Friday, January 13, 2012

Wait... if the sticker's not there... how does one know the number to call?

And if the sticker is there, what possible purpose could it serve?

Herewith my working hypothesis: This is the sort of logical conundrum that James T. Kirk would spring on evil computers or robots on the original Star Trek. (They'd short circuit every time.) So the purpose of the Florida law -- if this is for real -- would presumably be to keep evil robots from taking up residence in the Sunshine State.

Of course, this could also be fake, but what fun would that be?

(Picture obtained from Popehat. And this is the source linked in the Popehat post.)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Proposed statewide ban on cellphone use while driving a generational issue? I think not

Mr. Gregory Tejada, the proprietor of the Chicago Argus, writes a thoughtful piece today about a proposed statewide ban on using a cellphone while driving entitled, "We're in for generational warfare, and I'm on the side of the 'old farts.'"

Mr. Tejada would support a statewide ban. The Capitol Fax blog, however, reports this morning that State Senate President John J. Cullerton has "kind of gotten away from being the main sponsor" of a statewide ban, though, he adds, he thinks such a ban may be "inevitable."

When such a ban does come before the General Assembly, Tejada writes, "we're in for a serious battle of the generations. I couldn't help but notice in the couple of hours after stories started cropping up on the Internet about Cullerton's comments, one anonymous person went so far as to characterize a ban on cellphones while driving as being the same as banning breathing while driving."

Mr. Tejada supposes that people on his side of the generation gap would favor such a ban.

I would not. Herewith my reasons:

We allegedly have a ban on cellphone use while driving here in the City of Chicago. I have stood outside City Hall, however, waiting to cross LaSalle Street, watching driver after driver cruise by, cellphone in hand. I've seen policemen in squad cars chatting on cellphones. I challenge anyone to drive down any arterial street or expressway in the corporate limits of the City of Chicago and compare the number of drivers talking on the phone with those apparently not talking on a phone. I'd suggest you'd find that, many times, a clear majority of drivers are chatting away merrily.

I can't imagine who all these people are talking to. Like Mr. Tejada, I see little reason to use a phone while driving. I will admit, however, to answering the phone, if it rings, or even, on occasion, to making short calls -- "I'm running late," for example, or, "I'm stopping for gas before I get home." If the call will require more attention than that, however, I have no problem telling a caller, "Look, I'm in the car. I'll call you back in a bit."

Mr. Tejada writes that he has noticed on a number of occasions "drivers who were busy yakking away on their hand-held communications devices" who "weren't paying attention and would have hit me had I not managed to engage in a sudden maneuver."

So have we all.

That is the reason why the City ban was imposed and the statewide ban proposed.

But the proposed solution fails to address the problem.

Cellphones are not the problem.

Distracted driving is the problem.

Mr. Tejada writes about generational disagreement. Let's get generational here. A generation ago, when I was preparing for my driver's license exam, the instructors warned me not to turn on the car radio during the road test. "That's an automatic fail," I was told.

Why? Because the grumpy old people in those far-off days feared that idiot kids like me would pay more attention to the radio than the roadway -- pushing buttons between WLS and WCFL to avoid an acne commercial or to catch a snippet of some new-favorite 45 rising up the charts.

Distracted driving.

I'd bet that, like me, Mr. Tejada has seen drivers applying makeup behind the wheel, or shaving, or eating, or even reading a book or newspaper. If the Kennedy is moving slowly enough, it is even possible that these actions aren't necessarily all that dangerous.

Driving requires concentration. The degree of concentration required varies with the weather. On mornings when I drive, for example, I like my cup of coffee. If road conditions are hazardous, the coffee must be put aside, however.

We can't ban everything that might distract a driver. Yes, "yakking" on a cellphone might be distracting, but a crying baby or a talkative car pool passenger who wants you to attend his church "just this once" might be just as distracting -- yet we don't propose to ban carpools or transporting babies.

I agree that texting while driving is necessarily distracting, even for young drivers who can change focus far faster than their elders: When someone is looking at a keypad, he can not be looking at the road. But even texting is not an evil per se. I might have heard a beep while driving and taken a quick peek at the screen when stopped at the next light. I might have even punched out a quick acknowledgement -- "OK," for example -- while waiting for the light to change. Nobody has to "engage in a sudden maneuver" to avoid me at that moment, since we are all stopped at the light. Yet, if a policeman happened to be observing me at just that moment, I could be ticketed under the Chicago ordinance.

In other words, I can violate the law without engaging in the kind of conduct the law was designed to prevent, namely, distracted driving.

In that sense, the law is overbroad.

And cellphone and texting bans are necessarily enforced only selectively. Clearly these laws are not always enforced, which opens any attempted enforcement up to claims that the law was purposely enforced on any given occasion simply to harass (pick any or all) young people, persons of a certain ethnicity, or persons of a particular sexual orientation. Yet there is no way to enforce these bans regularly or uniformly. Aldermen or legislators can pass all the bans they please but, unless the clear majority of the public is favor of the ban, it will be ignored (see, Prohibition). It is my observation that the cellphone ban is largely ignored in the City of Chicago. What's yours?

Laws that are not, or can not be, enforced consistently and uniformly and which are ignored, undermine public confidence and respect for the law generally. As a lawyer, I consider this the most harmful and dangerous thing of all.

Yet, I agree with Mr. Tejada that distracted driving is an evil that the state should attempt to prevent. I'd suggest we reconsider specific bans about doing certain acts that may or may not be distracting and create instead a blanket offense of distracted driving. A police officer who observes a driver whose erratic movements, drifting, or velocity (too slow or too fast) is causing other drivers to 'engage in sudden maneuvers' can pull that driver over. Maybe the driver is distracted by an intense phone conversation. Maybe the driver is texting. Maybe the driver is distracted by an argument with a passenger or by a radio program expressing views diametrically opposed to those of the driver. Maybe the driver is distracted because he is carrying a large quantity of illegal drugs. Who cares? The danger to the others on the roadway is the same regardless; it stems from the driver's distraction, not from the cause of that distraction. (If the police officer has a dashboard video, he or she may even have the opportunity to document the behavior before making the stop -- but that's another essay altogether.)

See also: Chicago Argus on banning cell phone usage for drivers... (essay by Levois on It's My Mind)