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Does Oregon’s new cell phone law apply to people on bikes?

Posted by on February 9th, 2010 at 11:38 am

Cell phones and bikes
— like riding blind!
(Photo © J. Maus)

Since Oregon enacted their new cell phone law on January 1st, many people have asked me if it applies to people riding bicycles. My previous opinion was that it doesn’t, but a closer look at the law now has me less certain — and more confused.

The new law applies to people, “operating a motor vehicle while using a mobile communication device.” Since bicycles are not “motor vehicles,” I initially assumed this meant that bicycles would be exempt. But I don’t like to operate on assumptions, especially when it comes to bike laws, so I asked the office of State Representative Carolyn Tomei — the legislator who pushed the cell phone bill — for a clarification.

According to one of the Rep. Tomei’s legislative assistants, Debbie Runciman, “There’s some discussion that the law as written would actually include bicyclists.”

The reason? Oregon Revised Statute 814.400, “Application of vehicle laws to bicycles.”

814.400 reads:

“(1) Every person riding a bicycle upon a public way is subject to the provisions applicable to and has the same rights and duties as the driver of any other vehicle concerning operating on highways, vehicle equipment and abandoned vehicles, except:

    (a) Those provisions which by their very nature can have no application.

    (b) When otherwise specifically provided under the vehicle code.

(2) Subject to the provisions of subsection (1) of this section:

    (a) A bicycle is a vehicle for purposes of the vehicle code; and

    (b) When the term “vehicle” is used the term shall be deemed to be applicable to bicycles.”

This ORS could lead reasonable people to believe that bicycles are included in the cell phone law — but it’s still not crystal clear. 814.400 refers to the term “vehicle” and the new cell phone law refers to “motor vehicle.” If a judge was a stickler for “statutory construction” (as we know some are), they could rule that bicycles aren’t motor vehicles so the law does not apply.

In the end, this is yet another confusing law that has potential for subjective interpretation by police and judges. Or, as Tomei’s legislative assistant put it, “It would probably take a legal challenge for a definitive answer.”

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Brian
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Brian

Darwin will also provide a a definitive answer.

Nick
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Nick

This is pretty reasonable if we’re talking about riding on the road. But what about on a sidewalk or recreational trail?

If I’m doing 5mph on my bike on some non-motorized path and it’s not particularly crowded and there’s little possibility of me causing any harm to anyone, I don’t see how it’s reasonable to apply the same penalties as a 2+ ton vehicle traveling at 50mph.

ScottG
Guest
ScottG

Nick brings up a reasonable point regarding sidewalks and trails. That said, I wish this legal ambiguity wouldn’t matter so much because more people would have the common sense to stay off their phones when riding in traffic.

Matt Picio
Guest

Nick (#1) – You don’t see how’s it reasonable to apply the same law to a cyclist riding one-handed with a cell phone to his ear in the other hand while sueezing between bollards on a poorly-paved portion of the Springwater Trail on a summer day with dozens of runners, walkers and kids with strollers?

Distracted driving is distracted driving, period. Pull over, take the call, get back on the trail – easy.

And, no, I’m not equating the potential damage of a 250lb. rider and 40lb. bike to a 2,500lb. compact car – obviously it will cause more damage, and I’m a firm believer in weight-based penalties – but that requires a sweeping overhaul of the fee system in general. I don’t think this law is ridiculous – if it keeps another cyclist from colliding with me while crossing Three Bridges, or in Tom McCall Waterfront Park, great.

That said, I have a problem with the cellphone law in that it singles out a particular item, when the real problem is distracted driving, whether it involves changing the radio, putting on makeup, using a laptop computer, etc. And I don’t think police should be exempt, even if they’re doing their duty – squad cars should have 2 officers, and the passenger can work the computer while in motion, or the laptop should have voice interface capability in order to be used by the driver. Police cars do as much damage in the hands of a distracted driver as a regular car, and the only reason why incidents aren’t frequent is due to the extensive training and experience that officers have.

Jack
Guest
Jack

I think common sense would dictate that a cyclist should not use a phone while riding in any environment, with the debatable exception of a hands free device. While the distraction factor is relevant, I think the bigger issue is that two hands on the handlebars is a critical factor in being able react quickly and reliably.

Interpretation of laws should not be all about trying to find a loophole.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

The legislative author (or their staffer) of this bill chose to use the term “motorized vehicle” so the legislative intent would be to focus on the prime source of distracted driving…non commercial car and truck drivers.

Now one could make the case that operators of electric bicycles would be affected by this law due to their motor.

Generally most bicycle riders seem to be more intelligent when it comes to bicycling and mobile phone use – most pull over to chat. In the last 10 years of riding in Portland I can only think of 1 (perhaps 2) non commercial bicycle operators riding while phoning. (That rider in Portland was hands free – had their phone stuffed into their helmet – like the photo.) As we bicyclists know – it is a lot easier to pull over and more difficult to hear the caller than drivers inside their soundproofed steel boxes.

