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Distracted Driving, Cycling... and Horseback Riding?

Drivers are taking their focus off the road, and the state is now even considering a fine for cyclists. But what counts as "distracted" and how do you define "driving?"

Meandering through the rural roads of Martinez recently, this author spotted a man on horseback talking on a cell phone and couldn't help but wonder: Does this count as "distracted driving"?

The definition of "distracted driving," although a fairly new term, has been quickly expanding. Initially, it meant cell phone gabbers. Then texters. Now, it could mean anything from applying lipstick to changing the CD. According to distraction.gov, "distracted driving is any activity that could divert a person's attention away from the primary task of driving."

That includes:

  • Texting
  • Using a cell phone or smartphone
  • Eating and drinking
  • Talking to passengers
  • Grooming
  • Reading, including maps
  • Using a navigation system
  • Watching a video
  • Adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player

This means from every A to every B, we not only regularly pass drivers indulging in at least one of these activities, but we are more than likely participating in a "distracting" activity ourselves. Drinking coffee, for example, counts as a distraction. So does changing the radio station. So too does chatting away to our carpool buddy.

Cyclists are also being looped in on distracted driving regulations, with proposed legislation in California that would fine cyclists $20 for talking on their cell phones.

And if driving is considered an activity one can be "distracted" from, and so does cycling, then shouldn't horseback riding be also? 

UPDATE: Martinez Police Commander Eric Ghisletta confirmed that "horseback riders are subject to all rules of the road (assuming they are on the road)," adding that, "yes, they would be subject to citation for talking on the phone while on the road."

As to what constitutes distraction, Ghisletta said that cell phone use and texting is the principle concern. 

"No, applying makeup or eating is not a citable offense in and of itself, but it definitely can be distracting and lead to other vehicle code offenses," said Ghisletta. "Obviously the intent is for the safety of the citizens on the road."

Do you have questions about "distracted driving" or a story to share? Let us know in the comments.

