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  NJ Cracks Down on Talking on a Cell Phone While Cycling

Associated Press | January 25, 2007

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- New Jersey may have unresolved problems with taxes, child welfare and gangs, but lawmakers are ready to crack down on one perceived danger: talking on a cell phone while riding a bike.

A legislative committee has approved a bill that would make it illegal for people to use a hand-held telephone while riding a bicycle on a public road. Hands-free devices would be allowed and lawbreakers would face fines ranging from $100 to $250.

Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, a bill sponsor, said the measure is meant to protect bicyclists and the people they may strike when riding and yakking at the same time.

``That is, in our judgment, a danger to pedestrians as well as to the bicyclists themselves, due to the fact that now they have one hand on the handlebars, they're talking to someone and they're on a public highway,'' said Bramnick, a Union County Republican.

The bill, among 6,928 introduced this session by New Jersey lawmakers, was given the nod Thursday by an Assembly public safety panel and now can be considered by the full Assembly. The Senate has taken no action on the idea.

Pete Garnich, owner of Knapp's Cyclery in Lawrence, said it's a waste of time.

His store takes people out on weekly group rides and Garnich said he can't recall anyone talking on a cell phone while riding a bike.

``I wouldn't say it's a problem,'' he said. ``You can't breathe and talk. It's absolutely ridiculous.''

In 2005, 784 people were killed, including 17 in New Jersey, and 45,000 were injured in bicycle crashes in the United States, accounting for 2 percent of traffic fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. An agency spokesman said no statistics are kept for crashes involving cell phones and bikes.

(While 25 percent of the nation's bicycle fatalities in 2005 involved alcohol, the state attorney general's office says it's not illegal to bike while drunk in New Jersey.)

Bramnick admitted he also has no data on injuries caused by distracted riders. He called the cell phone biking bill ``a common sense proposal'' based on observations he and others have made ``in the more densely populated communities.''

Not all legislators are eager to support the measure.

``As my father used to tell me, 'You can't legislate common sense,' and that's exactly what this bill tries to do, as the Legislature has already tried to do on so many other occasions,'' said Assemblyman Richard Merkt, R-Morris. ``Is anyone dumb enough to use a cell phone in a dangerous manner while riding a bicycle really going to be smart enough to know about or pay attention to some legislator's new law? Seems unlikely to me.''

It was unclear Friday when legislators might take more action on the bill, or when they would take up other proposals offered by lawmakers. Those include declaring September ``Handwashing Awareness Month,'' a plan languishing in an Assembly health committee.

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