As of recently most of our ride time has been spent on designated bike trails and mountain bike trails. These designated routes are generally traffic free, absolutely car free, and fun. This shift in preferred routes came after the realization that the majority of car drivers today are more busy paying attention to what is going on inside their vehicle rather than outside. Tandem teams need to take note that there is a paradigm shift taking place in American society regarding the accessibility of distractions inside the automobile and how that translates to their safety out on the roads.
The rapid increase in smart phone and GPS use has placed into the hands of millions of drivers small screened distractions that buzz, ring, and further invite drivers to lose their attention. Studies have shown that with more distractions inside the car drivers are less aware of what is going on around them (study).
Just yesterday while riding to our favorite trail-head we stopped at a traffic light and noticed 3 of the 4 drivers around us where fiddling with their smartphones. While it can be argued that they were not moving at that moment in time it can also be argued that they were not paying attention to their surroundings either. We are willing to bet that not one of those 3 motorists would have noticed if we had decided to make a change in our position on the road.
The implications of this shift in driver habits is significant towards tandem teams. Our safety, and that of all cyclists, resides in an unwritten belief that vehicle drivers are taking reasonable care and responsibility in operating their vehicles. As smaller and slower moving vehicles tandem teams are always at the mercy of drivers to, at a minimum, stay in their lane and follow basic vehicle traffic laws.
New laws outlining proper use of smart-phones while operating a vehicle are constantly being enacted. Intended to codify proper behavior these laws only serve to force drivers to hold their phone down further in their lap to text or type on the screen. Tandem teams will in short order need to decide if their safety is worth the risk or if riding designated bike trails and routes is the only safe option available.