Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Meridian City Council: We're Technophobic Fearmongers!

My city is trying to sneak in a texting ban that would "make it illegal for drivers in Meridian to write, send, or read text-based communications while operating a moving motor vehicle." Since I enjoy a good unnecessary law as much as anyone -- especially one that would ban reading a text but not ban someone from revising their PowerPoint on their laptop in the passenger seat while driving through a school zone or looking at dirty pictures on their phone -- I figured I'd repost a portion of my post from earlier this year when the Idaho State Legislature was (unsuccessfully) trying to pass a similar ban:
The Idaho legislature is mostly made up of people who claim to support less government interference in people's lives, but it sure seems like they're happy to support more government interference in people's lives. The latest example is the passage of a bill in the Idaho Senate on a 29-5 vote to ban "texting while driving". While some Senators seem to be saying that the bill would not criminalize the simple act of reading a text while stopped at a stoplight, a quick review of the actual text proves otherwise. The bill defines "texting" as: "engaging in the review of, or preparation and transmission of typed messages via wireless devices." The section of law that's being amended, dealing with Inattentive Driving as a less included offense of Reckless driving, says it applies to "Any person who drives or is in actual physical control of any vehicle upon a highway, or upon public or private property open to public use..."

Unless the apologists for the new law want to claim that the police can't arrest someone for DWI who's passed out at a stoplight with the car running, then clearly the law applies to people stopped at a stoplight, and it clearly applies to reading texts. This whole issue is just the latest example of Idaho legislators who want to control the lives of those without political power -- in this case, teenagers. They claim they want to save lives, but what they're really interested in is passing a law that criminalizes behavior they lack the technical wherewithal in which to engage that's mostly being practiced by people they don't understand.

There are approximately 250 people a year who die in Idaho traffic crashes every year, and in essentially every case the accidents involve cars going over 20 MPH. However, I note that there's no bill currently introduced to lower the speed limit to 15 MPH (with exceptions for emergency vehicles, of course). I guess Idaho legislators are happy sending these 250 people to fiery deaths each year so they can race along at 50 MPH to get to the coffee shop for their mocha latte. [Rant inspired by Berkeley Breathed] Who knows, maybe next the Idaho Senate will decide that people are at risk of running off the road if they're outraged by the sight of people of different races walking down the street engaged in PDA, so they'll outlaw miscegenation. All in the interest of public safety, of course...

Hopefully the Idaho House will see through this attempt at election year political grandstanding, and keep this flawed bill from passing (or at least amend it so that it's clear that it doesn't apply to the simple act of reading texts, especially when stopped).
There's no doubt that texting while driving has the potential to cause accidents; that's why we already have a reckless driving statute. This is clearly an attempt by old people to show younger citizens that they are, in fact, the boss of them. Since the old people on the City Council actually have learned how to dial a phone, they aren't going to ban that. It's just texting, which is beyond their capabilities, that they want to crack down on. I look forward to hearing if they come up with any statistics of how often texting while driving causes accidents, as opposed to other behavior. (Unfortunately, I have to work during the meeting on Tuesday night, so hopefully I'll find someone to go testify for me.)

I really need to find the actual text of the ordinance (they claim it's on the city website, but I couldn't find it after a diligent search), because if it really does outlaw "reading text-based communications" I guess that means we won't be able to read roadsigns anymore without violating the law.

And for some reason, they're not even including a ban on shaving one's genitals while driving.

Update 1005 04 Oct: Here's a response I put up on Facebook to a friend asking if texting while driving isn't actually a problem. Agreeing that it is, I responded:
There are a lot of things I've seen here that are bigger problems that aren't being addressed by this law -- specifically, just plain idiots talking on their cell phone while drifting into my lane. My problems with this proposed law are threefold: 1) By outlawing a behavior more likely to be done by young people (the preamble [essentially] states this) it continues the trend here in the U.S. of the more powerful forcing laws down the throats of the less powerful just to keep them in their place; if they were really interested in reducing accidents, why not outlaw cell phone use altogether? Or reduce the speed limit to 15 MPH? It's because the more powerful like to be able to talk on their cells while driving. 2) It's just another example of a law that encourages people to break it, rendering the younger generation into a bunch of scofflaws. Here in Idaho, we sell fireworks but everyone has to sign an "agreement" not to use them in the state. People laugh their ass off at the law. 3) The law is poorly written, specifying "wireless" devices. You'll end up with a bunch of kids leaving their cell phone plugged into the power cord and texting away.
Here's the text of the proposed ordinance that the Mayor was kind enough to provide to me. Unless the city code otherwise defines "wireless", they really could have a problem with people keeping their cell phone power cords plugged in and texting away, if they choose to fight the law in the courts.

