Oklahoma Legislative Lu Lu’s or ‘Lets Play Cell Phone Follies!’

Kaye Beach

Jan 19, 2011

No one will argue that texting while driving is a good idea, it’s not.

When I started EMT school the first heartbreaking wreck I was exposed to was caused by a young driver fiddling with her phone.  Naturally my immediate reaction was “there ought to be a law….”

While my views about texting or talking and driving have not changed since 2007, my views about lawmaking have.  I have been educated over the last 3 years that I have spent primarily trying to put a damper on intrusive legislation.

Here are a few things I have learned in that time that has cured me of the “there ought to be a law…” type thinking.

  • Bills promoted for one reason may actually be intended or used for an entirely different purpose.
  • Bills passed in haste by our legislators will be repented at leisure . . by the constituents.
  • Unnecessary or poorly thought out legislation contributes cumulatively to undermine the strength of the rule of law.

There were no less than 8 bills offered last session that proposed to ban texting while driving in some fashion, at least three were submitted in 2009 and five bills before that. link

Morgan’s Folly

Already this year, Rep Danny Morgan has announced that he will run another bill  proposing to do the same.

Jan 18, 2011

Lawmaker Wants Complete Ban On Texting While Driving

Rep. Danny Morgan: ‘It Will Be Complete Texting, E-Mail Ban On Adult Drivers

link

So before we get carried away here and confuse the fact that abstaining from texting while hurtling down the road at 60 mph is a really good idea with the enshrining of this good idea in law, let’s examine the issue a little deeper.

Video from the Jan. 18th press conference for Morgan’s unveiling of his bill, HB 1316.

Perspective

While every single life lost to a cause that could have been prevented is unquestionably, a tragedy, it is helpful to try and put the problem into perspective especially with alarmist claims that there is an “epidemic” of digital mayhem in progress.

Oklahoma Highway Safety Office interim study, 2009 reports that in “2007, there were 10 fatal crashes in our state involving a driver distracted by an electronic device; in 2008, there were 13.

Despite the dramatic proliferation of cell phones over the last decade—more than 80 percent of Americans now use them—driving in America is safer than it has ever been.  Link

Source: Oklahoma Highway Safety Office

Is this law really necessary?

First of all, the free market actually has a fix for this.  You can use speech recognition technology to dictate texts, emails and internet searches.  It works amazingly well and is getting better all the time.  This same technology translates text to speech so you can hear rather than read any material that you like.

The most powerful arguments for draconian restrictions on cell phone usage are based on limited or dubious studies.

The Oklahoma’s Highway Safety Office’s interim study on Distracted Driving in 2009 overall found the studies used by texting ban proponents to be less than compelling pointing out flaws in methodology and other weaknesses.  The Office did note however, that among young drivers, the issue was a matter of concern but also noted that distraction from sources other than cell phones was an even greater problem. link

As it stands now, Minors are prohibited by law from using a cell phone while driving in Oklahoma.

As a matter of fact, since Nov 1 2010, anyone caught driving without giving due attention to the task at hand can be stopped on the spot and fined $100.

This law states;

“The operator of every vehicle, while driving, shall devote their full time and attention to such driving.”

“No law enforcement officer shall issue a citation under this section unless the law enforcement officer observes that the operator of the vehicle is involved in an accident or observes the operator of the vehicle driving in such a manner that poses an articulable danger to other persons on the roadway that is not otherwise specified in statute.”  link

Bad Driver’s get tickets in Oklahoma!

So,  no matter if you are distracted because you are putting on mascara, changing a CD or refereeing a fight between two kids, the fact that you are not giving you attention to the road thus endangering everyone else, is the focus and for this you can be stopped and ticketed.

Isn’t it the hazardous driving that is the problem?

Another problem-the law is unenforceable.

There are many difficulties with this kind of a law in a strictly practical sense;

Officer Jeff Sulewski said the law is too tough to enforce.

“You have to have a search warrant to access the content of a phone, access somebody’s private cell phone,” he said. “In order to prove someone was texting, we’d have to get a search warrant.

Ok. So what’s the problem?  Get one.  Isn’t that what warrants are for?

The truth is that cops find getting a warrant to prove that someone is guilty of this type of violation to be too much trouble which indicates to me that the problem is really being blown out of proportion.  I think the police are in one of the best positions to judge.  To them, texting while driving is either not enough of a threat to the public at large or (for you cynics out there) not profitable enough to bother with.

In Toledo Ohio nine months after the ban went into effect just 6 tickets for texting while driving had been written.   What police say they are doing instead is issuing tickets for distracted driving, a law that was already in effect before the texting ban was issued.

Texting-while-driving ban tough to enforce

Jan. 10 2011

The less-than-a-year-old ban on texting while driving in Michigan is a difficult law to enforce, according to Livingston County law enforcement officials.

The ban, which took effect July 1, hasn’t had an effect on the county, as area police chiefs say they haven’t written any tickets for texting while driving.

