Are Police Electronic Device Laws Justified?

California, like many other states, has laws on the books to control the use of electronic devices while riding. As in most (all?) jurisdictions with such laws, there is an explicit exception for operators of emergency vehicles – which on the surface makes sense to most. While the intent of this exemption makes sense to me, a recent case has caused me to seriously reconsider the implications of an unrestricted exemption.

It started when former Napster COO Milton Everett Olin Jr. was struck and killed by a LA County Sheriff’s patrol car. It later came to light that the officer driving the patrol car was responding to an email using the laptop in his car at the time he struck Olin. The driver was later identified as Deputy Andrew Wood. Lawsuits were filed, questions were raised and details came out. Based on the wording of the law, LA county district attorneys declined to file charges against the officer.

23123.5.  (a) A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while using an electronic wireless communications device to write, send, or read a text–based communication, unless the electronic wireless communications device is specifically designed and configured to allow voiceoperated and hands-free operation to dictate, send, or listen to a text-based communication, and it is used in that manner while driving.

(b) As used in this section “write, send, or read a text-based communication” means using an electronic wireless communications device to manually communicate with any person using a text-based communication, including, but not limited to, communications referred to as a text message, instant message, or electronic mail.

(c) For purposes of this section, a person shall not be deemed to be writing, reading, or sending a text–based communication if the person reads, selects, or enters a telephone number or name in an electronic wireless communications device for the purpose of making or receiving a telephone call or if a person otherwise activates or deactivates a feature or function on an electronic wireless communications device.

(d) A violation of this section is an infraction punishable by a base fine of twenty dollars ($20) for a first offense and fifty dollars ($50) for each subsequent offense.

(e) This section does not apply to an emergency services professional using an electronic wireless communications device while operating an authorized emergency vehicle, as defined in Section 165, in the course and scope of his or her duties.

The district attorney’s report concluded that:

Wood entered the bicycle lane as a result of inattention caused by typing into his MDC. He was responding to a deputy who was inquiring whether the fire investigation had been completed. Since Wood was acting within the course and scope of his duties when he began to type his response, under vehicle Code section 23123.5, he acted lawfully. Although the MDC inquire and response were not of an emergent nature, the law does not limit officers from using an electronic wireless communications device in the performance of their duties to situations involving emergencies.

MDC is defined in the report as “…a laptop computer that is mounted on a stand in the center console area of the vehicle.” So basically, yes the officer violated the electronic device laws has detailed in CVC 23125.5, but clause ‘e’ of that statute exonerates him.

The frustration for me comes from other parts of the report that detail the officer sending text messages to his wife “…while at a stop light.” That usage is NOT exempted by the vehicle code as it was not done in the course of his duties as an officer. However, the message he was responding to “in the course of his duties” was, in retrospect, not a pressing one. The law as written and enforced seem to have lead to a feeling of general unconcern from the risks the laws were intended to address. By allowing officers this exemption they have no reason to fear accountability for any actions taken involving electronic devices while driving. In theory an officer could type out an entire email about an upcoming precinct party (in the line of work) that has nothing to do with serving the public, cause a wreck and have no accountability. That just doesn’t seem right.

I’ve come to believe it is high time we change the electronic device laws so this exemption is applicable only to emergency situations. Our emergency responders are equipped with a wide array of communications devices – including radios and cell phones that can be equipped hands-free. These are paid for by taxpayers to assist these people in serving the public. This would seem to make it exceedingly easy to get ahold of an officer without using communication means that require them to remove their eyes from the road or (worse yet) put their hands on a keyboard while driving.

 

Attacking Bike Thieves

bait_bike_stickerBike thieves suck. Plain and simple.

A recent article on Gawker tells the story of one unique approach to the problem – public shame and fear. But does this approach actually work?

San Francisco Police Department has been using this approach for some time now in full force. Part of their active approach involves the deployment of bait bikes – bikes locked up around the city with GPS tracking devices in them. This program has been coupled with a PR campaign run in conjunction with the nonprofit Safe Bikes in an attempt to erode the brazen attitude of serial bike thieves. Local cyclists have snapped up the free stickers, placing them on their personal bikes. This proliferation serves as a constant reminder to bike thieves of the presence of the bait bike program.

Only time (and statistics) will tell if these programs have an impact on the alarming number of bike thefts occurring here in San Francisco. Until then, of course, the best action to take is to learn how to protect yourself and your bicycle.