Bottom line -- yes, texting while driving is a problem. I think idiots talking on their cell phones while drifting into my lane is a bigger problem. New laws that kind of address one problem while ignoring a bigger problem just because that behavior is more popular among likely voters doesn't seem like the best use of law enforcement's time. If the police see someone driving negligently, pull them over. Don't keep me from reading a text from my wife to pick up a gallon of milk on my way home from work. Idaho's supposed to be about personal responsibility, not nanny-statism.

Update 1045 04 Oct: If the Meridian City Council really wants to protect its citizens, here's an example of another resolution they could pass.

25 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seriously? After drunk driving, texting while driving is probably one of the most prevalent dangerous habits. I know in my locale, the ordinance includes a ban on operating computers as well, so no reading powerpoints either.

And to argue that it is somehow jealousy and chest thumping on the part of the older elected officials? Perhaps your local government officials are crazy, it is Idaho after all, but that argument seems quite specious to me.

Just like laws against drunk driving, I'd prefer the enforcement to be preventative rather than reactive, as you suggest the reckless driving statue would handle.

I can only imagine your outcry when they mandate hands free cell phone use there, as they recently did here in Maryland.

10/03/2010 7:36 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's been some research you might find interesting. Apparently, the states who ban texting while driving actually show an uptick in motor vehicle insurance claims due to crashes.

http://www.iihs.org/news/rss/pr092810.html

10/03/2010 7:44 PM

 
Blogger Bubblehead said...

Yes, texting while driving is dangerous. However, there are already laws against driving unsafely; why not enforce those, rather than writing new laws because it makes the old people feel good to stick it to the kids? In a state as libertarian as Idaho, I'm amused by the hypocrisy shown by these lawmakers who are more than happy to specifically tell other people what to do.

10/03/2010 8:55 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's no doubt that texting is dangerous, but my sense is that a big kicker for outlawing it is that it is very evidenciary: when someone is texting and has an accident, there is a trail of electronic evidence.

Aside from shaving cream and likely a nick or two, even beaver shaving doesn't have as much play-by-play evidence to prove the crime.

10/03/2010 9:04 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Totally agree with Joel here, enforce the laws you got beyatches! Here in my state there is a law against driving while talking on a hand-held phone, but not a day goes by that I don't see 50 people driving like idiots while talking on the phone.

10/03/2010 9:34 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whoa!!...Yuck!!

That woman in the article is ugly as all hell. I hope the guy who has the unfortunate duty of having to bang her has a few beers and a Patron shot first.

10/03/2010 10:26 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No way. Texting while driving is not limited to the kiddos, it's heading into the adult world as well, and it's pretty awful stuff. These are legit laws to tackle legit problems. The technophobic shtick is humorous, but baseless.

10/03/2010 11:26 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the point he is trying to make is that it isn't the governments business to tell us that driving while texting is inherently dangerous. I am sure that for every person who drives recklessly while texting, there is someone else who does it without notice. Some people have the ability to drive without taking their eyes off the road, but still can type into their phone, or talk on it for that matter.

The government does have the right to enact laws to protect its citizens. It's not a right actually. That is the main purpose of the government. I could quote certain things that mention life, liberty, and property, but if you don't already know those, I suggest a bit of research.

As far as I feel, texting while driving should not be the crime. Exactly how you drive while texting should be the cause for such fines.

10/04/2010 12:46 AM

 
Anonymous escalante blogger said...

hmm, maybe that's true

10/04/2010 4:19 AM

 
Anonymous HMCM(SS) Retired said...

Joel,

Did some digging and found the ordinance. An open & transparent government doesn't necessarily mean that it's easy to find.

http://www.meridiancity.org/local_government.aspx?id=6457

RP

10/04/2010 6:44 AM

 
Blogger wtfdnucsailor said...

Joel - Best be careful when you visit Connecticut. The "texting while driving" law just went into effect. There already was a ban on use of cell phones while driving (hands free permitted) but "texting while driving" was an added offense effective 1 OCT.

10/04/2010 9:45 AM

 
Anonymous 3383 said...

Reckless driving is a bit much, but there is also "Inattentive Driving", which my "reckless driving" was reduced to in court (I drove through a stop sign which I didn't see, mostly because of the setting sun in my eyes) just north of Idaho Falls.

Use it to cite drivers for watching movies, turning their head to talk to backseaters, applying makeup, texting, or being punched by their significant other.

10/04/2010 12:33 PM

 
Blogger Vigilis said...

While spending time on the texting issue, what might state legislatures like IDAHO have neglected?

10/04/2010 2:31 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The purpose of the text band is to add another charge on an accident ticket...or pull someone over when we suspect is DUI'ing...

