Biggest Cycling Danger-Cell Phones

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A couple days ago a girl passed me when I was riding in Chicago. It was a snowy road and she came by at about 3 inches. That was the distance to her right rear view mirror, not her car, but the mirror would have caused much havoc. I realized by watching her from behind that she had no idea she had even passed a cyclist, let alone hit one. She was looking down into her lap, texting.

I think cell phone usage is the most danger that cyclist face now from drivers. It is unbelievable how many accidents are now “caused” by the introduction of phones in cars.

When states pass laws to ban texting while driving, it actually increases the incidences of accident according to the Highway Loss Data Institute. It makes total sense. Instead of having your phone up on the steering wheel where your eyes can see out the windshield, you have it down in your lap, looking down at your floor board. In California, the accident rate increased by 12% after a texting ban was enacted.

It’s even dangerous just talking on a phone in a car, even hands free. You’d think that isn’t the case, but I heard a Phd guy on the radio explaining the difference between talking on the phone while driving and talking to others in your car. He said the conversation ebbs and flows between occupants of a car depending upon the driving conditions. And actually, accidents decrease the more eyes on the road from occupants in a vehicle. When you’re talking on the phone, the other party has no idea what the driving conditions are, so the conversation distracts the driver. Makes sense.

So, laws are not the answer to the problem. The texting issue is not only a problem for cyclists, of course, but to everyone. It makes driving more dangerous, increases the costs of insurance for all of us, and is generally bad.

I have no idea how to fix the issue. If you can’t “take” assault rifles away from us, I’m pretty positive that people won’t put up with no cell phone usage in their automobiles. I know some phones have apps that you can voluntarily download that makes your phone not receive calls if it is moving faster than 20 mph or some speed. I looked for one for the iPhone, but didn’t see anything.

I’m as guilty as others. I try not to make a habit of texting while driving, but I do it more than occasionally. It’s not something that we’re going to voluntarily stop. So, cell phone companies, along with insurance companies, and of course, our government are going to have to do it for us. And when they do, we should applaud it. Because no matter how much we don’t like it, making the phones unusable in our cars is the best thing for all of us.

26 thoughts on “Biggest Cycling Danger-Cell Phones

  1. jim robinson

    Here in New Zealand, using a mobile phone in a car is illegal, unless it is in a hands-free device. Getting caught breaking that law carries a fine. Before the law came in maybe a couple of years ago, there was television advertising, basically saying it’s not a safe way to drive; and there’s still a bit of that advertising. You still see some people driving while holding phones, but I think a lot less. And generally not on busy roads where there’s more chance of being spotted by a cop. There are issues with driving-biking conflict here, but in my experience, driver inattention on the phone isn’t one of the leading worries. I think the law’s a damn good idea. It kicked up a bit of a stink on introduction but that settled down.

  2. Trey H.

    Stop texting while driving Steve. Just turn your phone off. Jeepers.
    (you drive home the point that even with heightened awareness of the dangers of cell phone use (texting and talking), you do it any way…it appears there’s no hope)

  3. Steve Wathke

    Not a big fan of the government making a law for everything but this is a good idea to get this stopped. I too am guilty of texting while driving. Not proud of it. I remember before seat belt laws weren’t enforced i didn’t wear one. Well i don’t need a ticket now so I wear one and I might stick around to raise my kids now… I wouldn’t want to have the death of a cyclist on my concious because of my negligence. I’ve heard of a study that compares a texting driver to that of a drunk driver. I believe that it’s about the same. I follow the law but the penalty isnt steep enough. when the penalty is small it gives the driver the mindset that yes it is against the law but its not that important so its just a small ticket.
    I would like to see the phone companies and the car makers work together .

  4. devin

    This is one of the big reasons that the Kid still has to drivers license.. on top of what it is going to do to my insurance rate,,driving is not it was back in the 80’s and 90’s… Roads are scary.. Driving for a living I see all kinds of stuff,,, makes me shake my head. Would life be easier if the kid could drive yep,,, I would not have to drive home after races,, but not ready to turn her loose….

  5. Euro

    Last summer at 7 AM on a deserted country road a guy in a big Uhaul truck brushed my left side so close that his tires bloodied my knuckles. I actually quit riding that day after 29 years of riding and racing. I did return this Fall, but still worry every time I head out the door.

  6. James Fire

    A few years ago I began riding against traffic for most, if not all of my solo rides. It is amazing what you see when you watch the on coming traffic heading toward you. I get a kick out of how many times I get flipped off by drivers when they see me on the “wrong” side of the road. Maybe they are just pointing to the side I should be on. I remember when I was young I was taught that you should always face traffic, so why not practice it now? At least now I have a 50/50 chance to hit the ditch if needed when a driver fails to see me, at least I see him first. Guess what….. it works!

  7. Psyclguy

    With all the technology available today, it would be possible for all cell phone manufacturers to build cell phones that would make it impossible to text while the car is running. You could still make and receive calls, you just couldn’t text. This would need to be government mandated of course, and that’s where the problem lies. It will never happen. I used to be afraid of drunk drivers while riding, but now texters worry me more.

  8. Dave

    You are cyclists out there on the road every day like me, why in the world would you even consider texting while driving. Unbelievable!

