A New York City politician wants bike riders to keep their hands off their phones and on their handlebars.
Councilman Mark Treyger introduced legislation at last week’s City Council stated meeting to prohibit the use of handheld phones and other electronic devices while riding a bicycle in New York City.
He was prompted to introduce the legislation after witnessing a cyclist swerve into oncoming traffic along busy Stillwell Avenue in Gravesend, nearly causing a serious multi-vehicle accident.
“After watching a cyclist swerve into traffic while texting and riding along Stillwell Avenue, I felt it was important for the city to address this irresponsible behavior,” Treyger said.
Treyger was joined on the steps of City Hall by several colleagues and representatives from cycling advocacy group Bike New York to announce the proposed legislation.
This proposal is the least punitive of similar laws already passed in Chicago and Flagstaff, Arizona, and under consideration in California. Treyger’s legislation would simply extend the current restrictions on phone use already in place for motorists to also cover cyclists.
“I want to be clear that the only intention is safety, which is why I am also proposing the creation of bicycle safety courses instead of fines for some first offenses,” he said.
In addition to the ban on the use of handheld electronics while cycling, Treyger also introduced companion legislation to authorize and create a bike safety course that could be taken in lieu of fines for some first offenses.
This proposal comes at a time when the city is taking steps to drastically reduce the number of injuries and deaths that occur on city streets as bicycle-related accidents are on the rise.
“Bikers and pedestrians alike must be alert and aware when navigating our roadways because only then can we achieve Vision Zero,” said Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who chairs the Transportation Committee.
The bill specifically prohibits the use of any handheld devices including cell phones, tablets or other electronics to make calls, send texts or to search the Internet. The use of voice-activated and hands-free devices would still be permitted and would not be impacted by this law.
Fines for first offenses would start at $50, but cyclists would have the option of completing the bike safety course for offenses that do not include injuries or property damage.
As a result, this legislation would also set a precedent for future laws in New York City by creating a two-tier fine structure that includes lower penalties for cyclists than drivers for committing the same violation.
Data shows a recent rise in the number of crashes involving cyclists, with the injuries from crashes involving pedestrians and bicycles with no motor vehicle involvement increasing from a total of 277 in 2012 to 343 in 2013.
In addition, crashes only involving single or multiple bicyclists - no automobiles or pedestrians involved - increased from 294 to 360 over that time.
“Making our streets safer is everyone’s responsibility, including cyclists,” said Rich Conroy, director of Education at Bike New York. “Skilled, knowledgeable cyclists ride with awareness and alertness, and send a message that they care not only about their own safety, but the safety of others.”