Sunday, October 25, 2009

r u ppl srs?

I know I am a month late in blogging about this, but a new law went into effect October 1 that bans texting while driving:

The original bill, submitted by Del. Jeffrey Waldstreicher, a Montgomery County Democrat, and Del. Frank Turner, a Howard County Democrat, prohibited reading, writing and sending text messages, but the version signed into law allows reading messages. The law does not ban playing games or using applications.

The law, which explicitly bans writing or sending "text messages," does not mention e-mails, Facebook messages and Twitter updates, but Assistant Attorney General Kathryn Rowe said that the law could be interpreted to bar writing any type of message.

However, a prominent defense attorney questioned that interpretation. "If the legislators had meant to ban e-mailing or sending a Facebook message, they would have said that," said Andrew I. Alperstein. "They certainly were aware of the fact there are many things to do with your thumbs. We're going to see an interesting series of cases related to this."

State troopers will be looking for motorists holding cell phones and driving erratically, said state police spokeswoman Elena Russo. If a driver who causes an accident is found to be texting, he could face additional charges and fines, she said.

Although I think texting while driving is really stupid, this is not a good law. I feel the same way about this law as I do the laws that make penalties stiffer for hate crimes. If killing someone is not illegal enough, make it more illegal. But don’t make it more illegal to kill someone because they are white, black, gay, straight, American, foreign or whatever. That is just an insult to people who were murdered in some manner other than a hate crime. Similarly, if driving recklessly is not illegal enough, make it more illegal. But don’t make the penalties for driving recklessly in a politically unpopular manner be more harsh than driving recklessly in a politically tolerable manner.

And isn’t it convenient now that the police can pull you over for appearing to send a text? As a practical matter, how would they ever prove it? How would they know if I was sending a text or simply using an app? The Baltimore Sun article contained a useful FAQ about the bill:

What does the law state? Beginning Thursday, Oct. 1, using a hand-held device to write or send messages while operating a vehicle in motion or in the travel portion of the road is illegal in Maryland, unless it is used to contact 911.

Am I still allowed to dial or talk on my phone while driving? Yes.

Could an officer pull me over if he suspects me of sending a message while driving? Yes, it is considered a primary offense.

What is the penalty? Messaging while driving is considered a misdemeanor, subject to a fine up to $500.

If a law enforcement officer demands to see my phone, must I comply? No, you have the right to refuse to hand over your phone, unless the officer has a search warrant.

Is sending an e-mail, a Twitter update or a Facebook message prohibited? What about playing games or using applications? Legal experts interpret the law differently on the messaging issue. Games and applications are not banned by the law. However, an officer can issue a citation if he believes you were writing a text.

By the way, with a fair amount of irony the State Highway Administration will send you twitter updates to ease your commute here.


JessieX said...

Ditto. This kind of legislation is an utter waste of time. It's micro-managing of behavior that is impossibly ridiculous to identify/track/prove.

Great post, FM.

u r srsly rockin it.