Chicago to ban cyclists from using hand-held mobile phone while riding

No texting or talking will bring bike riders into line with motorists in Illinois…but cycling opinion is divided

by Simon_MacMichael   October 4, 2011  

Downtown Chicago picture credit J Crocker Wikimedia Commons.jpg

Cyclists in Chicago face being fined while texting or speaking on a gand-held mobile phone while riding in a proposal designed to bring them into line with the city’s motorists, who are already subject to such a ban.

Alderman Margaret Laurino, chairman of the city’s Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Committee, who sponsored the proposed legislation, told the Chicago Tribune: “This ordinance basically levels the playing field between motorists and bicyclists.

“Like drivers, bicyclists will not be able to text while moving,” she continued.

“Nor will bicyclists be able to use their cell phones unless they utilize a hands-free device.”

The proposal has been recommended by Ms Laurino’s committee and now goes before the full council tomorrow. If passed, the ordinance is scheduled to come into effect next month.

Transgressors would face a sliding scale of fines depending on whether it was a repeat offence, or if the use of the phone coincided with a traffic incident, reports the newspaper.

First-time offenders would face a fine of between $20 and $50. That would rise to $50-75 for a second ticket, and $75-100 for a third. If associated with a traffic incident, the fine could reach $500.

Current traffic law in the state of Illinois, which includes Chicago, sees motorists under the age of 19 banned from using a mobile phone while driving, whether hands-free or not.

There is a total ban on drivers using their phones to text, email or surf the internet, or to use them, even hands-free, in zones around schools, building sites and at roadworks. Fines vary from $100 to $500.

“As bicyclists are road users with the same rights and duties as drivers, bicyclists should operate under the same restrictions,” commented Luann Hamilton, deputy commissioner of project development in the Chicago Department of Transportation.

“Distracted cyclists get in the way of other road users, leading to situations that can result in crashes involving motorists, pedestrians and cyclists. In a crash, cyclists can cause serious harm to pedestrians.”

According to the newspaper, Ms Hamilton said that last year 1,600 crashes took place involving cyclists, resulting in five deaths.

“This ordinance will address one of the risky behaviors by road users that can lead to crashes,” she added.

There was no report of whether those incidents Ms Hamilton cited were confined to the Chicago area, whether those killed were cyclists, pedestrians or some other class of road user, what part mobile phone use may have played or the extent of blame apportioned to cyclists.

The ordinance does have support from cycling campaigners, however, with Adolfo Hernandez, director of outreach and advocacy at the Active Transportation Alliance saying: “We’ve been looking out for cyclists’ rights for more than the past 25 years.

“Even we are in complete support of the this bike text ban ordinance. It makes complete sense. As users of the road, we have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists.”

However, Mr Hernandez said that law enforcement officials should focus primarily on drivers illegally using mobile phones, due to the increased danger they present to other road users.

“About 5,000 deaths on U.S. roads in 2009 involved distracted-driving motor vehicle crashes,” he explained.

“That’s drivers who are driving using a handheld device, and about close to 50,000 injuries involved a distracted driver in a motor vehicle.

“We just hope for fair and balanced enforcement that protects the most vulnerable users of the road.”

Ms Laurino, who says she is a “proponent of cycling,” described banning cyclists from using hand-held mobile phones as “common sense.”

She continued: “As a result of raising this issue, I’ve heard from all parts of the city of Chicago, police that live even in the suburbs, that have brought it to my attention that, yes indeed, they have seen cyclists texting.

“I’ve actually seen people riding and texting with both hands. I’m not quite sure how they do that, but I have noticed that myself.”

While drivers in the UK are banned from using a hand-held mobile phone at the wheel, there is no comparable specific legislation preventing cyclists from doing so while riding their bikes.

The Guardian Bike Blog pointed out earlier this year, however, that cyclists using a mobile phone while riding can be prosecuted for careless and inconsiderate cycling, which carries a maximum £1,000 fine.

It's an issue that divides high-profile cyclists here - CTC President, the broadcaster Jon Snow, says that using a mobile while cycling should be banned; Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, says it should be left to the individual cyclist.

As reported on last month, the RAC Report on Motoring 2011 has highlighted driver distraction through the use of hand-held devices as a particular safety concern, with half of drivers surveyed aged 18-24 admitting using a mobile phone while driving.

