Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Distracted driving

It's a hot topic. It was described in shocking detail in Tom Vanderbilt's Traffic.

And, I mean, it has its own dot gov site.

A dot gov website featuring, naturally, the most celebrated and multi-modal friendly Secretary of Transportation of all time, Ray LaHood.

And this year, congress declared April National Distracted Driving Awareness Month after passing a resolution introduced by Colorado's own Betsy Markey.

Most discussion of distracted driving concerns drivers of automobiles. Which is fair to a degree because the most gross examples of it are kind of unique to automobiles. Meaning, you can't fiddle with the stereo while shaving on a bicycle.

But that doesn't mean even a little bit that distracted driving is limited to drivers of automobiles. I've seen bikers doing it, and it seems I'm noticing it more and more. Others are noticing it too; several states with laws regulating cell phone use in cars are considering extending those restrictions to cyclists.

Which makes sense. It would be consistent with the expectation that the rules of the road apply to cyclists and motorists in equal measures. I don't see any downside to saying you can't text while biking. It's a little invasive, but so are seat belt laws.

And it would prevent the scene I saw yesterday.

That's a photo I took with my one-of-a-kind handlebar-mounted MS PAINT GOOGLE MAPS camera. It's a photo of a dude on a bike flying down the new bike lane on MLK Blvd. He exhibits perfect posture. And he has both eyes and both hands on his cell phone.

Clearly this is distracted driving. And it's happening on one of the busier streets you're likely to come across in this area.

And it's happening because of the false sense of security of the bike lane.

A couple months ago, there were no bike lanes on MLK, and you rarely saw a cyclist there because of the thick, fast traffic. Now there are bike lanes and the shift from scary to bike-friendly was almost instantaneous. You see a ton of cyclists on it. They obviously now feel safe on this road.

It takes a certain amount of hubris and a certain feeling of invulnerability in order to engage in distracted driving, because it is a willful choice to fish your phone out of your pocket or to start putting on your makeup. Bike lanes, similar to being nestled deep within three tons of steel, can provide such a false feeling of security that you see things like the above gentleman, oblivious to his surroundings and flying down one of Denver's busiest streets.

Vehicular cyclists, who take the lane and otherwise share the road with motorists, must be actively engaged with their surroundings in order to survive their rides. It's unlikely for them to engage in distracted driving.

So if you want to reduce distracted driving among cyclists, and assuming a primary function of bike lanes are to make novice cyclists feel more comfortable on the road, take the funds set aside for installing new bike lanes and divert them to classes aimed at making the novice cyclist feel more comfortable on the road.


MandG said...

I'm so glad to hear you are seeing bikes on MLK. We live near and I try and take it whenever I think of it just to see if it's being used. I have yet to see a bike between Quebec and Colorado. I must just be missing folks!

Cap'n Unclefather said...

Yeah, I've ended up riding MLK almost every day from Holly to Downing as part of my commute. I catch a lot of people on my ride.

Last night I was stopped at Colorado in the rain with another rider. We shared a few chuckles about the weather.

You're right though in that most other cyclists I see are west of there.