Stop Reading This and Pay Attention to the Road

The state of Washington has banned "driving while texting," which henceforth will be punishable by a $101 fine. The practice does seem pretty dangerous, since it requires driving with one hand (at most) and taking your eyes off the road at least intermittently, unless you've mastered one-thumb touch typing. But must we have a separate law for each and every form of risky on-the-road multitasking? First we had bans on using handheld cell phones while driving, and bans on smoking in the car are sometimes justified on traffic safety grounds (as opposed to protecting-the-children grounds). Do we also need laws against DWR (driving while reading), DWE (driving while eating), DWAM (driving while applying makeup), DWSM (driving while selecting music), DWWS (driving while Web surfing), and DWRC (driving with rambunctious children)? Perhaps I am naive in matters of traffic law enforcement, but shouldn't it suffice to ban reckless driving, whatever the cause? And if a driver gets into an accident while engaging in one of many ill-advised, distracting activities, it should count against him when it comes to sorting out liability, even if a legislature has never had the foresight to ban that particular activity.

Interestingly, the Washington fine for driving while texting can be imposed only if a driver is stopped for some other reason, whereas the state's seat belt law authorizes primary enforcement. Since DWT endangers others, while driving unbelted endangers only oneself, that disparity seems hard to justify. 

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  • ||

    Does this mean that, unless it is specifically outlawed, DWRH (Driving While Receiving Head) is legal?

  • Brian||

    Wow. Can't you just keep your texting device lower than the window? Will they bust you for looking at your stuff?

  • ||

    I'll tell ya what I think . . . hey, watch it, buddy, that's *my* lane! . . . I think that these nanny-state legislators have gone too far . . . yo, grandpa, could you speed it up a little? . . . one day it's reading while driving, the next day . . . don't honk at me, asshole, I clearly signalled that turn! . . . the next day they'll be telling what kind of bumper stickers you . . . oh, yeah? Well, same to you, pal, and your sister, too! . . . where was I? Oh, yeah, it's time the people rose up and voted these clowns out of office . . . oh, shit, that detour sign wasn't there before. What do you mean, bridge out, I . . . aaaaaaaah . . . SPLASH

  • ||

    It should be noted that the state seatbelt violation started out as an 'add-on' infraction (non-primary cause) as well. They changed that a couple of years ago. It must have been because delayed while they were pondering what nifty slogan to use ('Click-It or Ticket'). I mean, otherwise, you'd have to think that the non-primary designation is just while government gets the law into place, right?

    Incidently, as soon as it became a primary violation the state cops immediately cracked down (like, within a couple of days). My sister from out-of-state was pulled over for not having the shoulder strap 'properly' draped over her shoulder-- she had it tucked under her arm instead, since she'd just driven 500+ miles and it was chafing her. The officer graciously let her off with a warning. But there was no other cause to pull her over.

  • highnumber||

    Lawyers and legal scholar types:
    Some laws are bad because they are too specific and redundant with regard to other laws, and other laws are bad because they are too general and could easily be applied in unintended ways.

    How do I formulate what I'm saying here into a question and how do you answer that question?

  • ||

    I know that in Virginia and Maryland at least, a driver can be cited for "failure to pay full time and attention" to their driving. Seems like that should cover it.

    -jcr

  • ||

    I was astonished to find myself mostly agreeing with an editorial on this subject from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, wherein Wisconsin's state transportation head actually suggested that we not pass more of these laws.

    As [Dennis] Hughes notes, talking on cell phones is only one of many things distracting drivers, and, so far, he has not seen any "good data" to suggest that phones pose more of a problem on Wisconsin roads than other distractions to warrant a ban or other regulations. In fact, he and others say other distractions are more common.

    What's more, there already is a state law against inattentive driving, whether the driver is weaving across lanes or, worse, the center line because he or she is talking on a cell phone, reading a book, eating a cheeseburger or, yes, shaving or applying makeup.

    - (italics mine)

    The idea of limiting the use of these devices by under-18s is contemplated, but that will be honored in the breach, no doubt.

    What's really ridiculous is that moving violations generated by stupidity (e.g.: drivers turning into a street by sliding across several lanes before first establishing themselves in the near one; rolling stop signs; failure to yield to pedestrians who have the right of way) aren't much enforced, whether the drivers have their hands free to steer, their eyes on the road and their ears alert for traffic noise or not.

    Kevin

  • ||

    Legislators have probably noticed that its hard to text "c u @ jacuzzi".

  • ||

    Some laws are ... too specific and redundant, ... and other laws are too general... How do I formulate what I'm saying here into a question and how do you answer that question?


    Something like "how do we find the right balance between these two less-than-optimal outcomes?" Cut the Gordian knot. We need fewer laws, period. As for the examples given in the article, why doesn't "careless driving" cover all of them?