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Re 6:

Really?? I see plenty of people riding and talking.

Lee
Guest

Another win for Washington State, I guess. The same time they fixed the DUI laws to not apply to bicyclists, they also went in and clarified each statute in the RCW to either apply to ‘all vehicles’ or ‘motor vehicles’. Hope lies just across the river!

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Washington: Same roads, same rights, different rules.

Nick-
I somewhat agree: if I am driving slowly and no one is around (little possibilty of me causong harm to anyone), why shouldn’t I be able to talk on the phone?
I would argue that your potential for hurting another person is much greater on a path or sidewalk, therefore enfore it there. The law is to help protect vulnerable users, right? On the road, a cyclist hits a car, the driver is not typically injured. On a sidewalk, cyclist hits a pedestrian, probably a different outcome.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

My perception of the distracted driving by cell phone – is that about 1 in 10 drivers are on the phone these days.

In a recent study of car crashes on East Fourth Plain Blvd (Washington State DOT funded safety Zone) – just over half of all drivers in a crash self reported distracted driving. Phone use was a majority of these cases. [This study occurred when it was still ‘legal’ to phone without a hands free device, so it should be pretty truthful report of the situation.]

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

WA: Same Roads, Same Rights, Different Abilities [to cause harm], Different Rules.

Anonymous
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Anonymous

I had another cyclist drift into me on my commute home because he was texting while riding so common sense obviously is not at work. Thankfully Darwin will be the next time he drifts into a car instead…

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Todd-
WA: Same Roads, Same Rights, Different Abilities [to cause harm], Different Rules.

Tell that the family member of someone killed or injured by a cyclist. Riding under the influence? You really going to try to defend that?

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

It seems that a lot of people that drive motor vehicles like that ‘not particularly crowded and there’s little possibility of me causing any harm to anyone’ rationale too. One of the reasons we have the law, is that people wind up stretching the rationale too far.

Distracted driving other than cell phone in hand cell phone use is serious, but I think it was the particularly extraordinary level of distraction produced by these phones, compared to most of the other kinds of in-car distractions, that resulted in a law being crafted to regulate their use.

For some time to come, everyone that wants to is probably still going to be able to scarf down their five-dollar foot long and a Big Gulp, play with the dog, and touch up the blush.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

…while driving!

Michael M.
Guest

I know I would just drop my cellphone, and probably crash, if I tried to chat and ride at the same time. So I never do it. But I can walk and chew gum at the same time!

In general, though, I tend to think of cycling as operating a vehicle. That’s purely subjective — to me it feels much more like driving (as in, a car) than walking. And I think laws that apply to operating vehicles should apply across the board.

Tacoma
Guest
Tacoma

Why would we NOT want this law to apply to cyclist? Anything that distracts any road users from being engaged in the task at hand is no good.

Jackattak
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Jackattak

Agreed, Tacoma.

I don’t even talk on my cellphone when I’m crossing crosswalks (and I sure as heck don’t text and walk at the same time, crosswalk or no).

Jim F
Guest
Jim F

Tacoma – because many PDX cyclists apparently think any law that applies to cyclists is a bad law.

JWWZ
Guest
JWWZ

@16 hear hear!

not paying attention on a bike is just as, if not more, dangerous to a bicyclist than someone in a car due to the facts that seem too numerous and obvious to mention.

Not to mention using mobile devices while riding has serious implications about a whole host of ridiculous assumptions about people make about being impervious to accidents (“won’t happen to me” “I’m responsible” etc.).

Use good judgment and always remember solipsism on the roadways works plenty well until you nail a pedestrian, another bicyclist, or an oncoming car.

JWWZ
Guest
JWWZ

(my grammar/editing are both fried from teaching it all day long)

Noah Genda
Guest

#4 Matt –

Whoa whoa whoa whoa, a 40 Pound bike? Anyone riding something that heavy shouldnt be allowed to do anything except hold on.

steve pappert
Guest
steve pappert

another instance where the distinction between “vehicle” and “motor vehicle” pops up is in the Oregon DUI law. The offense of DUI uses the term vehicle, which as noted above includes bicycles. The offense of failure to submit to blood alcohol testing applies to operators of “motor vehicles.”
I thought this made sense because when you get your drivers license you agree to testing at any time you are operating a vehicle. Bicycle riders make no such promise. If 814.400 brings cyclists into the cell phone statute presumably it does so in all of the places the statutes distinguish between “vehicles” and “motor vehicles.” The code as a whole makes me think the leg. intends 814.400 to apply when it uses the term “vehicle” but not when it uses the term “motor vehicle.”

Red Five
Guest
Red Five

Honestly if you can’t put your phone down to even ride a bike then you’re just as big an idiot as anybody else.

