Chicago eyes distracted bicyclists

Chicago alderman Marge Laurino seeking bicycle cell phone banBicyclists in California narrowly escaped having distracted driving prohibitions placed on them recently, when the governor inexplicably vetoed SB 28.

Bicyclists squawked up a storm when state Sen. Joe Simitian included them for the first time in his plan for tougher penalties for distracted driving violations. The lobby backed off, but no doubt the two-wheelers’ protests helped kill the senator’s life-saving plan.

Now, distracted bicyclists are under the microscope in Chicago, where the head of the City Council’s Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety proposes a ban on handheld cell phone use and texting while riding.

Update: The law went into effect in November 2011. /update

Alderman Marge Laurino (pictured) told the Council: “I’ve witnessed bicyclists texting while they’re in traffic. I’ve seen them talking on the phone. I’ve seen the same thing with motorists and pedestrians.”

Laurino’s plan would allow for hands-free operation, with fines starting at $20 and then $100, and up to $500 if an accident results.

Another councilman pointed out that the city’s laws against distracted driving (handheld cell phones, texting) are “rarely enforced.” The plan has not yet been considered in committee.

Two years ago, Laurino led a 3-mile ride to open one of the Chicago area’s many off-road bicycle trails. The downtown area is teeming with cyclists on a normal business day.

Similar limits on electronic device use by pedestrians and bicyclists have been proposed in New York, Arkansas, Virginia and Oregon. Philadelphia’s distracted driving ban applies to bicyclists, pedestrians and skateboarders.

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