WASHINGTON – Worried that bicyclists who chat, send messages or listen to music on smartphones are creating a danger, a number of cities have banned cyclists from using hand-held cellphones or texting while riding. And several states prohibit bicyclists from using headphones or earplugs.
The efforts to reduce the risk to cyclists, pedestrians and motorists come as cities are trying to become more bike-friendly, and people increasingly turn to electronic devices to communicate and navigate.
“If they want to share the road, they have to share the responsibility as well,” said Massachusetts state Rep. Steven Howitt, a Republican, who has introduced a bill that would prohibit bicyclists from wearing headphones.
Bicycle advocates say cyclists should use common sense and not use hand-held electronic devices at all when riding. Nor should bikers use headphones if they are distracting. But advocates also say there’s no evidence that such use has resulted in deaths or serious injuries, and question whether creating laws or slapping fines on cyclers makes sense.
“There’s a huge difference between distracted driving that kills someone and distracted biking that doesn’t,” said Peter Wilborn, founder of Bike Law, a network of personal injury lawyers that focuses on cycling issues. “I don’t think we need laws specifically for this.”
Most state laws don’t directly deal with cyclists using cellphones or texting. But at least seven states include bicyclists in their laws restricting or banning the use of headsets or earplugs.
Delaware bars cyclists from wearing earplugs or headsets covering both ears. Maryland does the same, except when cyclists are riding on bike paths. In Rhode Island, bikers or drivers who wear earphones or other listening devices are subject to fines.
And in Massachusetts, Howitt’s bill is pending in the Joint Transportation Committee. Drivers can’t wear headphones in the state, and it should be the same for bicyclists, he said.
“A biker could be cutting across an intersection, and an ambulance is coming through and he’s not hearing it if he’s playing music very loud,” Howitt said.