Jesse Cooke
Guest

I recently took the “Share the Road” class which was formed at lead by Multnomah County Judge Chris Larsen. I made sure to ask about applying the hands free law to bicycles, and he said YES, it does apply. Bicycles are vehicles, and the same laws apply unless, like ORS 814.400 states, the law is not applicable (eg. bikes don’t have doors, so a bike can’t door another bike) or where specifically provided (eg. bicycles can generally ride on the sidewalks, cards are NEVER allowed)

If you’re still confused, probably best to ask the next cop you see if they WOULD pull you over for violation of the hands free law. I asked the officer at the class how discretion worked for those kinds of things and he said it was basically up to each officer.

Bottom line, not worth the ticket/time away from work/time in court, etc!

ben
Guest
ben

I took the Share the Road class too, and think there is a statutory loophole. The bike = vehicle law doesn’t apply when it isn’t practical. Well, a hands-free device, by law, is defined as something that allows you to keep your hands on the steering wheel. How can I do that on a bike if there is no steering wheel?

suburban
Guest

Look around…how many people still drive cars and trucks using regular cell phones, they don’t signal, and they move with long mysterious pauses? (This invokes their consent to fail the Rub-belly-pat-head test). I don’t know if it’s a primary offense. The law is clear bikes are included. Remember: every telephone conversation you ever have is crucial.

Cecil
Guest

Despite what Judge Larsen may have said, the term “motor vehicle” is defined for purposes of the vehicle code as “a vehicle that is self-propelled or designed for self-propulsion.” ORS 801.360.

Unless your bicycle is self-propelled, or designed for self-propulsion, it is NOT a motor vehicle and, therefore, it is not illegal to use a hand-held cell phone while riding.

Stupid, yes. Illegal, no.

suburban
Guest

#1Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection
does not apply to the question at hand, as engaging in dangerous behavior and ability to have multiple offspring are not dependent. Many people have tons of kids and then die in avoidable circumstances. If distracted vehicle operation were isolated in pre-pubescent humans, you would be on to something. Chas. Darwin was enough of a scientist to know that he would be plenty dead in 2010 and unable to provide a definitive answer, and that distracted driving and other foolish behavior were not able to be isolated. If a definite answer is what you hope to add, please rethink your argument before representation.

N.I.K.
Guest
N.I.K.

Look around…how many people still drive cars and trucks using regular cell phones, they don’t signal, and they move with long mysterious pauses? (This invokes their consent to fail the Rub-belly-pat-head test).

Don’t forget the “Knee-Jerk Nanny State” reflex and the “Autonomy of Jackassery” vacuum.

Paul Johnson
Guest
Paul Johnson

Why wouldn’t it? The rest of the vehicle code applies to bikes.

SkidMark
Guest
SkidMark

Anonymous is hating.

Anonymous is trolling.

Ah, but that is the luxury of being anonymous.

A person on a bicycle is only likely to hurt themselves if they a using a cellphone while riding.

A person driving a car or truck while talking on a cellphone is likely to hurt or even kill someone else. It has happened time and time again, and it is the reason why laws like this have been passed all over the country.

I don’t think riding a bike and talking/texting on a cellphone is a good idea. Just fumbling around trying to get it out of your pocket while riding one-handed might make you swerve a little, never-mind the distraction of talking, or looking at the tiny screen.

Should it be illegal? Probably. Is it an actual issue? Hardly.

chrehn
Guest
chrehn

I agree with #1. I think Darwin will sort it out. As for me, I am not that important of a person to talk on my cell phone while I am riding, driving or swimming.

Cecil
Guest

@Paul Johnson

Per ORS 814.400(1)(b), the vehicle code applies to bicycles “except * * * when otherwise specifically provided under the vehicle code.” Section (2) is subject to (i.e limited by) section one.

House Bill 2377 (the new cell phone law) refers to persons “operating a motor vehicle.” The specific reference to motor vehicles overrides the general application of the code to bicycles set out in ORS 814.400

It is quite possible that Tomei intended the law to extend to bicycles, but that is not how it is written.

Cecil
Guest

Noah (Post #22) said: “a 40 Pound bike? Anyone riding something that heavy shouldnt be allowed to do anything except hold on.”

Huh. My rando bike, unloaded, clocks in at just under 30 pounds. Add my water bottles, my gear and various necessities and I hit 40, easy. I am nevertheless willing to wager that it is hella more stable than a lot of the lighter bikes out there. 😉

Tacoma
Guest
Tacoma

True dat, Cecil.

sabes
Guest
sabes

I love to see the length that cyclists will go to try and rationalize their poor/illegal/stupid behavior. “Well, if I’m on a sidewalk, going slowly, and only eating ONE hot dog, then talking on my cell phone isn’t a problem.” Sheesh. Some people should take a step back and read what they’re writing.

jim
Guest
jim

“I don’t see how it’s reasonable to apply the same penalties as a 2+ ton vehicle traveling at 50mph”
Years ago 2 bikes in Eugene hit head on at night, no lights, no helmets, they both died

Miguel Marcos
Guest
Miguel Marcos

Using a cell while operating any moving device is not smart. If one could guarantee that danger would be strictly restricted to oneself, then allowing such behavior might be arguable but that’s not the case. You can cause physical damage to others or to property. Including bikes in this law is a good idea.

