls for adding a point to the driving records of offenders.
“We have folks right now who figure well, if I get a ticket, the fine is relatively modest,” Simitian said. “The increased fine plus the point on the drivers’ license is likely to serve as a (more) significant deterrent.”
The use of a cell phone while driving is central to any discussion about road etiquette, but the practice has been less talked about for bicyclists. However, it’s equally relevant, bicyclists say.
“It’s just as dangerous for a bike to run through a stop sign as it is a car,” said Sam Burton, who works at the Bicycle Trip in Santa Cruz and says he frequently sees bicyclists distracted by cell phones.
Burton admits he, too, sometimes “types with one hand and holds the bike with the other,” but says he knows it’s wrong: “It can be dangerous. I want to follow all the (safety) rules. I work at a bike shop.”
He’s not alone. The head of local bicycle advocacy People Power, Micah Posner, agrees that talking or texting while on a bike is not usually a good thing to do.
“I should really pull over, but sometimes I’m just lazy like everyone else in this modern world,” he said Monday over the phone, while riding his bike.
Posner, like many the Sentinel spoke with, said he’s support the hands-free bicycle law if it was accompanied by a public awareness campaign and enforcement.
Under the proposed legislation, a portion of the higher fines would be used for outreach and education.
Simitian, who authored both the 2008 talking-while-driving prohibition as well as the 2009 texting ban, says he’s pushing the issue further because of the results he’s seen his other legislation have.
California Highway Patrol stats show a 20 percent drop in highway fatalities and collisions in the first six months of the 2008 hands-free law, compared to the same period during the past three years – a figure Simitian says is probably linked to the new rules.
“The goal here is not to issue more tickets or raise more revenue, but save lives,” Simitian said.
Not everyone is on board with Simitian’s newest effort.
“Any other unenforced laws would just be stupid,” said Santa Cruz bicyclist Ken Sato, who says he enjoys talking and texting while on his bike.