  • ||

    Even though I'm a guy who gets completely out-of-control when it comes to railing against trans-fat bans and seatbelt laws, this one doesn't get a rise from me that much.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    I know that in Virginia and Maryland at least, a driver can be cited for "failure to pay full time and attention" to their driving. Seems like that should cover it.

    You'd think so but we have lawyers who will argue that this thing or that thing wasn't unsafe when her client did it. Only when you do it.

    well, no, Your Honor, eating a cheeseburger while texting and lighting a smoke aren't specifically illegal and since it was only the officer's judgement that the actions were unsafe....which they obviously were not unsafe your honor, as there was no traffic accident or moving violation. I move for dismissal.

    So the lawmakers micromanage it to death...by Gawd we'll make it illegal to eat a cheeseburger while smoking in your car.

  • ||

    I never use more than 1 hand to drive and I didn't think anyone did. If I need to turn or something, sure. But just cruising down the road? No.

    In fact, I mostly drive without hands at all on certain stretches of highway. I use my knees to steer and have been for several years. I remember my grandfather doing that when I was a kid and i guess I thought it was neat.

  • thoreau||

    You guys can give up now. Gimme Back My Dog won the thread in the first post.

  • ||

    You guys can give up now. Gimme Back My Dog won the thread in the first post.

    OK, but DWGH should be outlawed.

  • ||

    The thing I fear most is that they will make driving a manual transmission illegal! (Egad! Driving with only 1 hand?)....

  • ||

    Last year a woman in my area was downloading photos on her cell phone and crossed the center line, ran onto the shoulder, and killed a cyclist. The state's attorney charged her with improper lane usage since there is no law against downloading photos while driving.

    Would a ban against texting make this illegal? Do we just need laws to tell us every little detailed thing that is legal or illegal?

  • ||

    The thing I fear most is that they will make driving a manual transmission illegal! (Egad! Driving with only 1 hand?)....

    Interesting observation, nonluddite. Driving instructors still tell students to operate the gas pedal and brake with only the right foot. Just in case they have to step on the clutch with their left.

  • M||

    Y'all should click on The Wine Commonsewer's name every so often to read his jolly blog. It's very nice. But maybe only when you're waiting for the light to change.

  • ||

    jkii:

    Even when driving an automatic transmission, using just the right foot for the gas and brake pedals is wise. In panic stop situations, people who are in the habit of hitting the brakes with the left foot might stomp on both pedals. Not good.

    If you learn to drive with a clutch pedal after first being taught to drive an automatic, that's one habit you don't have to unlearn.

    Kevin

  • ||

    Does this mean that, unless it is specifically outlawed, DWRH (Driving While Receiving Head) is legal?

    Yeah, but if you swerve when you come, you'll get a ticket for that. Of course, that's nothing compared to what happens if you distractedly drive over a speed bump.

  • ||

    The state's attorney charged her with improper lane usage since there is no law against downloading photos while driving.

    I don't know where you live, but reckless driving is a law on the books everywhere, and is defined in my state as

    driv[ing] a vehicle [with a] willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property

    if that's a bar too high, many states have a "reckless lite" option: Careless Driving (without due caution and circumspection, in a manner so as to endanger, or be likely to endanger, a person or property) which pretty well encompasses many of these "driving while ..." problems.

  • ||

    people who are in the habit of hitting the brakes with the left foot might stomp on both pedals. Not good.

    Kevbrob, legs and feet are not any stupider or smarter than arms and hands. A motorcycle requires that each foot and hand work independently on different tasks assigned by the design of the vehicle.

  • z||

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but how could anyone get ticketed for this as a secondary violation? I mean, could anyone be so stupid and addicted to texting that they would continue to text during a traffic stop?

  • Adriana Lima||

    Screw these laws - I'm typing this while driving RIGHT NOW. And I'm in perfect control, of course, nothing could possibly go wr

  • What was that noise???||

    *looks out at smoke and broken glass at 18th and JFK Blvd...

  • ||

    This entry is an excellent example of Sullum's "damned if you do, damned if you don't" view of the government.

    He complains that laws are too specific, but we all know that if a state replaced all their driving regulations with a general "reckless driving" law he'd complain that it gives the police too much leeway since it's basically a license to pull over anybody for anything.

  • Dave B.||

    Last year a woman in my area was downloading photos on her cell phone and crossed the center line, ran onto the shoulder, and killed a cyclist. The state's attorney charged her with improper lane usage since there is no law against downloading photos while driving.

    I'm no lawyer, but that sounds an awful lot like manslaughter. Aren't there even specific vehicular manslaughter laws?

  • ||

    Does this mean that, unless it is specifically outlawed, DWRH (Driving While Receiving Head) is legal?

    Yeah, but if you swerve when you come, you'll get a ticket for that. Of course, that's nothing compared to what happens if you distractedly drive over a speed bump.


    I'm laughing so hard I'm crying. Thoreau, I think we have a new thread winner.

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