As I look back at 2013, two small legal initiatives emerged that have big consequences: biking and texting.
First, there’s the new “trial” bicycle parking law in downtown Charleston, that says you can only park your in so-called bike corrals. You can’t chain it to city property — lampposts, trees, signs — except in designated areas. This city is trying to clean up the sidewalks and put the bikes out of sight. It’s an admirable desire, I suppose, but not entirely practical.
Before the year ended, Charleston City Police were stealing, err, impounding the illegally parked bikes of Holy City residents, and then forcing them to pay a $45 ransom payment before getting their bikes back.
According to the ordinance, police are only supposed to impound unregistered bikes. Registered owners only get a ticket. However, Wendy Crisp, a local resident who had her bike registered, says the police still took her bike after they determined it was illegally parked. She joined me on my radio program in December and described the confusion and ultimately the many hoops she had to jump through to find and retrieve her bike.
To me, the message that the City of Charleston, known for trying to decrease downtown traffic and congestion, is simply contributing to more of it by making it more difficult for bikers to commute within the downtown area.
The next power-grab was the new texting laws passed in Charleston and Mt. Pleasant. While it should be basic common sense that texting while driving is dangerous, there are ample, existing laws that can already address that.
Even worse, texting laws seem to have little to no effect, and in some cases, they may have caused an uptick in accidents. According to a recent study Insurance Institute study examining crash-data in 14 states before and after texting bans were implemented, the laws were either ineffective or accidents increased. A University of Wisconsin study also supports this: “Bans enforced as secondary offenses, however, have at best no effect on accidents. This is suggestive of drivers reacting to the announcement of the legislation only to return to old habits.” Why? People initially may stop texting but then later start texting again. Since bans are in place, they now make an effort to hide what they’re doing, and in doing so, they become even more distracted from the road.
Neither of these bike or texting laws seem that invasive, individually, except that they are a gateway to continued rules and regulation by officials when they don’t produce the intended result. When the intended “fix” doesn’t pan out, more laws are then passed creating even more restrictions.
Last month, the city of Greenville, SC announced it was conducting a study to effectively ban the use of a cell phone for any person driving a car. No GPS, No phone, No texting. They said, in theory, you could still talk hands free. But if you can’t “touch” your phone, then how can you answer it? Is a cell phone GPS more distracting than the computer dashboard in most cars. I say, “no!” Again, judgment is the issue. And you don’t change judgment with laws. You simply create more strain on an already overtaxed Government system, in attempts to enforce the laws and prosecute violators.
And, this bike law; it can’t be that bad, right? For that, we look to “bike friendly” Portland, Ore., in which, the city just added 16 new laws about how bikes can and can’t be used on top of dozens more already in place. Some of these Portland laws include improper load, failure to use a seat and endangering bicycle operator or passenger. And, within those rules, is a host of interpretations that mean they can fine you for just about anything.
Get ready Charleston! It’s coming. Before long, you’ll need a handbook to own a home, ride a bike, operate a cell phone. You’ll be breaking the law, by the minute, while biking or driving. And, as the laws become ever more complex and complicated, you’ll need a lawyer on retainer to figure out what is right and wrong.
My view is that our leaders need to stay focused on enforcing the vast and overreaching array of laws we already have that cover driving, biking and other activities. They need to further focus on basic City services and leave judgment and common sense up to the residents. After all, “Leaders,” you work for us. Don’t forget that!
Bryan Crabtree has been a radio broadcaster for 20 years, as well as a local leader in the business community. He presently hosts The Bryan Crabtree Show on WQSC 1340 & AM950 from 8-10 a.m.