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By Bob Mionske
I live in Maryland and when I train I carry my cell phone. I don’tmake calls but keep it for emergencies. Occasionally I will answer a calland speak while I ride along if the roadway is safe and easy. Is this legal?
I started bringing my cell phone on rides as a way to multi-task (read- so I can ride when I should be in the office). I seem to rememberseeing pictures of Lance doing the same thing and I will point that outto any officer who stops me. When I do make or take calls, I make surethe roadway is safe and that I am not endangering anyone else. I must sayI get some very surprised looks. Needless to say, I am not ready to testout the legality first-hand.As you will read below, there is no express law against using a cellphone while riding a bicycle in Maryland. However, it is possible (maybeeven likely given the current prejudice against cyclists) for a policeofficer to apply some other section of the vehicular traffic law to ticketyou. In this case you would be at the mercy of the court system.Although cell phone use in cars has received a lot of media attentionover the last couple of years, only one state, New York, and the Districtof Columbia have outlawed the use of cell phones while driving. However,both laws enacted allow for the use of cell phones as long as hands freedevices are used. No law on the use of cell phones is directed specificallyat bicyclists, but this does not end the question of the legality of suchuse.Currently, Maryland does not have any law restricting the use of hand-heldcell phones in motor vehicles, however there is a pending bill that wouldprohibit their use. It appears from the exceptions to the proposed banthat the sponsors are wary of the bill being rejected for a third time.Although the proposed bill does not indicate what consequences the driverwould suffer if stopped, violations would not be considered a moving violation.The bill also includes an exception that does not allow police officersto stop drivers for using a cell phone unless they have another lawfulreason to pull over the driver, such as speeding. In both New York andWashington, D.C., violators are punished with a $100 fine.For the time being, it is probably legal for you to use your cell phonewhile bicycling. The tougher question arises if the proposed bill is acceptedand whether a bicycle is classified as a “motor vehicle” within Maryland.Under Maryland Law, a motor vehicle is defined as “self-propelled or propelledby electric power obtained from overhead electrical wires; and is not operatedon rails.” Further, a “motor vehicle” does not include, “a moped; or amotor scooter.” There is no indication within the statute whether a bicycleis considered a motor vehicle, however, from the language of the statuteit can be inferred that a bicycle is not a motor vehicle because it isnot “self-propelled.” In addition, by eliminating moped(s) and motor scootersfrom the definition, it can be inferred that bicycles are exempt as well.Following the language of this law, it appears as though cell phone useon bicycles will continue to be legal, even if the proposed bill is passed.If bicycles do fall under the definition of motor vehicles, the law wouldallow for the use of a cell phone as long as a hands-free device is used.Depending on your proximity to D.C., I felt it might be helpful to learnof your rights within D.C.’s borders. Under Washington, D.C. law, “motorvehicle” is defined as “any device propelled by an internal-combustionengine, electricity or steam…”. The current state of the law suggests thatif you are cycling around the Inner Harbor of Baltimore or down the C &O Canal into D.C. it is well within your rights to call your coach rightin the middle of an interval!Of course, whether it is sensible to use a cell phone while ridinga bike is another question.
Bob(Research and drafting assistance provided by Justin M. Reiner-lawstudent- Willamette University Law School)
Now read the fine print:
Bob Mionske is a former competitive cyclist who representedthe U.S. at the 1988 Olympic games (where he finished fourth in the roadrace), the 1992 Olympics, as well as winning the 1990 national championshiproad race.After retiring from racing in 1993, he coached theSaturn Professional Cycling team for one year before heading off to lawschool. Mionske’s practice is now split between personal-injury work, representing professional athletes as an agent and other legal issues facing endurance athletes (traffic violations, contract, criminal charges, intellectual property, etc).If you have a cycling-related legal question, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.orgBob will answer as many of these questions privately as he can. He willalso select a few questions each week to answer in this column. Generalbicycle-accident advice can be found at www.bicyclelaw.com.Important notice:
The information provided in the “Legally speaking”column is not legal advice. The information provided on this publicweb site is provided solely for the general interest of the visitors tothis web site. The information contained in the column applies to generalprinciples of American jurisprudence and may not reflect current legaldevelopments or statutory changes in the various jurisdictions and thereforeshould not be relied upon or interpreted as legal advice. Understand thatreading the information contained in this column does not mean youhave established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Bob Mionske.Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained inthe web site without first seeking the advice of legal counsel.