It's just another tool in the tool belt. Get over yourself, Joel.

10/04/2010 5:39 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course a cop is going to side with the state. It's in his best interest. Don't take it as a personal attack, that's just the way it is.

10/04/2010 8:01 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just another tool in the toolbelt? It is precisely overly paternal laws like this that have turned us into a nation of scofflaws. What is the real crime? My answer is shitty, inattentive driving.

Let's face it, some people can't drive worth a damn stone cold sober with both hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road. Other people are excellent multitaskers who can drive just fine with a buzz, texting, and eating a ham sandwich. Alcohol, texting, children in the car, and cell phone use all negatively affect our ability to focus on the task of driving. Some people are just subpar to begin with.

I think police should devote their time to enforcing the basic rules of the road, like turn signals and the speed limit. I see a huge decline in these basics. Hell, most of the cops don't even use turn signals consistently.

ET2/SS

10/04/2010 11:24 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I commuted on a motorcycle to a job in Silicon Valley for about 4 years before the advent of texting. I saw a LOT of really amazing behavior! Even though we all know "You can't fix stupid", the government keeps trying. Oh. Wait. Maybe stupid shouldn't fix stupid......

10/06/2010 7:10 PM

 
Blogger Micah Seymour said...

Yeah what the first guy said except texting while driving is /more/ dangerous than driving at just above the legal alcohol limit.

http://www.caranddriver.com/var/ezflow_site/storage/original/application/950f49e3568f397ffb6b075b138df684.pdf

(PDF link)

So you're basically arguing that people more impaired than drunks should be allowed to drive.

I guess you didn't have an open book to do this test. (cheap shot)

10/07/2010 3:11 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A national ban on all cell phone use is just around the corner.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-10-08/lahood-weighs-urging-u-s-ban-on-all-driver-phone-use-in-cars.html

10/08/2010 9:06 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This law specifically uses the word "vehicle". Which means if you are operating a bicycle, a motorized barstool, a moped, etc. you will be in violation of this law.

--underwater cyclist

10/15/2010 12:13 AM

 
Blogger Jon said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11/02/2010 11:32 AM

 
Blogger Jon said...

Congrats, your page is the first relevant link when Googling "meridian text law".
I think that the idea may be good, but I'm afraid that the law may be an over-reaction. When someone's child dies, the parents typically don't want it to be in vain. They want it to have some sort of purpose. I think that is what is going on here. This isn't the first time this sort of thing has happened. I recall similar laws in Idaho for riding in the back of trucks.
The devil will be in the details. They'll have to be very careful about the language that is used. Such as “wireless devices”. Also, there are many public service workers which have to legitimately use these types of devices (Police officers even have laptops).
I know that this has been an issue for many car manufacturers too. Some vehicles do not allow use built in GPS touch screens once the car is taken out of park. The problem is that add-on GPS units have no restriction. Also, I would rather someone try to enter directions into a GPS than someone having a huge fold out map and
Since it would be impractical for the law to specifically call out every device type. They would have to call out specific behavior. Such as reading or typing. This is a grey area though, since we are required to read road signs. Even if the language was “reading digital displays in the car”, this would make it illegal to read some vehicle’s dashboards.
There is another problem with this law. What criteria must someone meet in order to be stopped for this? Is it something like, “if the officer observes you looking at your cell phone for more than 3 seconds?” or “if the officer observes you touching your phone with your index finger more than 3 times?” (keep in mind “typing” may not apply to touch screens). I’m wondering if it will outlaw unlocking a phone via password, buttons, or other mechanism.
Lastly, how do they plan on proving it? Do officers have the right to search through your phones message log? If you delete the message then will they attempt to retrieve it on the network’s servers? What if you pull the battery right before they pull you over and say that the phone is dead?
In the end, I think that the idea behind this law is already covered in “inattentive driving”. It is just that we are trying to go after the symptoms instead of the cause. In essence, we are trying to “fix stupid”. I imagine people will just place their mobile devices low in their lap out of line-of-sight of officers. People in SUVs or vehicles with tinted windows will also be able to text easier since there is some line-of-site obstruction. Then at that point we’ll have to fall back on the laws that are already in place that outlaw lane drifting and other activities. We can’t bubble wrap the world.

11/02/2010 11:33 AM

 
Blogger jonericwilliams said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11/05/2010 2:55 PM

 
Blogger jonericwilliams said...

Here is a link:
http://www.meridiancity.org/local_government.aspx?id=6457&terms=text+law

If you know anything about wireless devices there are big loopholes that I think would allow someone to get out of 100% of these tickets.

11/05/2010 2:57 PM

 
Anonymous sex-shop said...

This can't have effect in reality, that's what I think.

1/26/2012 1:23 AM

 

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