Category: Motorist Freedom

Thanksgiving Links

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

Morning Links

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

Morning Links

Monday, November 21st, 2011

Sunday Links

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

Morning Links

Friday, November 11th, 2011

What About Driving While Confused About Distracted Driving Laws?

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

Slate’s Farhad Manjoo correctly diagnoses the problem with bans on texting, cell phone use, and other forms of distracted driving . . .

During the last five years, 34 states have passed laws that ban texting while driving. The laws in each of those states differ widely—some make it illegal to “send” texts, while others prohibit “electronic communication” as well as “reading” texts. Each of these versions would make Siri-based texting verboten, because even if you dictate a message, you’re still, technically, sending some kind of electronic communication (and if you glance at the screen to make sure Siri correctly transcribed your message, you’re reading it).

This is ridiculous. Sure, it’s a good idea to discourage texting behind the wheel. But the laws’ failure to anticipate voice-texting illustrates the larger problem with legal strictures on automotive technology: The laws are narrow, annoyingly arbitrary, and inconsistent across state lines. What’s more, they’re minimally enforced and consequently ineffective—there is no evidence that texting laws have reduced accident rates…

The worst thing about these laws is their opacity. Because enforcement is spotty—I see people talking into handheld cellphones all the time—and because few of these specific tech questions have been raised in court, nobody knows how we can use our devices. In some ways, the mish-mash of rules makes enforcement more difficult. If you see a guy typing on his phone while driving, should you call the cops? If he’s otherwise driving safely, I wouldn’t—he could just be dialing a number, which is legal.

…but he then proposes a solution that will make all of those problems worse.

A better system wouldn’t make distinctions about what we do on our gadgets, but would instead look at the effects of our actions. The best rule would simply say, Don’t do anything in your car that could be unsafe. In 2009, Maine adopted just such a policy. Its law doesn’t make any particular technology illegal in the car. Instead, it bans “distracted driving”—driving while you’re engaged in any task that could impair you. This obviously includes texting, but the law is expansive enough to outlaw other bad driving habits—eating, applying make-up, or reading a roadmap. Theoretically, it could also allow some safer uses of technology, like punching an address into your GPS while you’re stopped, or asking Siri to remind you to call your doctor when you get home.

Theoretically, sure. But you’ve just taken the problem of too many jurisdictions having varying definitions of distracted and made it exponentially worse. Now whether or a motorist has violated the law is at the individual discretion of every police officer in the country. You now have about 600,000 different definitions of distraction. Some studies have shown that having kids in the back seat is actually more distracting then a .08 BAC or talking on a cell phone. That in theory could now be illegal. So could fumbling with your CD player. Or glancing down to change songs on the iPod that’s plugged into your car stereo. I’d think you’d very quickly be looking at a logjam of cases in which traffic courts are asked to sort out what’s an acceptable distraction and what isn’t.

The idea would also make the enforcement problem much, much worse. How does a police officer look into your car to determine whether or not your eyes are on the road when you’re whizzing by at 55 mph? If the cops is actually driving next to you, isn’t asking cops to gaze into the interiors of other cars on the road itself a pretty significant distraction? Averted eyes aren’t likely to be caught on a police dash cam, either.  In fact, the only time a cop would be able to clearly see what you’re doing, or whether you’re looking squarely at the road, is when you’re driving very slowly or stopped, which of course are the times when driver distraction is least dangerous.

When you put such a vague determination of lawbreaking solely at the discretion of cops, you also open the door to abuse. Pretext stops for drug profiling just got a lot easier. Meeting ticket quotas (yeah I know, those don’t exist!) and blanket revenue generating get easier too. Forget installing speed cameras. If the city needs revenue, just quietly instruct city cops to loosen up their definition of distracted for a while. Given the examples we’ve seen of cities jeopardizing public safety by shortening yellow lights in order to generate revenue, or cops in New York City planting drugs on people to meet arrest quotas, it hardly seems far-fetched.

The simplest solution here is to only pull over and ticket people when they commit actual traffic violations. If you want to raise the fines for people who commit infractions likely caused by driver distraction–swerving into other lanes, for example–go for it. It might even make sense to add some extra punishment for people who cause accidents while distracted, provided you can prove they were distracted at the time of the accident. Or just raise fines and penalties across the board. Though it’s also at least worth asking why we’re having this discussion in the first place. It isn’t at all clear that this is an urgent problem. Roadway fatalities per passenger mile have fallen dramatically over the last 20 years, the same period that all these new driver distractions have become so common.