  9. ted

    If 20 years ago you told me the “future” was a tiny device in which you could write cryptic messages WITH YOUR THUMBS while driving, I would have laughed. But maybe they will someday invent a device where you push a button and get to SPEAK DIRECTLY with the person. I predict it will be called “The Telephone.”
    Texting is the most idiotic way of communicating ever invented. It’s basically unimportant nonsense communicated in the most dangerous way – another sign of how people are forgetting how to just talk to each other.

  10. The Cyclist

    Make it legal for all the gun lovers to shoot all the texting-while-driving morons out there. La gente esta muy loca…

  11. Tony

    The law is reckless driving and if convicted the penalty could be loss of license. If enforced against cell phone usage, either talking or texting, it could go a long way towards reigning this problem in.

  12. Eric

    Not only am I surprised you’re still alive by riding this way, but I bet you have caused numerous close calls to others by riding against traffic. Who told you to ride facing traffic? Pretty sure it’s against the law in all states.

  13. Eric

    There’s nothing wrong with texting. It’s another form of communication that can be quick and efficient, and safe, when used. It works for some people so have at it.

  14. Rod Lake

    Steve: Charlene was on the Today Show (i think you can still see it by going to their website) this week talking about AT&T’s “It Can Wait” campaign. Take the pledge to not text and drive and encourage others to do the same at

  15. JPrumm

    My wife’s car hooks up to her cell phone. It won’t allow her to text while the vehicle is moving. You can talk hands free through the vehicle but I agree Steve talking on the phone hands free is still distracting. I have used it and a few times I wondered “how did I get this far and what did I miss those last few mile”?

  16. H Luce

    The way I do it is that I pull over onto the shoulder, and make the call. Or make it from a rest area. Any calls I get while driving get shunted over into voice mail, and if I miss it, I can call the person back. Things happen all too quickly at 80mph, so having your attention distracted is pretty risky behavior. No call is *that* important.

  17. Skippy

    Agree with ” thecyclist #5.33pm” , each of these people are living in a world of their own , not thinking of other than NUMERO UNO !
    IF this does not change your ways then you CAN’T READ or are brain dead ! :

    Did you see the video of the russian Air disaster today ? Would you live thru if you were texting ? SHIT doesn’t happen , whilst TEXTING & Phoning , you are creating it !

    Really annoys me to see Road Race Cycling Posers , sitting up with the cell phone , in their ear ! Most times i feel like giving them a nudge , but make very sure i am well clear of their path , in case they fall or swerve through hitting a pothole .

    Do as H Luce and me , VOICEMAIL ! OH YES THAT WILL COST MONEY ? So do the Penalties for Death !

    Hope the texters enjoy a 2014 New Year and none of your readers fail to celebrate the 2014 New Year in good health !

    Cycling is a nightmare these days , holding the centre of the traffic lane is about the only way to survive with thoughtful & Conscientious Drivers , who knows what you have to do , with those that ” Couldn’t give a damn “?

    BEST WISHES TO ALL for 2013

  18. Tips&triks

    Not directly related to texting, but when you are out pedaling and you turn your head around and look at the driver when you hear a car approach from behind, they ALWAYS pass you with a greater space than if you were just to look straight ahead. It is especially noticeable if traffic is coming from both directions. Of course this require that you are confident in your bike handling skills and able to ride a few meters while looking over your shoulder.

  19. Jim

    What is wrong with you?? I usually agree with the things you write but this is just stupid. You don’t want others to text and drive but you do it? Am I not understanding something?
    The laws against “reckless driving” should be applicable. God help people is I were a police officer because that would be the charge against anyone I saw using a device for texting. Now prove it wasn’t reckless operation.
    As far as “taking away” a license for it, does anyone really think that will work? All it will do is make people drive without a license.
    I am somewhat surprised that insurance companies haven’t ceased to cover people if they were on the phone. It could easily be included in the policy. Long term ramifications of this? Wish I knew.
    I don’t know what the answer is but I do know the results of doing nothing scare me.

  20. bhalls

    I see it everyday on my comutes to work. Old or young ,it doesn’t matter. I always ask myself what kinda stuff is so important to talk or text while driving past cyclists or pedestrians are on the road or anytime. IF it’s that important ,pull over and make a call. Cell phones ,smart phones are turining us into imps!

  21. chuck martel

    Texting and drinking, the twin banes of automobile transportation. Lots of statistics on the catastrophic results. But why no similar stats on the number of dead bodies pulled out of wrecked cars where the now deceased driver has ketchup, mustard and shredded lettuce all over the front of his Hollister T-shirt? Why is it so wrong to text while driving but apparently just swell to chow down on a Famous Star or sort through the CD collection or corral the barking pooch? Maybe legislation should be introduced to control all that sort of aberrant behavior that presents a potential danger to others. Also don’t go out in public when you’re exhibiting cold or flu symptoms.

  22. Bob Cummings

    I know you are “old school” Steve as far as safety equipment goes as I frequently see you snapping away taking pics while riding sans helmet but you should really try a mirror while riding. The ability to see a non attentive driver coming up from behind and taking the appropriate actions may just save your life.

  23. The Cyclist

    Concur. Also, in addition you can wave your left hand up and down to suggest they should slow down a bit while passing. Sometimes it actually works. Especially useful on a wet day. Dunno why but somehow a lot of drivers seem to enjoy in covering cyclists in wheel spray. Ppl r crazy… 😀


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