Along with the increased presence of cyclists throughout Chicago and surrounding communities, comes a corresponding rise in the risk of bicycle-related accidents, and the injuries that accompany them. And as accident rates continue to escalate, the attorneys of Zneimer & Zneimer P.C. take note of a more expansive variation in contributing factors and causes associated with bike crashes. For example, we have witnessed a growth in bike path accidents involving collisions between pedestrians and bicyclists, which, in previous times, occurred far less frequently. Dooring accidents, which prior to 2010 were not even considered with the state’s DOT bike crash data, have also become more common. A much newer phenomenon—which serves as the focal point of this discussion—are incidents involving distracted biking.
Distracted biking has become a huge concern in Chicago. In recognition of our increasing reliance on mobile devices, the city passed an ordinance in 2011 which banned texting or talking on a cell-phone without a hands-free device. As provided in section 9-52-110, of the Municipal Code of Chicago, ‘Use of communication devices while operating a bicycle,’
- For purposes of this section only, the following definitions apply:
- “Communication device” means a device, including but not limited to a wireless telephone, personal digital assistant, or a portable or mobile computer, which is designed to transmit and receive electronic messages.
- “Electronic message” means a self-contained piece of digital communication that is designed or intended to be transmitted between communication devices. An “electronic message” includes, but is not limited to electronic mail, a text message, an instant message, a command or request to access an internet site, or talking or listening to another person on the telephone or other communication device.
- “Using” means composing, reading, sending or listening to an electronic message.
- Except as otherwise provided in subsection (c) of this section, no person shall operate a bicycle while using a communication device.
- The provisions of this section shall not apply to a:
- Law enforcement officer or other emergency responder, when on duty and acting in his official capacity;
- Person using a communication device with a “hands free” device or in a voice-activated mode, which allows the person to talk into and listen to the other party without the use of hands;
- Person using a communication device for the sole purpose of reporting an emergency situation and continued communication with emergency personnel during the emergency situation; or
- Person using a communication device while maintaining a bicycle in a stationary position.
- Any person who violates any provision of this section shall be fined not less than $20.00 nor more than $50.00 for the first offense, not less than $50.00 nor more than $75.00 for the second offense, and not less than $75.00 nor more than $100.00 for a third or any subsequent offense.
- In addition to any fine provided for in this section, if a violation of subsection (b) of this section occurs at the time of a traffic accident, the person operating the bicycle may be fined in an amount not to exceed $500.00.
The short and simple effect of the ordinance is that unless you are—completely hands-free—or—stationary—or—reporting an emergency—or—are an on-duty law enforcement, the use of any mobile device is prohibited, and violators could be fined by as much as much as $100 for an offense, and up to $500 if an accident occurs. Although there are far more potential distractions that can contribute to motorist inattention, the causative factors associated with distracted driving and distracted biking are very similar. That is, each contribute to a reduction in visual, cognitive, and manual functional abilities. Where the two differ, is that, for cyclists, the potential consequences of distracted biking, in terms of injury or fatality, can be far worse.
In addition to broken or fractured bones, bicycle accidents commonly involve catastrophic injuries, such as traumatic brain injury. According to the Center for Head Injury Services, 75% of fatalities due to bicycle collisions each year, occur as a result of a head injury. And while 85% of all head injuries, both fatal and non-fatal, can be avoided by wearing a helmet, we would much rather see a concerted effort placed upon accident prevention, as opposed to injury reduction.
However, in order to improve safety, motorists and bicyclists must work together in sharing our roadways. Whether driving a car or riding a bike, focus should remain on the task in front of you. In short, distracted driving and distracted biking are not only unlawful, but dangerous activities that compromise the safety of both yourself, and others.