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Withmar April 25, 2012 at 01:33 PM
What the driving habits in your home the Rockridge area.
Jed April 25, 2012 at 04:11 PM
This is over the top! Talking to passengers? Adjusting a radio, CD, MP3, etc? GIVE ME A BREAK! How Orwellian can we be? (I know, just keep listening to these crackpots who come up with this garbage). Can adjusting a radio (et al) be worse than say, adjusting a mirror, or changing the setting on the heater or AC? Talking on a cell phone (hands free) isn't any different for most than talking to people in the vehicle. Some people are more easily distracted (I won't mention gender here) than others. Ages are a factor too. ONE "shoe" DOES NOT FIT ALL and this "blanket" set of proposed "laws" is not right. Imagine a parent with an unruly or noisy child in the back seat --- talk about a distraction! Will children be banned from cars as "distractants"? Maybe drivers should be isolated in their own little sound proof compartment - aren't sirens a distraction? And to point fingers at a horseback rider talking on a cell phone - that's PURE LUNACY! There's entirely too many people with too much time on their hands worrying about how to BOTHER other people... to them: crawl back under your rock!
Jed April 25, 2012 at 04:22 PM
AND ANOTHER THING --- Some people talk to themselves... if their lips are moving while they are driving; is that "distracted"? What if a person is NOT talking to them self but merely moving their lips? Would LISTENING while driving be considered a distraction? With that mindset (and I use the term "mind" very generously) then LISTENING to music while driving could be a distraction... and at the volume levels some clowns have, it's a distraction to drivers in OTHER vehicles! So.. now we have the "sterile cockpit" (aviation term applied to highway vehicles) - can BOREDOM also be a distraction? What I think is really happening is certain legislators are trying to DISTRACT VOTERS with their subterfuge in order to sneak OTHER garbage past us. LIFE IS NOT RISK FREE and cannot ever be made as such. Some cures are worse than what they try to correct, and this "distraction" idea is just too broad of term to be useful (except by over-zealous prosecuting attorneys and judges).
Judy's Owner April 25, 2012 at 05:30 PM
I confess that I have been known to answer my phone while riding my horse just to say "I'm on my horse, call you back later". I never, ever let my horse answer hers' while she is being ridden!
Emily Henry (Editor) April 25, 2012 at 07:25 PM
We've updated the article with a response from the Martinez Police Department. See the "update" (in bold) section on horseback riding and what constitutes a distraction.
Patrick J. McNamara April 25, 2012 at 08:10 PM
Unlike the distracted operators of cars and bicycles, those riding horseback have the benefit of a carrier with veto power over many stupid mishaps. While cars and bikes may run into other vehicles or into a drainage ditch, a horse is often unwilling to obey a stupid or clueless rider, and will take charge of the situation. In addition, the seriousness of the distraction is in direct proportion to the speed traveled. At 60mph, a three and a half second distraction occurs over the length of a football field. At a leisurely equestrian pace, that same few seconds distraction occurs over the length of...the horse. As usual, the legislature does what is politically doable, regardless of net effect on safety. If they really wanted to saves lives based on credible research, they would require the same helmets on all vehicle passengers that they require on motorcycle riders.
Withmar April 25, 2012 at 09:55 PM
Again! Why is someone from Oakland so enamered with our community.
Emily Henry (Editor) April 25, 2012 at 10:07 PM
Why wouldn't they be?
Withmar April 25, 2012 at 11:19 PM
I guess to real question is why are you injecting yourself in communities that you are not a part of.
Jed April 25, 2012 at 11:39 PM
A "cancer" of one city pushing it's weight around will soon spread to other municipalities with equal aplomb and mindlessness. One easy solution is to ban bicyclists from the roads entirely since bicyclists don't pay road taxes (paid for ONLY by gasoline taxes) anyway. They either need to be taxed for use of the roads or banned completely from the roads. Not my first choice but what they do off the road is their business - when they get in the way of the paying public, then that's a problem.
Paul L Wilson April 26, 2012 at 12:29 AM
To bad we can’t address other problems like bicyclists who never stop at stop signs or cars? But to talk about people who ride horses that appears to me to be a stretch and than to stir the pot to serve what purpose? Are you taking over for Jim Caroompas?
Jim Caroompas (Editor) April 26, 2012 at 12:30 AM
At least she has the courage to use her name, Julian.
Emily Henry (Editor) April 26, 2012 at 01:54 AM
Hi Paul. No, not taking over... just helping out.
Withmar April 26, 2012 at 02:07 AM
Jim, Or the audacity to talk on subjects and places one knows little about. Of course in Martinez we are kind of used to it, yet it is still tiring. Standing up to takers is a long tradition with us folk. And yet they keep on coming. OneWITHMARtinez. abbreviated Withmar.
Barbara Glenn April 26, 2012 at 02:42 AM
If one is on a horse AND on the road, the wise rider would keep an eye on the vehicles- even when drivers are not on a cell they can be a big hazard to a rider. Something about the horse 'draws' a car toward it. If one was going the relative speed of a slow moving car while on a horse - say maybe cutting cattle or jumping- the sheer physical activity of riding would prohibit the talking on a phone. Otherwise- if a horse and rider are on a trail going a leisurely pace, the rider has the luxury of letting the horse do the 'driving'. I never let my car do that.
Withmar April 26, 2012 at 07:03 AM
http://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/ugc/horses-and-the-california-vehicle-code
Chris Kapsalis April 26, 2012 at 02:45 PM
I'm not sure but I think Emily is a stand in editor when Jim is not here or busy. You cannot work 365 days a year. Anyway, I like her. I also like an outside view perspective of our city and we should be honored someone from outside takes interest in our city and news, what's going on here. Who wouldn't, it's a cool town. As to the topic, horses do not go 75 mph and also have a mind of their own I believe. And, bicycles do not go 75, and even though riding a bike or horse distracted is not good, it is nothing like a car or truck which is way more lethal. There should be a fine, but nothing like that of an impaired driver would get. I would rather have a 1000 drunk bike riders on the road than one drunk driver, and no, I do not want drunk bike riders, just saying you cannot compare the two.
Emily Henry (Editor) April 26, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Thanks, Chris! I love spending time in Martinez and am hoping to, perhaps, one day make it my home. The scenery is beautiful, and the people are welcoming, passionate and creative. It's always an honor to provide some relief for Jim, who works incredibly hard. I'm very glad you appreciate an outsider's perspective. Being from England, I'm an outsider here no matter where I go!
Chester Lives April 26, 2012 at 05:40 PM
Withmar, why are you so xenophobic? The article is not specifically about Martinez, but about State and Federal laws or bills about distracted driving. Emily clearly states in the very first sentence that seeing a man on horseback talking on a cell phone in Martinez is what got her wondering about the subject. So she did some research. It does not make her audacious by sharing that information with us and then asking our opinion on the subject. Emily, thanks for the article and please write more. Don't let Withmar intimidate you into not contributing. I am amazed and disappointed that there is actually a federal government website on distraction.
Chester Lives April 26, 2012 at 05:48 PM
Emily if you like the scenery and have any interest in hiking then you should read Patch contributor Scott Williams articles and tag along on one of his hikes.

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