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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.

 

Hats Off to Cafe Roubaix

Shop DoorMost of you by now have probably heard tale of Specialized Bicycle’s play against a small, independent bike shop in Canada. While I’ve yet to hear anything from Specialized themselves on the matter, I like many found this story disgusting. The conflict arises over the use of the word ‘Roubaix’ – which of course adorns a line of Specialized bikes as well and is a registered trademark of Specialized.

Me being me I was all ready to rip Specialized (verbally) apart here.  But, given that the last time I went after someone here on JustAotherCyclist it went a little wrong (read the comments to this) I’ve actually decided on a different path.

I found a very reasonable, educated and balanced Open Letter to Mike Sinyard (Founder of Specialized Bikes) posted on the blog Riding Against the Grain. Here the author says, among other things:

If you choose to analyze things from a purely business perspective, look at what’s happening.  Even if there was some impact on your business (there isn’t), and even if you could quantify it (you can’t), it would be miniscule.  Compare that minuscule economic impact to the incredibly damaging effect that this news is having upon your company.  The core of people who are really dedicated bikers are seeing this news nonstop.  All of their friends are using social media to talk about it.  It’s everywhere–in the worst possible way.  The cost analysis on this particular intellectual property squabble weighs heavily against pursuing it.

An Open Letter to Mike Sinyard

Seriously – go read the blog post. There would be no value in me adding my particular brand of snark to this conversation.

If you decide you want to get involved and help Cafe Roubaix Bicycle Studio you can check out their company website, purchase products from their online store, or continue to let @iamspecialized know your thoughts on the matter. There is an indiegogo campaign that has been started purportedly to support the shop’s legal defense, but that campaign appears to be run by a person or group out of Australia and not the shops native Canada – so do your homework when donating.

Drunk Cyclist

cropped-dcheaderlogo2010

Of course there had to be a blog titled “Drunk Cyclist.” And of course I’d have to find it. And of course they have posted a video of women’s (or is it a woman’s?) butt while riding a bike.

I’ll let you check out their blog. Incidentally, it was the below image showing up on facebook that lead me to this particular piece of webness.

drunk_forecast

Learning how to ride safely due to a dead battery

I was leaving work – late – the other night in what seemed a normal manner. It was dry and clear, but dark as I’d stayed at work solving a problem (funny how you can be most productive in an office environment when 80% of the rest of the company has already left.) I grabbed my bike off the rack, flicked on the lights (they are nice and bright) and roll out the door.

About halfway home from the office I’ve got this strange feeling something isn’t right. I’m riding on lit streets, but on a whim I put my hand in front of the Planet Bike Blaze 1/2w Headlight mounted on my handlebars. It barely illuminates my palm at 4 inches.  Damn. Dead batteries. While I’m at it I stop and check the tail light. Completely dead. I try to turn it on. Dim light then nothing. Damn. More dead batteries.

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Amtrak Capitol Corridor To Run Bike Share Program?

While riding the Amtrak Capitol Corridor train again today I found a card advertising a survey (pictured at right). I’ve been riding the Capitol Corridor trains for years, and I had some time to kill on my one hour 50 minute trip, so I figured “why not.” I was a bit surprised, however, when I found out that the grand prize in a drawing of those that take the survey is a Brompton M3L folding bike. Seemed a little bit of an odd give-a-way item, and raised my interest even further.

Once I started taking the survey I found out why that bike was associated with this survey. Seems Amtrak is considering running a rental-bike program.
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How a cardboard bike saved my mood

I’ve been moping and whining about the fact that, after seven years of destroying the peloton, Lance Armstrong was able to do it one final time without even spinning a pedal. I couldn’t come up with anything worth mentioning on the case Neil Browne hadn’t already said. However it is such a huge story that I find myself, like the mainstream media I lament, feeling compelled to talk about nothing else.

Well, thanks to the constant stream of updates coming from VeloReviews.com and their Facebook page, I found a story right up my alley – just teed up for me to run with. And that story was about … cardboard.

I loved it because it immediately made me think of how Lance had become sort of a cardboard-cutout of his former self to many people. But this story was much better. Because unlike Lance, this was not a story about someone or something that was less than it appeared. Rather, it was the story of someone making much, much more out of something than was immediately obvious. It was a story about a fully functional cardboard bicycle.

Now some will undoubtedly take my analogy a step further, pointing out that through the use of chemical treatments the cardboard has actually been made stronger than its natural form. Sure, someone could say that the glue is the EPO, and the laquer is the transfusions that allow this cardboard to achieve super-cardboard feats of strength. To that I would respond: You think too much.

