New law in Chicago: Texting while biking = Ticket

A couple of weeks ago, the Chicago city council began discussion on a proposal that bans texting while bicycling.

“This ordinance basically levels the playing field between motorists and bicyclists,” said Ald. Margaret Laurino, 39th, chairman of the committee and sponsor of the measure. “Like drivers, bicyclists will not be able to text while moving. Nor will bicyclists be able to use their cell phones unless they utilize a hands-free device.”

I’m all for safe bicycling, and the cycling folks in Chicago have a great discussion on this topic going on via the Chainlink – an online bicycling community for Chicago cyclists.

Some of the comments are thoughts I’ve had myself:

“I would have hoped that it would have just occurred to people that this is a really bad idea, and refrained from doing it.”

“Too bad on a bike you’re much more visible than when your in a vehicle.”

“Bikes might be more visible than motorists.
Do they ever ticket texting motorists?
On Saturday I saw a cop texting while driving his SUV police “car”.”

Does common sense need to legislated?
Will this legislation end up targeting cyclists more?
Will the laws against texting and driving AND against talking on a cell phone be enforced more for motorists now?

Chicago really is on the forefront of paving the way (literally) for better cycling conditions in Chicago, including 100-miles of protected bike lanes in the next four years. But I have to wonder if this kind of legislation runs counterintuitive to progress.

A journalism instructor at DePaul University and his class recently posted about the proposed Chicago cell phone ban for cyclists to The Red Line Project, a student-run online site. Please cast your vote on their Poll on Cell Phone Ban for Cyclists.


  1. neil warner

    Sadly in this day and age common sense can require legislation. You have to worry what people who cant be away from their phones for 30 seconds did before they were being controlled by them. 😉

  2. Ghost Rider

    Amen, Neil — “common sense legislation” is becoming all too common.

    I wonder exactly how this “levels the playing field” between motorists and cyclists. I understand that the rules need to apply to both groups, but bicyclists are so much more visible when they’re texting, and so easier to catch being naughty. I’d sure like to see some citation stats for the number of motorists busted in the act, too…I can only imagine how difficult it must be to enforce this law for motorists, and I know from experience that even in municipalities where there are such laws, I still see tons of people playing on their phones while driving.

  3. Iron_Man

    The only thing dumber than texting while cycling is a law banning texting while cycling. This is like banning holding your breath till you die. Some of the dumbest actions in the world have started out with the phrase, “There ought to be a law!”

  4. Michael60647

    Seeing something I wrote being quoted, made me smile. Thanks.

    “Bikes might be more visible than motorists.
    Do they ever ticket texting motorists?
    On Saturday I saw a cop texting while driving his SUV police “car”.

  5. Ghost Rider

    Michael — you were quoted because your point cut to the heart of the matter. Bravo!

    @Iron Man — you know there are a bunch of dumb laws out there…and just as many dumb lawbreakers. Negotiating traffic on a bike or in a car already should command one’s full attention, yet I have seen the craziest s@*t out there…folks with a newspaper draped over the steering wheel, makeup appliers, folks with no hands on the bars and a coffee in one hand, cellphone in the other. Terrifying.

  6. Elizabeth (Post author)

    The Chicago suburb of Oak Park wants to also ban eating while driving….

    In theory, these laws make sense – folks should not be doing such things while driving. In fact I recently watched a report on some Science Channel show about how inept 97% of humans are at multi-tasking, despite the fact that 97% of us think we’re great at it.

    The laws are only as good as the enforcement, and I fear that the cyclists will be unfairly targeted simply because of their visibility.

  7. Ghost Rider

    These laws only make sense because we as a people have LOST ours!

    It’s a shame they’re required…but without them, it’s kinda like that Dead Kennedys album back in the day: “Give me convenience, or give me death.”

  8. BluesCat

    You can’t legislate “stupid” any more than you can CURE it.

  9. Elizabeth (Post author)

    @Michael – your comment sums it up so well… especially that you saw a cop texting.
    Makes you wonder if it’s more a “Do as I say, not as I do” law… and how to equitably enforce it to make the roads safer for all.

    Afterall, that’s why these laws are made, right? To create safer roadways for all?

  10. Guy

    Stupid is, stupid does.

  11. PsySal

    I think these kind of rules make sense. Here in Alberta there was a law very recently passed on distracted driving, which is a good thing. I believe it applies to bicycles– fine by me! I’m not really sure why it would ever be a good idea to text while biking though I confess to making cell calls while moving before (not on the road, though.) I won’t anymore, and it’s not like it really is any effort to pull up to a curb to make a call. Another great thing about bikes is they are easy to pull over for a sec!

    Point is, without laws like this in place there is just too much ammunition for the bike-haters out there. I want bikes to be elevated to the level of motor-cars in the public discourse, this kind of thing helps in that goal.

    How it’s targeted is another issue, but if they end up targeting cyclists in particular, then just put some statistics together and put pressure on them to target cars more. Win-win, at least in theory.

  12. Iron_Man

    Personally I don’t put much weight behind the deterrence factor of these kinds of laws — most laws really. Deterrence is just a fringe benefit of having a population that thinks critically — which is in short supply nowadays. Laws like these, cyclists or drivers, might be helpful however in giving some teeth in a civil suit should an injured party be seeking restitution. So as annoyed as I am about stupidity being outlawed, part of me recognizes that they could be helpful too. The biggest problem on the roadway is that we have a population today that honestly has no idea that negligent behavior (not paying attention to safely operating a two ton vehicle) that leads to a collision or other “unintended” consequence is not the same thing as an accident. These laws won’t really fix that.

  13. Guy

    Has anyone seriously texted while riding?

  14. Bike Hanger

    Good. Texting while driving/biking is just plain dumb. As a comment above mentioned they just outlawed it here in Alberta, and apparently after the first month they made a killing from it.

  15. Arte

    Is Chicago trying to circumvent the law of natural selection with another law?


  16. Steve Horvath

    “Common Sense” would dictate anyone to refrain from using hand held or other electronic devices that interfare with ones ability to pay attention to the road and its surroundings while riding or driving! But as Neil pointed out so eloquently, there some who just can’t stay off their phone or text device for 30 seconds while they are in the middle of traffic or elsewhere!
    Those irrisponsible enough do deserve a Citation and should pay a fine, which is much less costly than to pay with one’s life!

  17. Mir.I.Am

    @Guy, I have seen my fair share of TWB college chicks on their beach cruisers in the bike lane along the ala wai canal. i bet these same undergrads are texting while driving! craziness in Honolulu.

  18. Graham

    I’m wondering why there needs to be a second law specifically for bicycles? After all, wasn’t the original point that bicycles are considered “vehicles” and therefore allowed on the road in the first place?

    Is it just poor legislation that specified “texting in automobiles” instead of “texting while operating a vehicle” that warrants the second law? Are we also going to see specific laws banning “texting while moped-ing” and “texting while motorcycling”?

  19. Elizabeth

    @Graham, I’m wondering why not just outlaw texting while moving. Such a measure would include all vehicular modes of transportation plus walking/running/jumping.

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