“It’s really tough to tell if someone is texting while they’re driving because there’s no device for us to tell. Everything is visual,” Howell Police Chief George Basar said. Link

More on the enforcement issue further down.

Does the law work?

The good news first;

One study shows found that bans did seem to lower the number of people visibly handling their cell phones while driving.

Other studies do not.

As noted by the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office;

It is also unclear whether laws against hand-held cell phones have a marked effect on phone usage by drivers of any age. In New York, the number of drivers using hand-held phones 15 months after legislation took effect was only slightly lower than drivers using the devices before the law took effect. In Connecticut, the number of users was actually slightly higher 15 months after the law was in place. LINK

Now the bad news;

ARLINGTON, VA — It’s illegal to text while driving in most US states. Yet a new study by researchers at the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) finds no reductions in crashes after laws take effect that ban texting by all drivers.  LINK

The same study done by the Highway Loss Data Institute found that, strangely, crashes were NOT reduced after the ban went into effect.  Even weirder, in 3 out of the 4 states examined crashes actually increased!

That doesn’t mean, of course, that banning texting while driving causes more crashes.  It does indicate that a law passed for the sole purpose of improving safety has, so far, not worked as intended.

“Whatever the reason, the key finding is that crashes aren’t going down where hand-held phone use has been banned”

http://www.iihs.org/news/2010/hldi_news_012910.pdf

One theory to explain this phenomenon is that people still text (surprise!) but when they do they try to hide it making the practice more hazardous than before.

This study is limited in scope by the short time frame it covers but it does demonstrate the fact that merely passing a law doesn’t mean much. Officials concede that it will require steeper fines and additional penalties such as offenders losing points off their license along with costly public awareness campaigns to really show results.

But we still have a big problem with enforceability.  You can’t impose stiff fines if you can’t catch them.

The problem of enforcement was apparent before the first law banning texting was ever issued.  If lawmakers insist upon treating the cell phone as the source of all evil instead of emphasizing the responsibility of the individual to control the vehicle they are driving, we can look forward to a whole new set of problems.

State Police Sgt. Lance Cook, a former traffic law expert with the state who works at the state police Bay City Post, said the only way to prove someone was reading or sending a text message is to look at the digital time stamp on their device.

“The problem is, a police officer is not going to have probable cause to go into somebody’s phone and look at that stuff unless there’s been some type of crime committed,” he said.

“The bottom line is, we had enough laws on the books to handle the results of bad driving from text messaging, eating a burger or changing the radio station anyway,” Cook said. “And to just keep enumerating new distractions to outlaw don’t really give us any new tools.

http://www.mlive.com/news/saginaw/index.ssf/2010/06/law_enforcement_and_saginaw_re.html

Current law that protects our few remaining rights will have to be retooled to accommodate more intrusive means to enforce bans on texting or cell phone usage.  There are a number of ways they could go about it but the  short answer is that in order for officers to be able to effectively enforce a texting ban there must be a way to either

A.  Control when and where you use your cell phone.

B.   Be able to gain access to your cell phone data or phone records in a way that is fast and efficient

Our cell phones nowadays are personal computing devices that hold an amazing amount of personal information about us. Pictures, emails, calendars and appointments are obvious but the possibilities are endless.  Allowing instant, on demand or warrant less access to this data would be an astonishing breach of the 4th Amendment.  I’m willing to go on record with an educated hunch that if this law passes whatever new access to our cell phone tracking devices that will eventually be granted in order to aid enforcement will also be put to use in some other creative way.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has made the banning of texting and cell phone usage while driving his personal crusade.  This fall he upped the ante by suggesting motorist habits might be controlled with by application of some sort of cell phone kill switch.

Making the cable TV rounds to unveil a public service announcement campaign against “epidemic” cell phone use and texting on the road, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood revealed bizarre and alarming plans on Wednesday to install devices in cars that would block a driver’s ability to communicate. link

When asked about another of his authoritarian-style plans,

the “Partnership for Sustainable Communities’ his department had formed with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Housing—sometimes known as the “livability initiative”–was designed to “coerce” people out of their cars. link

Secretary LaHood replied

“About everything we do around here is government intrusion in people’s lives,” said LaHood. “So have at it.”

If state legislators are determined to make the specific uses of certain devices while driving their focus rather than the easily identifiable, dangerous actions of the driver that put others at risk then they will find Secretary LaHood’s comments to be bracing but how Oklahoma’s will feel about that attitude being imported and applied to them even if they accept the argument that it is “for their own good”,  remains to be seen.

Personally speaking, I think it is reasonable for the police to be able to intervene by stopping and citing me if I am driving in a hazardous manner but as to this ongoing crusade against personal electronic devices, I have only this to say;

Rep. Morgan, would you please Get Off My Phone!!

.

