By Will Reisman
Bicyclists may soon have to put down their cellphones before grabbing their handlebars, unless they want to cough up some money.
Under legislation proposed by state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, cyclists would be fined $20 for riding their bikes while talking on a mobile device. A second offense for the infraction would net a $30 fine.
Simitian successfully authored the 2008 legislation that banned motorists from driving while using their cellphones. He said he intended to include cyclists in that bill, but a drafting error prevented that from happening.
This latest legislation, which was recently introduced at the state Senate transportation committee, will address that shortcoming.
“This is about equality,” Simitian said. “Serious cyclists understand that they should have the same obligations as other folks who use the roadway.”
Unlike the penalty for motorists, cyclists who get caught using cellphones will be exempt from local fees and fines, which can greatly increase the cost of a ticket. The base fee for motorists using cellphones is just $20, but after all the courthouse and processing fees are in place, the ticket rises to about $159.
Jim Brown, spokesman for the California Bicycle Coalition, an advocacy group, said the organization supports Simitian’s legislation.
“There is a ton of research that shows a high level of impairment for motorists when they talk on their cellphones,” Brown said. “We have no reason to believe that it would be any different for cyclists.”
Since there have been scant reports of cyclists injuring people while using their cellphones, the California Bicycle Coalition recommended to Simitian that their fines be cheaper than the ones motorists face. Simitian said he took that into account when exempting bikers from local fees.
Bert Hill, chairman of the San Francisco Bicycle Advisory Committee, said the legislation makes sense.
“Bicyclists have the same rules and responsibilities as drivers,” Hill said. “And, how easy is it for cyclists to just pull over and take a call?”
State Sen. Doug LaMalfa, R-Oroville, who opposed Simitian’s original cellphone ban for motorists, said he would not support the latest bill either.
“This is just another example of regulatory creep,” LaMalfa said. “I mean, how do you cite a bicyclist if he doesn’t have a driver’s license? Officers have enough things to worry about.”
Simitian said the bill is making its way through the state legislature now, and he hopes to present it to Gov. Jerry Brown later this year.