"But I was just dialing!"

Of life's many annoyances, one of the most irritating to me is bad driving. More often than not, the bad drivers I see are distracted. While there is no curing drivers who are distracted by their own brains, the most frequent visible distraction I see involves an incompetent driver driven to further displays of incompetence by talking on a cell phone.

Yet in my ideal theoretical world (a world I know will never exist), I would not ban talking on the phone while driving. Instead, I would ban distracted driving of any sort, leaving it up to the individual police officer to decide when someone is distracted. It's like, do we need a law making it illegal to eat or drink (or wipe the baby's mouth or change his diapers) while driving? Most people would say no -- because we assume that good drivers will take care to do these things carefully. It's when idiots don't that reasonable people lose their patience and demand new laws. Generations of Americans have been able to sneak bites from hamburgers while driving, but it only takes a few idiots involved in accidents to blame their idiocy on a McDonalds hamburger or something -- and some inane politician wanting to be elected will promote a new law.

Hey, how about cigarette smoking behind the wheel? Not only is it dangerous to the driver himself, but the process of removing a cigarette, lighting it, and flicking the ashes into an ashtray has "caused" much loss of life! Isn't it high time we prohibited that harmful activity as well?

Here in Michigan, texting while driving (text of law here) is about to become illegal. Sounds like simple common sense, right? What kind of lamebrain would be reading and typing while operating a potentially deadly machine that can kill within seconds? (Well, for starters, yours truly -- I wrote a blog post once while sitting in stalled traffic, just because I wanted to be able to say I did. No one was endangered at all, btw, even though I was technically "driving.")

But in general, reading and writing while driving strikes me as the antithesis of common sense, so despite my potential objections based on the possibility of exceptions (as well as the realization that certain legal behaviors such as unfolding and reading a road map while driving are probably more distracting than texting), I have not been inclined to write a post about the anti-texting law. What provoked my ire was to read an entirely legitimate complaint from a sheriff in my area, who points out something the geniuses in the legislature seem to have missed entirely.

How on earth are the cops supposed to distinguish texting from regular dialing?

In two days, police officers across Michigan will be able to pull over motorists sending text messages while driving, but how will they know drivers aren't simply dialing a phone number?

"That's going to be the problem," Macomb County Sheriff Mark Hackel said Tuesday during a discussion with WJR-AM 760 host Paul W. Smith. "No doubt about it.

"For us as law enforcement, that's what we're asking. We understand why they decided to put this law into effect -- I think there was a lot of pressure from the public -- but yet I don't think they always look at it from the law enforcement end."


"It puts law enforcement against the public, and that's what really upsets me," he said.

Well, it's too late now. Officers in Michigan are charged with the legal duty of pulling people over and citing them whenever it looks like they're texting.

Which means if I get lost and need to phone wherever I'm going for directions (as has happened many times), I now have an additional worry: how might my conduct might be interpreted by a police officer?

I thought they had only prohibited texting, but I now see that what will be targeted is the appearance of texting!

I guess I was asleep at the wheel.

Oh well. I guess I should be glad they didn't prohibit driving while drowsy, or I'd be afraid of getting arrested for yawning behind the wheel.

posted by Eric on 07.01.10 at 12:53 PM


A similar law was recently passed here in Washington state. It is not illegal to talk on a cell phone while driving, but it IS illegal to hold the phone to your ear. Unless you are reporting an emergency. Or unless you are a police officer (apparently only police officers know how to drive with a phone to their ear). Also, you are allowed to enter information into your "contacts" while driving, but you cannot text.

Exactly how the police are supposed to determine who is entering contact information and who is texting would seem an insurmountable problem, but there is a simple solution:

Determining who is and who is not texting is easy: police will simply ask the driver what he was doing.

99% of the American population is unfamiliar with the real meaning of the 5th amendment and believes they are required to answer police questions. Thus, the average driver will be more than happy to incriminate himself when asked if he has been texting.

This makes the courts' job much, much easier. Conversely, you can make the courts' job much, much more difficult by being polite yet remaining silent when questioned after you have been pulled over.

davido84   ·  July 1, 2010 1:15 PM

"I would ban distracted driving of any sort, leaving it up to the individual police officer to decide when someone is distracted."

To me, this sounds like a recipe for abuse. Every time someone's tire drifts ever so slightly onto a white line, or they look to the side momentarily because some object in their car has shifted, they may find themselves on the side of the road, where a police officer will of course be using the opportunity to search their vehicle (often and unfortunately, as the above commenter would probably agree, with the driver's assent).

Of course, I can't blame a driver for assenting. To my knowledge, in many jurisdictions, non-compliance is an automatic ticket to jail. Even if charges don't usually come of it, it's sure to ruin your day, and is obviously utilized to deter people from asserting their rights.

P. Aeneas   ·  July 1, 2010 6:07 PM

"Every time someone's tire drifts ever so slightly onto a white line, or they look to the side momentarily because some object in their car has shifted, they may find themselves on the side of the road..."

As if they can't do that now?

What the new law gives is a reason to pull someone over who is not driving erratically at all, but has a cellphone in their hand. Or something that looks like a cellphone.

Donna B.   ·  July 1, 2010 11:05 PM

The roads have been a chief avenue of policing the population.

It's time to finish developing those transporters, and get the government off of our backs while traveling.

And think of what transporters will do for the smuggling trade! The American founding was in many respects a smugglers' rebellion. Let's respect tradition and get back to our roots.

Brett   ·  July 2, 2010 8:09 AM

I'm with Brett.
I want my car to drive me there while I do whatever I feel like doing.

That law raises interesting Constitutional questions, if they say you were texting and you say you weren't, can the police look in your phone to see what you were doing? It seems to me the law says they can, but I wonder how that works under the 5th amendment.

Sorry, I know we don't use the Constitution anymore, I just like to make myself laugh.

Veeshir   ·  July 2, 2010 7:07 PM

Sure, they can, Veeshir, the same way they go about collecting any legal evidence: they get a warrant. Now, they will have judges who will keep a set of undated warrants in the photocopier, but that's another issue.

SDN   ·  July 4, 2010 7:31 AM

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