City Council Member Mark Treyger insists his bill to penalize cyclists for texting is well-intentioned, but there is no evidence to suggest that the behavior targeted by his proposal is a source of significant danger. Instead of focusing on the real deadly threats on NYC streets, Treyger has triggered a news cycle devoted to a minor transgression that doesn’t register in any serious accounting of traffic deaths and injuries.
Treyger plans to introduce legislation Thursday that would mandate a fine or a safety course for the first time someone is ticketed for texting while riding, with higher fines for subsequent violations. The bill, which Treyger says was inspired by an incident he witnessed outside his office, reportedly has the backing of Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the council transportation committee, and Mayor de Blasio has indicated he may support it.
As dumb as it may be to text and bike, Treyger hasn’t pointed to data on how many cyclists injure themselves and others while doing it. If such a data set exists, the city hasn’t made it public. But that didn’t stop the press from tossing out unrelated stats as if they were somehow indicative of a major problem.
The Times cited a report on statewide pedestrian injuries caused by cyclists that includes no data on texting, while DNAinfo noted that 118 pedestrians have been killed in NYC so far in 2014, though all but two of those victims were struck by operators of motor vehicles. Both stories cite the two pedestrians killed by cyclists in Central Park this year, though neither of those crashes reportedly involved texting.
“If you’re riding a bicycle and texting, you’re obviously not paying attention to where you’re going, and you could injure yourself or someone else,” Treyger told the Daily News. “If it’s reckless for drivers to do it — which it is — it’s just as irresponsible for cyclists.”
Treyger’s attempt to establish equivalence between texting-and-driving and texting-and-biking is in no way supported by what we know about traffic crashes. Nearly 13,000 crashes in NYC last year were attributed at least in part to driver distraction. Nationally, more than 3,000 people are killed each year in crashes that involve distracted driving, and about 400,000 are injured. Distracted biking, irresponsible as it may be, shouldn’t be mentioned as a comparable threat to public safety.
The City Council and Mayor de Blasio adopted a package of laws aimed at behavior that is hurting and killing people, but there is no indication that NYPD is putting those tools to use with any consistency. That’s a real problem. Passing laws based on speculation and anecdotes isn’t the way to make streets safer.