Pacifica woman to marry her bike

20140201145400-Semester_on_Cycle_generalI know… it sounds like one of those annoying meme-style headlines. “This Pacifica woman to marry her bike – and you won’t believe what the honey moon will be like!” But this is actually something that someone is actively promoting. I know that the anti-marriage equality crowd has been warning us for a while that gay marriage will lead to marrying animals – but marrying a bike? Well according to a campaign recently posted on indiegogo, that is exactly what Lisa Nelson is trying to do. Continue Reading »

The fastest bicycles in the world

Optum Time TrialistSpeed and competition seems to exist in some form in all of us. I’m willing to bet that even the most casual of casual cyclists has, at some time, felt the urge to go faster than someone or something in their vicinity. It seems to be a universal constant. For some, that urge is a lifelong passion, and those folks have come up with amazing ways to make the bicycle go faster and faster. Continue Reading »

Stealing a bike: not always as bad as it sounds

Pro bike wrench Josh Boggs just posted a link to a Craig’s list posting. I now share it with you – without comment *snicker*

I stole your Trek Madone road bike near 33rd and Vine (33rd and Vine)

Well actually I stole it from the guy who stole it from you so that I may give it back to you.Sunday afternoon there was a homeless looking guy rolling a bike by the back wheel down the alley. The u-lock was still around the front wheel and downtube so I stopped him. It was clear it was not his bike so I took it from him.

Please contact me to describe and claim.

Yes, the key you bring must fit the lock for me to turn the bike over to you.

What I know about you:
You bought the bike at Turin within last few years, you are over 6′ w wide shoulders, you have a kid, and you don’t ride as much as you had hoped.

Mike

Twitter for Cyclists

Ahhh Twitter. One could create a pretty strong argument that Twitter’s popularity among cyclists is a direct result of EPO. One could also argue that it is simply the easiest way to share your race success with your friends and fans while still gasping for air at the finish line.

So, in a fashion not unlike Follow Friday (but clearly not #FF, because that is all messed up lately) I thought I’d throw out some of the names I follow. This list is by no means complete, nor should you assume that someone that I do not follow is not worth following. But of you are looking for something else to consume data on your smartphone’s data plan, here’s some good ones to follow:

Pro Cyclists and Teams

  • Jens Voigt @thejensie – #ShutUpLegs had to be a thing.
  • Chris Horner @hornerakg – Because who doesn’t want to wonder why the hell ‘akg’ is in his handle
  • Emily Kachorek @EmilyKachorek - Bad ass cyclist from VanderKitten
  • Vanderkitten @vanderkitten - Because they’re full of bad ass cyclists like Emily Kachorek. And they also seem to have this whole social media thingy nailed.
  • Jonathan Vaughters @Vaughters - Has some funny stuff to say sometimes. And knows a thing or two about cycling
  • Johan Bruyneel @JohanBruyneel - He says a ton of funny stuff too. Unfortunately it is usually when he is actually being serious.
  • Alberto Contador @albertocontador - We all need a reason to work on our spanish.
  • Team Sky @TeamSky – They taught me that Brits race bikes too.
  • Fabian Cancellara @f_cancellara - Apparently his tweets are sexier than everyone else’s.
  • Cadel Evans @CadelOfficial – It is fun to read his tweets with an Australian accent.
  • Phil Southerland @PhilSoutherland - Because diabetic cyclists kick ass. I know from personal experience.

Cycling Media Folks – Bloggers, journalists, photographers, etc

Tweet away folks…

 

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!

29_smrightturnWe’ve got our winners in the “How do I signal a right turn” contest. The question was regarding how to properly and legally signal a right hand turn while riding a bicycle.

In truth, the question was kind of a gimme – there are two correct answers. The first, which most people gave as their answer, is by holding the left arm out, bent at a 90 degree angle pointing up. This is the signal required by the DMV for use in automobiles – which makes sense. This is also what motorcyclists use, so the right hand can remain on the throttle. So yes – right arm at 90 degree angle is correct.

However, the DMV also has this to say: Continue Reading »

Do you know how to properly signal a right hand turn?

putthefun_sticker_white_smHand signals. We all use them when riding on the roads. Right? Right?!? But do you actually know how to do it properly?

Between now and noon Feb 1, I’ll be taking your answers to the following question. 3 random folks will be selected from the correct answers and get a complimentary “Put the fun between legs” sticker. Postage paid. $0.00 out of pocket. Just answer this question correctly: Continue Reading »

New evidence: MTB may have benefits over road

So… yea. Been a die-hard, no-knobby-tire-having, lycra-loving roadie for a while. My idea of getting dirty is road grime in the rain. But like all things, I’m open to evidence that may cause me to change my position. So – I present this counter-argument:

A 22-year-old man suffered an erection for seven weeks after a mountain bike crash. The hard-on finally subsided after two weeks of medical treatment in a hospital.

Hmmm… perhaps I stand corrected. *cough* *cough*

Update: And you thought that I had my tongue firmly placed into my cheek – check out this article. Puns abound!

Helmet hair to hair helmet

For as many times as I’ve rambled, made fun of, attacked, or complained about helmets, you’d think I’d have come across this before. Ironically, it was a coworker that pointed this cultural phenomenon to me.

When inflatable neck wear doesn’t do it for you, it is time to don the hair-helmet. Brought to you by that fantastic folk duo Flight of the Conchords and presented without comment:

Bret-Hair_Helmet

So we take the worry about helmet hair and replace it with a hair helmet. That’s what you call turning a frown upside down.