Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on January 18th, 2011 at 12:41 pm
Lost in last week's kerfluffle about a potential ban on biking with kids, was another bill proposed in the current Oregon legislative session that deserves our attention.
House Bill 2602 (text), sponsored by Representative Michael Schaufler (D-Happy Valley), would create a new traffic violation for "unsafe operation of a bicycle" if a person "operates a bicycle on a highway while wearing a listening device that is capable of receiving telephonic communication, radio broadcasts or recorded sounds." The offense would come with a maximum fine of $90.
Like Rep. Mitch Greenlick, who said he proposed the six-and-under biking ban out of a concern for safety, Schaufler is also motivated by safety. He told me last week that "I just saw some guy driving down the street on their bike with their headphones on and thought, 'He could get run over.' It's a safety issue. It's pretty cut and dry. It's a very simple, very basic concept."
He's right, it's a basic concept. But is it necessary? Is it a good idea? Here's a sampling of responses I've read:
"...I posit that bicycle safety should be less about reducing bicyclist distractions, and more about vehicle distractions, because it is the vehicles that pose the most risk and threat.."
"When you're already surrounded by glass and metal and protected inside you're car, you're already paying less attention than a person riding a bike while blasting punk rock."
"It may be more effective to expand the existing cellphone law to include cyclists [but with a lower fine for cyclists] and to allow the use of a single headphone to listen to music, etc..."
"... the law should define and prosecute distracted driving, and not reference a particular technology... it's addressing a symptom and not the problem itself."
What's interesting about this proposal is that, the way it's currently written, it would create an entirely new violation — "unsafe operation of a bicycle" — in the vehicle code. If passed, it's possible that additional provisions could be added to this law in the name of safety. Another thing to keep in mind is that, because of the way our current cell phone law is worded, it's unclear whether or not it applies to bicycle operators.
As for Rep. Schaufler, he's reportedly frustrated with "the online opposition from cyclists." Here's what he told the Willamette Week recently:
"They (cyclists) are the ones that are complaining about it,” Schaufler said. “People on bicycles ask for a whole lot and then they say, ‘don’t regulate us!’"
UPDATE: As at least one commenter has pointed out, Rep. Schaufler was one of four legislators who co-sponsored the infamous mandatory bike registration bill that reared its ugly head in the 2009 session.
We'll track this bill as it works its way through the legislative process. In the meantime, contact Schaufler and please weigh in below with your thoughts.