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Texting while cycling? Smartphone, dumb rider.

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One of my favorite memories from the year I spent living in Oxford was the sight one morning of a young man in a rumpled tuxedo bicycling down the street with one hand on the handlebars of his bike and the other wrapped around a pint of beer.

It was picturesque, in a “Brideshead Revisited” sort of way. But it was also stupid. I mean, who would be dumb enough to drunkenly ride a bike while holding what amounts to a glass hand grenade?

I thought of that young man — no doubt a future prime minister — when I heard from reader Richenda Van Leeuwen. A texting cyclist nearly ran into her car on Old Georgetown Road recently.

Wrote Richenda: “It was a first: one hand way off the handlebar, smartphone in hand, texting one-handedly and very intently, eyes on the phone not the road, and weaving all over the slow lane and consequently nearly hitting my car. He looked most annoyed when I honked my car’s horn at him to be careful.”

Richenda is in favor of biking, but she wonders whether cyclists need to be legally prohibited from texting in the saddle. Wrote Richenda: “Recalling that your wife has been living in the Netherlands of late, land of the bicycle, perhaps she has some wisdom to share on this.”

Well, My Lovely Wife enjoys sharing her wisdom on pretty much any topic, but instead I did a little bit of research. According to a study done in 2010 in the Dutch city of Groningen, only 0.3 percent of cyclists were observed texting while biking (compared with 5 percent listening to an MP3 player and 1 percent using a phone).

That doesn’t sound like very many. In a 2009 Internet survey, 3 percent of respondents said they send or read a text message during almost every trip. The Dutch Road Safety Institute says that approximately 9 percent of injury-causing bicycle crashes were preceded by the cyclist using some kind of electronic device.

According to Tom Godefrooij, a senior policy adviser with the Interface for Cycling Expertise in Utrecht, there is no specific Dutch law regarding texting while biking, but it would be covered by a general regulation forbidding behavior that endangers or could endanger other road users.

My opinion? Texting while cycling sounds like an accident waiting to happen.

The path less traveled

Speaking of which, when is a path a path? Bethesda’s Kevin Krug raises that thorny ontological question. On a recent Sunday afternoon, he and his wife were biking on a path behind North Bethesda Middle School. The path is popular with walkers, joggers and bicyclists.

“We were stopped in our tracks by a half-dozen people who had set up lawn chairs directly on the path,” Kevin wrote. “They were watching a Little League baseball game nearby — and the path offered the best shade around.”

Kevin told them that the path — a strip of asphalt about four feet wide — was not a patio. “Several of the parents responded that they had a right to use the path this way and angrily waved us off.”

Wrote Kevin: “Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t a path exactly that: a way to move from one place to another? I thought it was rude and selfish of these parents to commandeer the path, forcing everyone else to navigate around them.”

It seems to me that just as you wouldn’t set up a lawn chair on the Beltway to watch the Andrews Air Show, you shouldn’t set one up on a bike path to watch a baseball game. But I’ll also remind cyclists that they shouldn’t be surprised by what they encounter on paths — slow pram-pushers, recalcitrant dogs, obdurate lawn-chair-sitters — and should adjust their speed accordingly.

Send a Kid to Camp

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To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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