Why would a cyclist would insist on cycling while yapping on a cell phone? On a bike I’ve got the flexibility to stop and pause in a hell of a lot of places compared to a car or truck or bus.

What is true is that, comparatively, car and truck drivers using their cells are a much more serious problem.

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beth h
Guest

I propose a more radical — and more effective — solution.

When you’re operating a vehicle, turn your cell phone OFF — that’s right, OFF — and put it in your pocket or bag. When you arrive at your destination, pull it out and turn it on again. Anyone who calls while you are busy doing something else that requires your full attention can leave a message.

No one, and I mean NO ONE, is so important that they must be reachable 24/7. And not having a cell phone on all the time serves to remind me of that. Would that more people took the hint.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Trolling? Not really.
Hating? Possibly.

I am tired of fellow cyclists that feel they are incapable of doing harm and therefore should not be held to any standards as it pertains to law. Stop signs, red lights, riding under the influence, riding while distracted, etc.

How many close calls are there on the Waterfront or the Hawthorne Bridge daily, with cell phones not even a factor? How will this work when ridership numbers grow 10%?

This may sound harsh, but cyclists in Portland sound a lot like drivers in small rural towns.

Atbman
Guest
Atbman

Of course the law doesn’t apply to cyclists. You can’t do any harm while riding because you are a)lighter and b) slower than the average motor vehicle.

Apart from self-harm (aka riding under a truck/bus/car/van/pickup etc. because you’re distracted)that is. Yak, yak.

Year’s
Annual
Kill

Kt
Guest
Kt

+1, Sabes #36. If you’re riding and using your cell phone, are you paying attention to riding, as in moving yourself down the public road obeying the traffic laws etc etc, or are you paying attention to that super-duper phone call you just couldn’t pull over for?

Distracted is distracted, and distracted has no place in transportation, no matter if you are driving or riding a bicycle.

And Skidmark: Everyone posting on here using a name other than their real, given, legal name is effectively anonymous. Use of a clever pseudonym doesn’t make you upfront about your legal identity, you’re still anonymous.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

“This may sound harsh, but cyclists in Portland sound a lot like drivers in small rural towns.” Anonymous #41

Hah! Anonymous, that’s funny! The ‘Sunday Driver’ syndrome not limited to small town drivers, but also affecting people riding bikes in the big city too?

daisy spokes
Guest
daisy spokes

FYI, Just about all cycling clubs will ban any rider who talks on a cell phone. Why? because it endangers other riders.

Yet, editors on this site like Elle Blue has expressed no issues with cell phone use on bikes. Why the double standards?

Ano is right, cyclists in general are as bad as motorists when it comes to cell phones.

Cyclists want equal rights to motorists, yet we don’t make that connection on cell phone laws.

JWWZ
Guest
JWWZ

@42 my friend ran headlong into a 250 lb. man in Manhattan a few years back. Pretty sure some pretty serious harm came to the pedestrian as well as my friend.

riding, like most other things is a complex system where there are so many variables.

Bike drifts into traffic>car swerves to avoid> hits another car/hits pedestrian.

bike on phone doesn’t see stop sign> bike coming other way> t-bone.

the list goes on…

@45 yes yes and yes!

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Atbman and Skidmark (IF that’s your real name)

Ask Erica Rothman about bike on bike accidents and whether or not they can do damage.

How quickly people forget.

Anne Hawley
Guest

I’ll just weigh in on the side of “hang up and ride”.

I wish we didn’t need a law for it, but apparently we do. I love my phone, I love being in contact, I don’t go from the living room to the kitchen without my phone, let alone anywhere on my bike. I’m a total phone geek.

And yet…riding and phone use at the same time? No. Just no.

are
Guest

re comment 40, i hear you, and i do not use my cell phone while driving my bike, however: i do leave it “on” so that i will not have to wait for it to boot up if there is an emergency.

ma
Guest
ma

@45 I remember Ellys reply to cell phone use on bikes something like, “only person hurt is the rider on a bike” or along that line.

It raised my eyebrows as that’s the same typical “me” thinking with motorists and their cell. Very narrow view about ones responsibility on the road weather on a bike or car.

It amazes me that we are debating this as it should be a no brainier that cyclists should self impose the cell ban regardless if the law is vague. Error on the side of safety, duh…