Is Distracted Biking Illegal?

Aerial drone photograph of traffic jam in metropolis city with lots of cars qued on lanes.
By Christopher Coble, Esq. on August 05, 2019 9:22 AM

We're all pretty familiar with distracted driving laws by now, and, hopefully, we're careful to minimize our cell phone use while behind the wheel. But what if we're riding around on two wheels? Do the same traffic laws apply to drivers of motor vehicles and pedaled ones?

While there are statutes that assign cyclists the same legal responsibilities and liability as drivers of vehicles, there are exceptions, and many have looked at distracted driver laws and concluded they don't apply in the same way to those riding bicycles. But that just means that some cities and states have passed specific distracted bicycling laws to fill in the gap.

City and State Cycling Statutes

According to Pew Charitable Trust research, California, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, New York, Rhode Island, and Virginia specifically ban bicyclists (as well as motor vehicle drivers) from using headsets or earplugs. In addition, Pennsylvania's headset ban likely applies to bicycles.

Austin, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Bozeman, Montana, have also passed laws prohibiting cyclists from using handheld devices. And Flagstaff, Arizona, has banned texting while biking.

Other legislation targeting distracted cyclists has failed on both the state and city level. While conceding that distracted biking is "an appropriate area to be regulated," Ken McLeod, with the League of American Bicyclists, also warned Pew that cyclists, whose hands and head are more visible to police officers, are more likely to be targeted by distracted driving laws.

"If they're going to be doing more enforcement of distracted biking than distracted driving, that’s not the answer," he said. "They need to invest more in cracking down on dangerous behavior by drivers because that’s what causes death and injuries."

Biking by Law

Texting while biking statutes can vary from state to state, and even from city to city. Check your local cycling statutes to learn which laws apply to you. And if you have more questions, or you've been ticketed for distracted biking, talk to an experienced traffic ticket attorney for help.

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