What I see here is a great opportunity to have what could amount to a disposable bike. Imagine the possibilities here when a bike is can be manufactured in a guy’s garage for $20? Now imagine how much that price could be reduced to on a higher production run. Now imagine those cheap bikes made from potentially post-consumer cardboard being deployed around cities as a means of public transportation. Imagine a vending machine at the airport that would allow you to purchase a fully functional bicycle for less than you’d likely pay for a cab? Imagine schools able to check out bicycles to students for the year for less than the price of a textbook.

Sure – this is just a prototype. And sure, the $20 number may not pan out. But you’ve got to love this guys innovation and vision to even try. Do I love my Fred-tastic carbon fiber bikes? Hell yes. But you better believe I’d ride on of these bikes too.

Funny thing is, the other “new bicycle design” that seems to be taking off around the internet isn’t new at all. I’m talking here about the Bicymple. Look – there is no denying it is a beautiful design (if you are into weird things) Fundamentally, however, this is essentially a fixed-gear wobble bike, slightly less articulated. Maybe it is my naiveté, but I really don’t see why two wheel steering is necessary on a bicycle. Even on cars – which you can’t pick up and move sideways to park – four wheel steering was never more than a novelty.

Ahhh – doesn’t it feel better to write (and read) about bikes instead of bio-chemistry and doping? Time to drop my digital copy of the “Reasoned Decision” into the virtual trash can on my computer.

Cyclist that killed pedestrian is a pain in my arse…

Taking a cue from the NBC Bay Area article, I've inserted a completely arbitrary photo of cyclists at an intersection that has absolutely nothing to do with the story being written.

I’ve been watching this story for a bit, biting my tongue (and my fingers) trying to stay out of it. But I’m fed up.  San Francisco cyclist Chris Bucchere, according to numerous reports both local and national,  caused fatal injuries to a pedestrian in a crosswalk in the Castro area of San Francisco.  Accidents are a terrible thing, but unfortunately somewhat inevitable in a crowded urban landscape such as San Francisco.  Clearly that does not diminish the loss to the victim and his family, nor does it absolve the cyclist of any wrong doing should he be found to have been negligent.

No – what’s pissing me off is the ridiculous amount of media coverage being given to this event – admittedly a tragedy.  Actually, to be more clear it isn’t exactly the media coverage I’m frustrated with, but rather the perceptional bias that is indicated by the media coverage.

My frustration is that a pedestrian being killed by a cyclist garners national coverage.  Meanwhile, pedestrians are struck by autos every day in San Francisco and barely warrant a mention in local media.

In a statement you may rarely find me typing, The San Francisco Bay Guardian got it right:

Yet activists also sought to place this case in context, noting that an average of almost three pedestrians are hit by cars everyday in San Francisco, even though that rarely makes headlines. There were 220 pedestrians killed in San Francisco from 2000-2009, the vast majority hit by cars whose drivers rarely faced criminal charges. In fact, the same week that Sustchi Hui was killed there was another pedestrian killed by a motorist and another one by a Muni bus.

Yup – that’s my gripe.  Cyclist kills a pedestrian and we can’t write enough words about it.  Automobile kills a pedestrian and we (the collective we – the “sheep” we) chalk it up to an unfortunate necessity of living in an auto-centric society and remind pedestrians to look both ways before crossing the street.

Tell me I’m not the only one that feels there is a bit inequity in this coverage.

 

Thanks LeBron

Nothing draws attention to cycling like a celebrity spotting.  I mean, if celebrities are gonna jump on the saddle, then maybe— just maybe— us mere commoners can.

OK.  Enough with the snarky comments on my part.  When I ran across the link whose title started with “LeBron Rides His Bike To Work…” I thought I’d have to at least give it a glance.  However, I found that the actual title had a little more to say than that: “LeBron Rides His Bike To Work, Thinks Safety First” [emphasis mine].  I could feel my eyes rolling.  Sure enough, the predictable helmet stanza was highlighted in the otherwise short article:
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Ready…. Joust!

I’m sure I’m not the only one that has imagined it – bicycle jousting.  The subject came up in an email chain at work (draw your own conclusions there) so I went poking around.  Sure enough, there were links and videos a-plenty:

Much to my surprise, it apparently appeared in a movie as well:

And as with anything remotely quirky in the cycling world, those crazy tall bike folks have taken over the whole scene.  Which just makes the entire jousting experience just silly, doesn’t it?

Burning Man Bikes

The below photo – courtesy of Up Town Almanac – is apparently a collection of bikes left behind at the Burning Man Festival.  My question is this – how the heck did they get them all up there in the first place?  And what’s it gonna take to get them down?