One Biker’s View on Texting in Traffic and Running Red Lights

Shouldn’t we hold ourselves to the same standard we hold motorists to?

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Photo courtesy of Paul Akins.

Photo courtesy of Paul Akins.

This post originally appeared on CAWOOD on February 18, 2016.

I ride my bike everyday in and around Eugene, pedaling through traffic in the rain and fog over dimly lit streets. I look into the faces of people riding bikes and driving cars, and I see trouble in the streets.

Far too many people are using their phones and texting while driving. And judging by what I see, it is not a safe practice. According to the National Safety Council, 1.6 million accidents each year are caused by texting while driving. That’s nearly 25 percent of all accidents. At roughly 3,200 pounds, the typical car can become a giant weapon, dangerous to everything and everyone around it. All drivers should focus on driving safely.
As a person who bikes, I worry for my own safety, as well as for my family, friends and other people who bike and walk around Eugene and Springfield. I feel that anyone operating a motor vehicle should do so with the utmost respect and care for others. I beg you to create rules for yourself, your kids too (if you are a parent to new drivers), to eliminate any distractions while driving. And since I hesitate to ask others to do things that I’m not willing to do myself, I am committing to never texting in traffic. Ever.

I drive a car too and respect goes both ways. I’m amazed at how many bike riders and pedestrians don’t seem to respect other people using the streets. Whether running stop signs and traffic lights, riding without lights at night or walking out from between parked cars, people don’t seem to respect others in traffic or even the basic laws of physics. If people who ride bikes want car drivers to follow the laws, then bikers should follow the laws too. The laws are there to keep the roads safe for everyone. Expecting others to follow the laws while you ignore them is disrespectful.

Now, let me come back to the foundation of this issue. Respect is something that we all want. Respect is personal. It is an understanding that someone or something is important and should be shown consideration. Having respect for others using the streets means that you learn the laws and follow them. Respect doesn’t cost you anything to give to others, and the benefit is a safer, more comfortable environment for everyone.


Paul Adkins has been bicycling pretty seriously since he was 5. He’s worked as a bike courier, mechanic and mountain bike guide, toured the country, and traversed the length of the Alaska Range. He has four kids that grew up for six years without a car. Now the oldest is about to get her learner’s permit. Paul also teaches the GEARs Bike Safety classes to the public, offering a traffic citation diversion class for folks who get tickets for bicycling offenses. As the Senior Designer/Internet Manager at CAWOOD, Paul has helped us create engaging web sites for Organically Grown Company, Concept Systems Inc. and many others. He and his wife live in the Whiteaker neighborhood. You’ll see him riding around town on a pink road bike, stopping fully at stop signs and red lights. You can find him on Facebook.

10 Comments

  • SFIII

    Wow, I must admit profound confusion here. Must i state the obvious? Bikes are NOT cars. Modern traffic laws were created for CARS. Driving a 1.5ton hunk of metal around comes with A LOT of risk and responsibility. I witness an occaisional pedestrian or cyclist not paying attention and doing something dumb maybe once every few weeks. I witness drivers doing something dumb several times a day! Drivers feel safe inside that highly visible hunk of metal and that affords them the liberty of taking unwise risks and not always needing to pay attention to their surroundings. It’s also kind of difficult to SEE what’s happening immediately outside of that metal and glass box. **There’s a reason** that there are so many laws surrounding car ownership–how you must drive it, where you must park it yadda yadda. Mapping those same expectations onto a different mode of transport is something only a person who drives cars too much might do, because driving itself trains the mind to accept only clearly defined paths of travel. Free your a$$ and your mind will (eventually) follow….

  • Rob

    Here in Australia, it is illegal to use a mobile phone in any way (talk or text) while driving.

  • Seems to me there’s plenty of disrespect coming from all that are on the road. Motorists, cyclists, pedestrians too. Each group has it’s angels and it’s ***holes. The arguments that one particular group is to blame for unsafe byways is ridiculous.

  • Peter

    Very well said.

    One issue I have with the “cycling community” is that the seem to have this attitude that a cyclist can do no wrong.

    Consider the stop sign argument. Suppose the police set up a sting and ticket people who go through a stop sign. Most motorists will pay the ticket, maybe go to traffic school, and accept that they did something they shouldn’t have done. Anyone fighting the ticket will mostly do so based on the visibility of the stop sign (“I didn’t see it!”)

