By 4 p.m. on the first day of Florida’s new law banning texting while driving, one person in my neighborhood proved you can still take to the streets and text – on a bicycle. I checked Florida Statutes and that is not against the law.
The bicycle-riding texter appeared skilled in texting while bicycling and comfortable doing so. Her left hand steadied the handlebar, the thumb of the right hand moved across the face of the phone. She clearly had BNS (bent neck syndrome). A closer look, as we slowly passed by her, revealed that she was wearing headphones, too. She probably didn’t hear us at all. She made me nervous. She was definitely distracted – a risk to herself and the rest of us sharing the street with her. Should texting while bicycling be banned, too?
A search of the World Wide Web answered my second question, “Does any city ban texting while bicycling”? The Chicago Tribune reported on October 5, 2011, that the Chicago City Council adopted such an ordinance the night before. The Tribune also said: “Fines will start at $20 for a first offense and go up to $100 for a third or subsequent violation. If an accident is involved, the fine could shoot up to $500.”
Tough fines for bicycle riders for sure.
In fact, they are tougher than the fines for Florida’s new texting ban on drivers. First, the officer has to see the person breaking another law with its own set of fines before he issues a ticket for texting while driving. While the fine for the primary offense could break someone’s bank, the texting ban fine is $30 for the first offense and $60 for the second and subsequent offenses, plus three points on your driver’s license. Points against your driving record though can cause your insurance to go up, too.
Bicycles are all over my downtown, on the main highways and especially on State Road A1A to the South Beaches and the back roads of western St. Johns County. Bicycle rentals are popular in “Tourist Mecca” St. Augustine where narrow streets are fun to explore but not car-friendly. The expense of cars in big cities has put more bicycles on urban streets, too. Who says riders can’t be distracted like drivers are?
Maybe, it is time for the texting ban to apply to bicycle riders, too.
Margo C. Pope is a former opinion editor of The St. Augustine Record.