Distracted driving- what can we do about it?

Distracted driving is not something cyclists can live with.

Driven by our multi-tasking culture that has deemed our cars are simply 4-wheeled extensions of our work desk, our kitchen table and even entertainment center, distracted driving is unquestionably becoming worse.

Presently the law is *NOT* working, as you can sit at *ANY* intersection, anywhere, and in very little time see a number of people with phones to their ears. Easy pickings for law enforcement, if they decided to make it a priority. They (CHP anyway) claim it is a priority, but I think otherwise. A 2-officer operation could nab a huge number of offenders. For that matter, why do we have red light cameras but not cell phone cameras? True, they’d have to take a photo of every car, and a real live person would have to cull through them, but it would be a lot easier than having officers handing out tickets.

But given that it’s going to take time to change people’s attitudes while driving, what can we do in the meantime to avoid becoming a run-down-from-behind statistic? Some of it has to do with where we ride; I suspect that more-dangerous driving conditions are less-likely to see distracted drivers, because driving at those times comes closer to a full-time job. It’s when it seems like there’s little to do that people will be more-inclined to be stupid behind the wheel. Ironically that means that straighter roads and less-congestion¬†are probably more dangerous to cyclists than we believe. Picture Canada Road vs Kings Mtn. I have yet to see someone yakking or texting on the phone on Kings (although I’m sure it does happen), but see it often on Canada.

I have questions, not answers. Bright flashing tail lights in the daytime. Good thing? Intuitively I think so, but at the same time I’ve come across a sea of flashing headlights (while riding) and found it distracting, and at some point I think distracting moves from being good (getting noticed) to being bad (taking your attention away from other things you should be seeing). Could just be a matter of how bright that flashing light is. But to effectively engage the attention of a distracted driver, is anything less than a laser pointed straight into their retina going to do the job?

I look forward to a discussion of these points, from two entirely selfish standpoints. First, I’m out there on the road myself. Second, I don’t want people to get scared away from cycling because it’s bad for business. Sadly, this is too serious a point to warrant having a smiley after it. –Mike–

4 thoughts on “Distracted driving- what can we do about it?

  1. Mike,

    The increased level of distractions I’ve witnessed in the last 3-5 years have shocked and saddened me. I finally decided to run lights at all times about a year ago after driving around Portola Valley around noon one summer day. The kids were falling asleep in their carseats and I was driving just to make sure they were out. I was alert and undistracted and the sun was straight above us. It amazed me how much more visible the few cyclists with blinky front lights were as they came in and out of the shadows.

    I was completely convinced of the efficacy and immediately set out to outfit my bike. I bought a pair of 200 lumen DiNotte lights (front/rear) and built aluminum mounts that mounted via the brake bolts, so they are basically floating above the front and rear brake. A single Li-ion battery will run both for 6-8 hours (blinking) and they are VERY bright — most blinkies are not really visible mid-day. These are.

    When I hang the bike in the garage, I plug in the battery. It is always there and always ready to go. Zero hassle.

    Within two months of installing these lights, I had already been stopped by two drivers so they could personally thank me for having the lights during my morning commute to work in bright daylight. Neither were cyclists.

    Then there was the big burly guy in a pickup that pulled up next to me while I was flying down a slight downhill on Foothill one evening (pre-dusk) and rolled down his passenger window. From the look of him and his truck I was expecting a beer to be thrown at me. Instead he yells, “That light is amazing! What is it?”

    I don’t think the blinky nature of the lights is a distraction problem during the day. At night I would probably turn them to a lower setting or non-blinking.

    Many of my bike-racer friends comment on how much more visible I am and how it is probably a good idea. So far, only one has actually gone out and done the same to his bike, though. I’m sure there is a bit of a stigma associated with blinky lights during the day.

    We should ride together again soon and you can see them for yourself.


  2. Very good topic.

    I agree strongly with Ueyn regarding lights, day and night, and have had similar experience. Drivers do seem to appreciate it when a cyclist is making an effort to hold up our part of the deal. It never ceases to amaze me how many cyclists seem clueless as to their lack of visibility to others on the road, whether in and out of the mountain shadows or just cruising along. In addition to being less safe for riders, it is alarming (and irritating) to drivers. Along with stealth clothing, one also sees too many weak, hidden or mis-aimed lights that do little good. (Along with helmets worn too high up on the forehead, another common-sense point of discussion.) A statement of urban cool is one thing (black garb, fixie with no brakes nor lights or reflectors, and naturally no helmet), but “running lights” are easy and smart to use.

  3. I now run a Planet Bike SuperFlash Tail Light on my bike even during daytime. I first saw this light on another bike during a bright midday ride. I was impressed at how visible from the rear it was, even from a distance. Very cheap at about $20, and it’s also small and easy to mount. I have not yet added any light in front, but am considering it. A couple months ago I was nearly hit by an oncoming driver who started making a left turn across my path as I was riding down Portola Rod in broad daylight He finally saw me as I was slamming on the brakes, but I wonder if a front light would have caught his attention quite a bit sooner.

  4. I have a small headlight I’ve mounted to my helmet — Usually I leave it on flashing mode, and aim it at drivers, especially those waiting to turn left in front of me, or pull out from side streets on Homestead road.

    About a month ago, on skyline, a driver in a Porsche coming the other way started
    to make a pass (coming into my lane), and I think having the blinky on helped him
    see me and refrain from passing at that point.

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