22 user comments

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It strikes me that cycling while using a mobile, or indeed with anything else going into your ears, is at best stupid, and certainly should be a specific offence as it is for cars. For two reasons - because "careless cycling" is subjective and thus relatively difficult to prosecute successfully, while using/not using a mobile is an objective bright-line test, and because the available penalties should be aligned. It is not fair that the few cycling offenders who are caught should face a £1k penalty while motorists get only a FPN of around £50.

posted by Paul M [343 posts]
4th October 2011 - 12:05


Fair enough, but I wonder how well the ban for cars is enforced and will this one be any different.

Also why do the americans mangle the word cyclists into bicyclists? It;s longer and sounds aweful. Confused

posted by thereverent [354 posts]
4th October 2011 - 13:07


don't know about Illinois but surely this could be done here by simply issuing some guidance that handheld mobile phone use is indeed careless and should have a 50 quid fine, rather than yet another law? Keep it simple.

posted by a.jumper [833 posts]
4th October 2011 - 13:11


oh yeah I think AA Streetwatch said lots of drivers were on the phone didn't it?

posted by a.jumper [833 posts]
4th October 2011 - 13:13


Motorists are in charge of a lethal vehicle, but cyclists aren't. As a cyclist you have to try hard to seriously injure someone, but whilst driving all it requires is a moment's inattention. It isn't sensible to use a mobile phone while cycling, but the level of risk is much lower compared to driving.

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1448 posts]
4th October 2011 - 13:17


@Cat1 not quite sure about the level of risk being lower! Anyone I've seen on a bike and using the phone tends to be on the pavement as well. It just takes somebody to step out of a shop and bam - one serious injury!! And you then have the Daily Hate tarring cyclists with the same brush.

giff77's picture

posted by giff77 [1184 posts]
4th October 2011 - 15:40


giff77, I disagree. In your scenario, changes are that injuries will be minor. A bike just doesn't have the kinetic energy of a car.

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1448 posts]
4th October 2011 - 17:00


Top of Pentonville Road today, rush hour, dusk and cyclist in front of me wobbling between two lanes of traffic whilst trying to speak on his mobile, he almost rode into the back of the 73 bus, swerved / wobbled cutting me up then a car in the next lane. A hazard to himself and me and the car driver and another example of how our behaviours as cyclists perpetuate this 'them and us' mentality. I often joke to cyclist friends that a car driver on their mobile will be the death of me, the irony is it may well be another cyclist on their mobile. I agree that on the whole the laws that apply to other road users should apply to cyclists too.

posted by djm778 [33 posts]
4th October 2011 - 21:35


At face value, it sounds fair enough, although bikes are never as dangerous as cars.

But what about bike couriers? I remember Advanced Messenger Service and a couple others use cellphones, and where does a Nextel on the bag strap fall into the code? (you still need to press the button, taking your hand off the bars, to direct-connect) And what about finding out pickup info on your nextel or pager?
I was a courier (we say messenger) in Chicago, and it would have been impossible to do my work without using mobile telecom devices while riding.

There needs to be some sort of exception for licensed professionals.

And what about skilled road cyclists eating goos, 'nanas or sandwiches on their road rides? is that illegal too?

And what about on the Chicago lakefront path where all the unskilled cyclists are allready a danger to other cyclists and pedestrians, but where rules of the road don't really apply? (much more of a problem than unskilled cyclists putting themselves at risk from cars!)

So, really, could this be to make motorists feel good about cyclists not having more rights? Confused

dontcoast's picture

posted by dontcoast [22 posts]
4th October 2011 - 23:30


Interesting point about couriers/messengers dontcoast, I suppose motorised messengers are supposed to use hands free setups? just wondering if an earpiece and a mike might not work on a bike too… if the person on the other end of the line could put up with all the panting Thinking

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4201 posts]
4th October 2011 - 23:44


unless it's hi priority, there would be no panting: when you're delivering all day, every day, you have to keep moving, but you're pacing yourself and staying in zone 3 or below unless it's ultra urgent (and pays more)

...the pro roadies don't go 100% all day either, delivering is more like one long stage race than an ITT Big Grin (though on bad days it's like a track meet, sit around bored waiting for work, then sprint to shake off the boredom, than get bored again)

anyways, panting's never as big an issue as car/motorcycle/lorry/sirens noize.

handsfree would work fine for verbal comm, but not for receiving text-based pickup instructions which typically involve unholstering the device.

guess they need to make a cyclist's heads-up display, which courier companies can afford. Ahem.

dontcoast's picture

posted by dontcoast [22 posts]
5th October 2011 - 0:06


oh, and even with a handsfree device on a nextel, you STILL have to press the button for direct connect.

and for those still doing open channel STILL have to press the button to broadcast.

so actually, handfree would only work on regular cellphones.

dontcoast's picture

posted by dontcoast [22 posts]
5th October 2011 - 0:08


it seems to be more about being distracted for longer periods of time while operating a phone rather than taking your hands off the bars for a one moment to push a button. A hands free in a car also (usually) requires the push of a button. But then, so does indicating etc.