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13 responses to “Oklahoma Legislative Lu Lu’s or ‘Lets Play Cell Phone Follies!’

  1. Secretary LaHood replied

    “About everything we do around here is government intrusion in people’s lives,” said LaHood. “So have at it.”
    A great summary to your post – it says it all. Watch this man, he’s almost as dangerous as Cass Sunstein. Terrific, thoughtful post, thanks.

  2. This is where all this is really going:

    California Supreme Court: No warrant needed for police to search cell phone
    http://redtape.msnbc.com/2011/01/court-cops-can-search-cell-phone-without-warrant.html

  3. Bravo! Finally somebody read the Ok Highway Commission study and discovered the same thing that I did. In addition when thereport was ptresented yo an Interim study Committee attended by Rep. Morgan and Rep. Tibbs, the director stated that while he personally though texting while driving was a bad idea, it was not a factor in auto accidents. LAst year in a committee hearing, Rep. Morgan stood up and told the committee that texting and driving was a major cause of accidents in OK and the data from the OK Highwayn Safety commission study supported this statement. I thought I had read the wrong report!!!

  4. State Traffic Safety Efforts Focus on Rare Incidents
    http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/33/3382.asp

  5. Pingback: Oklahoma Legislative Lu Lu’s or “Lets Play Cell Phone Follies!” | don't tread on cat

  6. Pingback: Brian Altenhofel

  7. When I first read Kaye Beach’s words about ‘No New Texting
    Laws’ I thought,”Oh no”! But I actually already agree with her. Let me address our laws first.
    #1
    We approach out laws improperly when we ‘write’ laws. Would you buy a drawing of a car from GM? –and then keeping taking it back for warranty work until it could be driven? ‘Writing’ laws is the ‘artistic’ early step. So why don’t we proceed to R&D and engineer before the product is produced? Lawyers should not be among the engineers, that is a conflict of interest. Our system also has a production problem, as with GM of the past; quantity comes before quality. [ NOTE - I know a lot of effort goes into producing /promoting our laws yet the results are like buying a car that the doors won't stay shut and the wheels keep falling off. Having 90% fewer, and those being properly engineered laws would make it actually possible to be law abiding] I just looked up ‘actually’ – . . . used to suggest something unexpected . . . :-D
    #2
    We have failed to teach the basics of driving before we add the complexities. How many people even know if each car they drive has standard or anti-lock/skid braking systems? Do you even know the principal of using anti-lock brake system? We ‘hammer’ on the idea that speed kills which certainly doesn’t connect with young driver because it isn’t true. Stopping too fast kills you. Teaching panic / emergency braking control would go a long way toward reducing accident / mistakes. You will notice the emphases is on judging stopping abilities.

    We need to talk in a ‘language’ that the ‘audience’ understands. When you look out through the car’s windshield, the information you see is ‘streaming video’. When talking on a cell phone this driving information is interrupted like having a poor broad-band connection. The inattention caused by talking causes breaks of the video stream (even more problems, are your hands and feet positioned for the unexpected). Important pieces of information are lost. Texting involves longer loses of information, major portions of the video stream just don’t exist, like going to sleep. Looking back to the road you have to reorient the information around you in traffic. Like refreshing a broad-band connection that dropped the video stream, you reenter at a different place. Missing as little as one second of information about freeway traffic (at speed, that is 100 feet, or seven car lengths)as a problem develops can mean giving up the distance you could used to avoid an accident.
    #3
    Teaching about driving has far more benefit than writing a new law. Teaching proper driving would solve other distraction problems also. With the rapid advances of driving systems, yearly updates for all drivers would not be out of place. Fifteen years ago, studies in Europe and in the US show that 95% of accidents, yes, 95% are avoidable (or should that be mistakes) : in many ‘accidents’ people just didn’t use the braking abilities that the car had. The :( after ‘mistakes wasn’t intended, but this one is :) !

  8. Thank you for your comments.

    This is a hard point to make because, clearly, I’m not arguing for goofing around with your phone or anything else while driving. But this is not a good bill and you are right on in your assessment. “Would you buy a drawing of a car from GM? –and then keeping taking it back for warranty work until it could be driven?”

  9. Pingback: Add One More To The List of Laws We Don’t Need « Reporter 37

  10. Certainly, I think it is a bad idea to be texting while driving. Doing so is likely to get you injured or killed, along with someone else. As badly as I despise the practice, I have to agree with you, AxXiom. We do not need another law on the books. Just fine those who are caught for distracted driving, crack down on the practice with existing laws, and stop passing more, just to feel like we are doing something positive.

    Great writing, by the way.

  11. Texting while driving is indeed a really bad idea (me driving at all is almost as bad) but bad legislation will surely be the undoing of us all.

    Thank you for the compliment-typing is not my native tongue which is supersonic fast. ;P

  12. No kidding! If they don’t get the answers they want-no problem!! Don’t confuse them with the facts.

  13. You are absolutely right.

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