Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Happy Anniversary

One week ago today marked the two-year anniversary of the sentencing of Tommy Lee Carroll to eight years in prison.

Mr. Carroll is the Friendsville, TN, man who ran over Jeff Roth in Maryville in 2006. This was one of the events that precipitated the passage of the Jeff Roth and Brian Brown Bicycle Protection Act of 2007, which makes it illegal for motorists to pass a bicycle without maintaining a distance of at least three feet. Breaking this law is a Class C misdemeanor, with the penalty being "not greater than thirty (30) days in jail or a fine not to exceed fifty dollars ($50.00), or both, unless otherwise provided by statute."

In the three years since the Three-Foot Law went into effect, I cannot find evidence that any driver has been cited for breaking it. This is even more interesting in light of the fact that a number of cyclists have been hit by automobiles during that time. Two cyclists -- David Meek of Chattanooga and Sharon Covington Bayler in Fayetteville -- were struck and killed by vehicles, but the drivers were not cited for violating the three-foot law.

Somehow, those drivers managed to hit and kill the cyclists while maintaining three feet of distance. Not only were they not charged with vehicular homicide, they didn't have to pony up $50 to the State of Tennessee.

In other anniversary news, one year ago today the Tennessee law that bans texting while driving went into effect. A locals news station this morning reported that 19 tickets have been issued so far.

Yes, that is state-wide that 19 tickets have been issued for texting while driving. I see more than 19 people texting while driving every morning on my way in to work.

Distracted driving accounted for 20% of the accidents in 2008. Cyclists -- because we are smaller and rarer than cars -- are more vulnerable to this because drivers are not looking for us, don't expect us, and don't see us. When you add to that mix a driver tweeting about the epic burrito he had for lunch, you get an equation that all too often yields an injured or dead cyclist.

Maybe it's hard to spot drivers texting. I'd like to know how many of the 19 tickets were issued after an accident, when the driver said something like "Gee, officer, I just didn't see him because I was watching this hilarious video of a dog on a unicycle on my iPhone." Most people sitting in traffic next to a cop probably don't whip out their cell phones and start text messaging somebody, just as they don't tend to take a long pull from that bottle of Jim Beam lying in the passenger seat.

Traffic cameras might be a better way to spot drivers texting, but there aren't very many of those (in spite of the way it seems on "CSI"). We can't expect the phone manufacturers or carriers to do anything, like report texting activity from a moving vehicle, since that could be bad for business -- although most parents would probably pay extra for a feature that would disable texting on their kids' cell phone when it's moving.

I don't necessarily want to live in a police state where my every move is being monitored, via hidden cameras or cell phone towers or killer robots. But I wouldn't mind local law enforcement doing a little more ... I don't know ... enforcement of the law?! At least the ones where it's obvious when somebody breaks it, as with the 3-foot law.


  1. Amen, here, too! People respond best to laws when they're enforced quickly and the consequences entailed make sense on the scale of the human mind -- that is, a relative certainty of a $50 fine for a well-enforced infraction is a much stronger deterrent than a vague possibility of 10 days in jail.

    My school's campus totally needs enforcement on the texting ban thing. There are accidents in the outgoing traffic lane almost daily.

    Most worrisome thing I've seen recently, though, is a texting-in-motion 'bike salmon' in flip flops. Every time I begin to think, "Hey, we're doing pretty well, I wonder if drivers are noticing?" something like that comes along /:

    Apparently, the human race has at last lost all drive for self-preservation.

  2. If you have pro bike handling skills, you're on an empty road, and you have enough money to pay for your injuries, then you can text on a bike. For those of us who aren't Lance Armstrong, put a foot down before you Tweet.