As for the car VS bike danger debate, its interesting that many have assumed it is mainly for pedestrian safety over the safety of the cyclists themselves.

posted by milktroll [2 posts]
5th October 2011 - 1:07


Certainly, where there are other traffic or pedestrians around, the scientific evidence about mobile phone use while driving must surely apply to cyclists too.

It's common-sense, don't see this as a big deal.

What is really needed is a crackdown on smartphone users as revealed by the RAC. They are the real danger now. It's like alcohol recently being discovered and becoming popular with drivers.

If one hasn't seen this, it makes for salutary reading.

Almost half of younger drivers distracted by smartphone apps, ipods and email while driving

posted by Recumbenteer [156 posts]
5th October 2011 - 6:40


lol get an iphone 4gs with siri and a bluetooth headset and don't worry about replying texts/ calls again.. haha..

posted by xkiller213 [10 posts]
5th October 2011 - 6:47


It's very simple: using a mobile phone whilst driving has been shown to have the same effect on driving ability as being drunk. You can be prosecuted (in the UK at least) for being drunk in charge of a bicycle so it makes perfect sense that cyclists (or any road users for that matter) be sanctioned if they choose to use a mobile phone. I've certainly seen enough idiot cyclists exhibiting the same reduced level of road-awareness as mobile wielding motorists to be convinced that a change in the law is long overdue.

Any such change in the law is, as we all know, only as effective as those enforcing it. If the current level of motorist mobile use is anything to go by (coupled with the derisory fines imposed) the lack of any significant policing of the matter will ensure that the rampant infringement now experienced will undoubtedly continue for some time to come.

TiNuts's picture

posted by TiNuts [98 posts]
5th October 2011 - 10:00


The fall leading to the fatality on Kew Bridge was caused or exacerbated by the rider's apparent use of a mobile. (Witnessed)

posted by TchmilFan [19 posts]
5th October 2011 - 12:35


Possibly. But IF a more vunerable adult or a child gets hit by some lout on a mobile while riding their bike along the pavementthen the injuries could be more severe. The same individuals are a risk to themselves as well, as they are not paying attention to what's going on around them. Even as an experienced cyclist I wouldn't use a MP3 or mobile when out on the road.

giff77's picture

posted by giff77 [1184 posts]
5th October 2011 - 14:23


That last post was in reply to Cat1 oops

giff77's picture

posted by giff77 [1184 posts]
5th October 2011 - 17:15


Hi there, So it won't hurt if you get a 12 stone cyclist riding at 10 MPH in your midriff? Well if you're a 14 stone fitness freak it might not, but what if that victim is a 7 stone old person with osteoporosis, whammo, shttered femur, never able to walk again? Do we just say "OOP'S"? I think not! Safety must take priority at all times whatever the mode of transport. Wise up Dummo's.

mersey mouth

posted by mersey mouth [7 posts]
6th October 2011 - 13:11


Cycling while using a cellphone is a stupid thing to do. The chances are that a cyclist will come off worst since the most likely scenario is an extremely physical encounter with a car, truck or bus. A collision with a pedestrian might also cause an injury to someone old and frail or young and small. Banning mobile phone use while cycling is a common-sense move that brings cyclists into line with vehicle drivers. It is worth noting though that as motor vehicles are larger and heavier and usually travel faster, the risks of using a cellphone at the wheel are higher and this would suggest that the same should apply to the fines/sentencing.


posted by OldRidgeback [2580 posts]
6th October 2011 - 14:51


@ giff77: Bikes and cars just aren't in the same league when it comes to causing damage.
Just do a quick Google for pedestrian deaths and you'll always see one major contributory factor, and it ain't bikes.
You said it yourself, "serious injury".
Having said that, I do reckon we should be held to the same accountability as drivers, and face an equal fine.
I don't know a rider who wouldn't be pissed off if they were hit by some jerk driver on the phone, so it's only right and fair that we lead by example.

Ride like you're invisible, not invincible!

posted by Big Softy [19 posts]
2nd December 2012 - 7:07