Bicycle safety is the topic du jour in San Francisco following two deadly crashes involving cyclists and pedestrians on the streets of San Francisco. While such accidents are a rarity, they illustrate that everyone who uses our streets should take all necessary precautions.
That is why the legislation proposed by state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, is an idea whose time is past due. It has already been shown that drivers who talk on cellphones while operating their motor vehicles experience a high level of impairment. The same logic applies to cyclists.
Riding a bicycle on a street, especially in The City, requires complete focus for the safety of the rider and those around them. While common sense dictates that cyclists provide their utmost attention to their surroundings — given that they might, at times, be sharing lanes with cars — this is not true in every instance.
Simitian told The San Francisco Examiner that he wanted to include bicycles in his original 2008 legislation banning drivers from talking on phones, but a drafting error in the bill did not allow for that. His new proposal is an effort to rectify that original error to make the streets safer for everyone.
His legislation sets the fine for cyclists talking on their cellphones at $20 for a first offense and $30 for second offenses. The ticket price for a bicycle fine is significantly less than the roughly $159 ticket for the first time a driver is caught chatting on a phone while driving — a fee that varies slightly based on jurisdiction.
The California Bicycle Coalition suggested the lower citation fee since there are few reports about cyclists injuring people while talking on cellphones. Although it is far from clear that a mere $20 fee will be a sufficient deterrent to keep cyclists off their cellphones while riding, the legislation should be passed nonetheless and then, if need be, adjusted in coming years.
Some people would argue that legislation like this represents a creep of the government into our private lives. But the need for public safety often necessitates that we legislate safe practices. Bikes, cars, boats and other propelled vehicles have the potential to injure people. Care needs to be taken while operating all such vehicles, and eliminating a known distraction is one smart way to do that.