Ban sought on talking while bicycling

Cyclists on cell phones described as a hazard


BERKELEY, Calif. -- The cell-phone menace has reared its jabbering head -- and swerved right into the bike lane.

Frustrated at cyclists who talk on mobile phones while dodging cars, pedestrians and each other, a Berkeley city councilwoman wants to force them to sheathe their phones and focus on the asphalt.

"You should have both hands on the handlebars, for goodness sakes," said City Councilwoman Betty Olds, who has proposed a city ban on handheld cell-phone use from moving two-wheelers. "If a bicyclist wants to talk on the phone, they should pull over."

Cities across the country -- including Santa Monica, Calif., and San Francisco -- are weighing measures to curb cell-phone use in motor vehicles as complaints grow of accidents caused by drivers on the phone.

Brooklyn, Ohio, and Hilltown, Pa., have banned the practice, and legislators from several states have discussed statewide bans. Countries have outlawed dialing and driving, including Australia, Britain, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

Still, there's little evidence that anyone has tried banning cell-phone use among pedalers.

Jason Meggs, director of the Berkeley-based Bicyclers Civil Liberties Union, called the proposal "discriminatory" if cars aren't included. He said bicycles maneuver more easily, stop more quickly, don't have blind spots and don't do as much damage in a crash.

"It's been statistically proven that motorists using cell phones kill people and cause crashes," he said. "There's no such data for bicycles. It's a whole different world."

Berkeley Councilman Kriss Worthington, an avid bicyclist who admits to the occasional phone call while pedaling, laughed when told of Olds' proposal.

"Are you serious? That's hilarious," he said. "The only reason she's doing this is because of me, I'm sure."

Worthington said he'd support the ban if it included motorists.

"It's far more dangerous for someone in a car, who could run somebody over," he said. "If the bike runs into the car, there might be a dent."

Opponents of dialing motorists point to a 1997 study in the New England Journal of Medicine that found cell-phone users were four times more likely to have an accident.

Olds says some will see her proposed ban as "another crazy idea out of Berkeley," like the council's 1999 proclamation supporting "Tinky Winky," the children's television character accused of being gay by fundamentalist preacher Jerry Falwell.

"But this is serious," she said. "This is life-threatening."

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