Thursday, April 23, 2009

Gutter: What's the hang-up?

I’m all for personal liberty and avoiding the over-legislation of personal acts, but I think the state House probably dropped the ball a little bit this week.

From the Post-Gazette:

The House yesterday defeated a measure that would have banned drivers from using hand-held cell phones, but legislators decided to hit drivers in the wallet if they drive carelessly while using a hand-held device.

The initial legislation called for a ban on using a handheld device while driving and made it a primary offense; that is to say, you could get pulled over for using the handheld cell phone while you’re driving.

Instead, the House voted that if you get pulled over for driving carelessly, you could get an extra $50 fine if you were using a handheld cell phone at the time.

The amendment to ban the use of handheld devices was introduced by Josh Shapiro, D-Montgomery County (near Philadelphia).

Mr. Shapiro said state records show there have been nearly 7,000 accidents on Pennsylvania roads since 2002 in which the driver was using a hand-held communications device, but only 425 in which they were using a hands-free device such as Bluetooth. (P-G)

I don’t know about you, but 7,000 accidents in the last 7 years is a pretty convincing number to me. If you could cut down on 1,000 accidents per year with the threat of a $50 fine, I think it’s worth it.

Naturally, the automatic response helped defeat the measure.

But some legislators wondered why the state should focus on banning just this one distraction for drivers. Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, said that on his way to the Capitol yesterday, he saw a driver drinking coffee, smoking a cigarette and reading a newspaper. (P-G)

Yes, all of those things are distractions, just like tuning the radio is a distraction. And arguing with a passenger. And dialing up the iPod. And having sexual relations. And searching under the seat for a wayward french fry. The list goes on.

So many distractions and just not enough legislation to cover them all. But here’s the thing:

I see many, many more people driving like idiots when they’re on their phone than I see people driving carelessly due to cigarettes, coffee, and newspapers combined.

Rep. Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, said failure to wear a seat belt is a secondary offense, meaning a police officer can't stop a car just because a driver isn't belted in. He said failure to wear a seat belt is more serious than talking on a cell phone, but the latter would be a primary offense, meaning an officer could stop a driver just for using a cell phone. (P-G)

The most basic tenet of personal liberty is this: do whatever you want as long as it doesn’t affect/hurt/threaten anyone else. If you don’t wear a seatbelt, you’re putting yourself at risk. If you drive like a moron because you’re using a handheld cell, then others are at risk. There’s a difference.

Five states have already banned driving while using a handheld cell, and the Oregon state House introduced similar legislation this week. Last week, Philadelphia city council voted 17-0 to ban the use of handheld devices while driving. Naturally, all of these bans have exceptions for calling 911 or reporting unsafe drivers, etc. But the trend of banning the use of handhelds while driving is growing.

Shapiro, the Pa. representative who introduced the legislation, says he’s “not giving up,” and I’d have to think that it’s only a matter of time before his law gets passed.

Addendum: I couldn’t find a way to work this in, but I just have to mention it because it’s brilliantly ridiculous and speaks to our state legislative branch.

Rep. John Maher, R-Upper St. Clair, said the bill outlawed hand-held cell phone use "while operating" a vehicle.

Mr. Shapiro insisted that "operating" meant "driving" a car. Mr. Maher said there are court cases saying that "operating" can mean just being behind the wheel of a car that is idling, but not moving forward or backward.

"Let's not criminalize innocent behaviors," Mr. Maher said. "Someone sitting in a parked car talking on their cell phone will be dragged from their vehicle by police." (P-G)

Great point there, Mr. Maher. You’re the pride of Upper St. Clair.

Not really anything else I can say about that.

1 comment:

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