Thursday, March 14, 2019

BWL Column: Don’t be driven to distraction

BikeWalkLee Column
The News-Press "Go Coastal" section, March 14, 2019
by Ken Gooderham
One of the many advantages of walking, running or biking is the opportunity to see more of what’s going on around you, since you’re moving at a more leisurely pace than your average car or truck. You also inevitably end up at intersections watching those same cars and trucks as they stop and start, turn and travel.
That probably means you also inevitably watch drivers do (or almost do) dumb things behind the wheel. Watch them long enough and you’ll probably detect a telling pattern: The drivers doing dumb things are more often than not distracted drivers, looking down at their phones’ texts or emails instead of looking up and watching out for the other road users.

 There are studies galore about how dangerous distracted driving is, both to the drivers and to anyone else sharing the road… particularly walkers, runners and cyclists who lack the protective tons of metal afforded to motor vehicles. Unfortunately, too many drivers are too busy looking at texts and emails or simply talking away on their phones behind the wheel to read said studies, so their dangerous behavior continues.

 Among the many prospective bills in the hopper this legislative session (which commenced March 5) is one which would make distracted driving – including texting, reading or talking on a cell phone -- a primary offense, meaning police officers could pull over drivers if they see that activity – not add that to the charge when some other illegal incident (say, running over a pedestrian) earns the driver police attention.

 Now that session is under way, the scope of this bill is being expanded to include all distractions that can divert a driver’s attention from the task at hand of rolling down the highway. That includes, and I quote:

·         Reading;

·         Writing;

·         Grooming;

·         Applying beauty products;

·         Interacting with pets and unsecured cargo;

·         Using personal wireless communications devices; or

·         Engaging in any other activity, conduct, task or actions which causes distractions.

There are a ton of studies that show the impact of distracted driving, the danger that not paying attention can mean for other road users, be they on foot, on bike or motorcycles or in another motor vehicle. I won’t bore you with statistics, but instead urge you to stand by the side of the road (but perhaps well off the road) and see how many distracted drivers you notice. I think you’ll be surprised.

 Is making any distraction a primary offense too much over-reach? The civil libertarians in the audience may think so… but, unfortunately, the rise in traffic fatalities both statewide and locally make an equally pressing case that stronger action is necessary to make a difference. (The proposed law also gives police some latitude for first-time offenses, so it may be possible to make an impact without issuing a ticket.)

 Other states seem to get it. A vast majority (reports say 43 and counting) make texting while driving a primary offense. These reports are less clear on how many have branched out to include other forms of distractions, but it just makes sense to target more common distractions if the goal is to get people to focus on actually driving while driving.

Perhaps we should take it one step further and work on some disincentives to distracted cycling or even walking. Wandering (or bicycling) around aimlessly while doing everything but walk or bike is equally dangerous; the only advantage is (usually) the only people put at risk are the ones who are doing the distracted action – not everyone else around them.

 If the Legislature starts getting cold feet on the concept of attacking every driving distraction (not uncommon as bills progress through hearings and revisions), we hope lawmakers at least stick to the original plan and make driving while texting or talking (e.g. using any wireless device) a primary offense. That would be a big step toward safer streets.

Ready to ride or run?

 Run?A pair of 5Ks for the next two weekends, with Scope for Hope and a Lee County Medical Society Foundation run on March 16, followed by a Marlins 5K in Fort Myers and a Baker Park 5K in Naples March 23. Details at, and

 Ride? There’s a Critical Mass ride in NE Lee Friday night (, and a Miracle Limbs Courage in Motion Benefit ride on Saturday, offering10-, 28-, 42- and 6-mile rides from North Collier Regional Park ( The following weekend brings the annual Pedal and Play in Paradise in Punta Gorda, with 15-, 30- and 62-mile routes plus a Mystery Tour Sunday, plus a City Manager’s Tour Saturday.

 Both? Upcoming events include:

·         Saturday, May 11: Cape Coral Sprint Tri (

·         Saturday, May 18: Life’s a Beach Tri, Sarasota (

·         Sunday, June 2: 33rd Annual Fitness Challenge Triathlon, Naples (

·         Sunday, June 9: Heartland Sprint and Olympic Tri, Sebring (

·         Sunday, June 23: Sirens Sprint Tri, Sarasota (

·         Registration is open for this year’s Galloway Captiva Tri on Sept. 7-8, which offers a new format this go-round with the sprint race on Saturday morning and the kids’ events Sunday morning. Details at

·         Willing to drive? Check or for tris around the state.

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Ken Gooderham writes this on behalf of BikeWalkLee,a community coalition raising public awareness and advocating for complete streets in Lee County—streets that are designed, built, operated and maintained for safe and convenient travel for all users: pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Information, statistics and background online at


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