Let's Make Pedestrians and Cyclists Safer

Two or three times a month in California, a motorist kills a pedestrian or cyclist because of distracted driving.

It's no surprise that cyclists and pedestrians are far more vulnerable than people in a car. That's why they make up a higher percentage of collision deaths than would be suggested by the number of trips they take.

I like to walk around my neighborhood in San Francisco, and I've been thinking about how we can better protect people on foot and on bikes. One answer is my bill, AB 840, which aims to reduce fatalities due to distracted driving.

The CHP reported nearly a half million citations for drivers using handheld phone or texting in 2012. As a result, they declared this month to be Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

One obstacle to eliminating distracted driving is this sad fact: Few drivers who kill pedestrians or cyclists are held to legal account. This is true even when they are clearly at fault. That is where AB 840 comes in.

Currently, prosecutors often choose not to pursue cases against distracted drivers who kill cyclists and motorists. Why not?

It turns out to be hard to convince a jury (made up mostly of drivers) that a driver knew he or she was doing something dangerous -- something that could end up killing someone else.

My bill will force drivers to confront that fact.

It requires that everyone who applies for a driver's license signs a statement acknowledging that he or she knows of the dangers of distracted driving.

With that kind of notice on file, prosecutors will have an easier time showing that drivers knew, or should have known, they were doing the wrong thing when their distraction led to the death or injury of a cyclist or pedestrian.

It's not my aim to send more people to jail. It's my goal to save lives.

I hope that more awareness -- and maybe a few publicized prosecutions -- will be enough to remind people not to do the wrong thing -- not to drive while texting or holding their phones.

It's simple. It isn't cumbersome. And it should save lives.

Drive carefully.