    Cyclists? If an officer dares to pull over a cyclist for running a stop sign, the cycling community will cry out, “Why aren’t the police going after real criminals? We shouldn’t have to stop! We’re being targeted! We have better visibility! We’re more maneuverable! This is harassment! We’re saving the planet! We shouldn’t be discouraging bicyclists! It’s just not fair!”

    If everyone follows the traffic rules, everyone is safer. This is one of the other issues the “cycling community” doesn’t seem to recognize.

    “We’re vulnerable out there!” cries the “cycling community.” “Okay, you’d be safer if you followed traffic laws.” “But they’re so inconvenient! Stop signs kill our momentum! It’s not fair that we have to follow the same rules as cars!”

    Now, don’t get me wrong, cyclists are more vulnerable than motorists. Cars have government-mandated designed-in safety features to protect motorists. Bicycles don’t. And in the majority of incidents where a cyclist is injured or killed by a motorist, the cyclist was not breaking the law. And, because of the lack of safety features on a bicycle, pretty much any kind of collision between a car and bicycle is going to injure the cyclist.

    I’m all for three-foot laws. I’m all for holding motorists accountable. I’m all for cycling infrastructure. Heck, I don’t even have a problem with the “Idaho Stop” as long as Idaho’s yield law also pertains. As a cyclist, I have the same rights to the road as a car and I will argue vociferously with anyone who disagrees.

    But I also have the same responsibilities to follow the law. That means having lights on my bike for when I ride after dark. That means stopping at stop signs and stop lights. That means riding with traffic, not against it. But that also means that, if I choose not to do all of these things all of the time, I accept responsibility for my actions. If I run a stop sign–and I have been known to do an occasional “rolling stop” at certain intersections around where I live when I see that there are no cars–I accept the ticket from the police officer and pay the fine and don’t sit around and whine about it isn’t fair that I got a ticket.

    • Chris

      Peter,
      “One issue I have with the “cycling community” is that the seem to have this attitude that a cyclist can do no wrong.” – Well, of course anyone who says that “cyclists can do no wrong”, is themselves wrong. People are people, but while people who cycle are just as capable of doing bad things as drivers, the consequences of a person riding a bicycle doing something bad are likely an order of magnitude (or more) less bad than a motorist doing the same thing. Plus, people riding a bicycle are physically prevented from causing serious destruction, by the physical laws that limit the speed of a bicycle with the limits imposed by the power available from the human body. Any fool in a car can easily exceed any posted speed-limit until they run out of fuel, whereas very few cyclists can exceed 30 mph for any significant duration, and most would not even reach 30 mph (assuming level ground, no wind and an optimally smooth surface).
      So the sensible approach should be that cyclists be treated leniently, because the harm a cyclist can cause is strictly limited. Whereas, the same cannot be said of motorists.

  • Jon

    Oh yeah, I forgot that 160 pounds of bike traveling at 13mph is just as dangerous as 1 ton of murder machine going twice the speed limit. Thanks for this awesome perspective.

    • Peter

      So, gee, I on my bicycle will only break a pedestrian’s hip instead of killing him. I guess that makes it okay–he can use a cane, after all.

  • LaFong

    I couldn’t disagree more with Mr. Akins on his point that cyclist need to show respect to motorists by stopping at stop signs and red lights. For me treating stop signs and red lights as a yield sign is a safety issue, and has nothing to do with respecting motorists’ rights. Obviously Mr. Akins has never heard of an “Idaho Stop”. It’s the LAW in Idaho, and here is a link, http://www.treehugger.com/bikes/more-idaho-stop-and-why-cyclists-should-be-able-roll-through-stop-signs.html, that makes the argument why the “Idaho Stop” trumps respect for motorists.

    • Peter

      People like to mention the “Idaho Stop” law.

      The first thing I like to remind people of is that the Idaho Stop law also has a link to the Idaho Yield Law. The important sentence is at the end:

      […] if a driver is involved in a collision with a vehicle in the intersection or junction of highways, after driving past a yield sign without stopping, the collision shall be deemed prima facie evidence of his failure to yield right-of-way.

      What this means is that if you run the stop sign and injure or you’re injured, you are responsible.

      Don’t get me wrong–I like the law. But unless you’re riding in Idaho, it is not the law where you are and you obey the laws where you are. If you don’t like the law, get it changed. You don’t just get to ignore laws that are inconvenient.

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