Morning Links

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

Saturday Links

Saturday, October 29th, 2011

Morning Links

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

D.C. Arrests Thousands for Expired Tags

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

So it’s worse than initially reported.

The D.C. police department has released preliminary statistics on the controversial practice of arresting drivers whose vehicles are unregistered or have expired registration. The numbers indicate that the practice is more widespread than previously thought, with several arrests per day on average.

In the one-year period starting Oct. 1, 2009, records indicate that 2,163 persons were arrested in the District for expired tags. In the subsequent year, ending in September, arrests declined dramatically, to 1,334.

Funny thing about numbers. The article notes that of those 3,500 people arrested, only about 250 were actually put in a jail cell. The disparity between the two numbers first evoked in me an, “Oh, well that’s not so bad” reaction. So just consider that latter number on its own: Over two years, 250 people were jailed in D.C. for having expired license plates. Absurd.

Lunch Links

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Thousands of Florida DUI Arrests May Be Tainted

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened.

Thousands of people in Florida convicted of DUI may not have been drunk at all. They very well may have been under the allowable blood alcohol limit. The problem may have been law enforcement not calibrating the breathalyzer called the Intoxilyzer 8000.

Now, the 10 News Investigators have uncovered documents and emails that prove the state knew there were problems and didn’t do anything to correct it for more than two and half years . . .

The 10 News Investigators obtained letters where a Sarasota deputy noticed there was a problem recording breath samples and breath flow levels as far back as 2007. He wrote in his notes that he even alerted an inspector who agreed there was a problem.

Those notes prompted an email from the head of the breath testing program, Laura Barfield, telling inspectors not to write down flow sensor problems in their field notes. . .

“As we found, almost half of every Intoxilyzer 8000 used in the state of Florida is not properly calibrated. There are enormous implications. I would tell anybody convicted of DUI using the breath test over the past few years they may want to talk to their lawyer because this information the state wouldn’t tell anybody about,” says Harrison.

While several people, including Bob Marois, who were arrested for DUI using faulty machines have had their convictions thrown out, they ended up losing their licenses for up to a year, having their mug shot forever online, and spending thousands defending themselves.

Not to mention that a DUI can get you fired from your job, ruin your reputation, and have all sorts of other extra-legal implications. It’s really astonishing (in a moral way, not a surprising way) that these idiots could allow people’s lives be seriously disrupted, sometimes ruined—and for more people to continue to be falsely implicated—rather than admit to a fixable mistake.

In a just world, the people who covered all of this up would suffer the same sort of repercussions those falsely convicted of DUI did. That isn’t going to happen.

Jerry Brown Vetoes Bill That Would Require a Warrant for Cell Phone Searches

Monday, October 10th, 2011

This is really one of the scarier recent assaults on the Fourth Amendment.

California Gov. Jerry Brown is vetoing legislation requiring police to obtain a court warrant to search the mobile phones of suspects at the time of any arrest.

The Sunday veto means that when police arrest anybody in the Golden State, they may search that person’s mobile phone — which in the digital age likely means the contents of persons’ e-mail, call records, text messages, photos, banking activity, cloud-storage services, and even where the phone has traveled.

Police across the country are given wide latitude to search persons incident to an arrest based on the premise of officer safety. Now the nation’s states are beginning to grapple with the warrantless searches of mobile phones done at the time of an arrest.

Brown’s veto message abdicated responsibility for protecting the rights of Californians and ignored calls from civil liberties groups and this publication to sign the bill — saying only that the issue is too complicated for him to make a decision about. He cites a recent California Supreme Court decision upholding the warrantless searches of people incident to an arrest. In his brief message, he also doesn’t say whether it’s a good idea or not.

Instead, he says the state Supreme Court’s decision is good enough, a decision the U.S. Supreme Court let stand last week.

Last time I posted on this, commenter “Puzzling” made a very good point.

Cell phones are also not simple “containers” to the extent that modern phones show both local data and vastly more data information stored in cloud services, often all integrated together seamlessly to the user. These law enforcement searches are actually retrieving information stored in “containers” elsewhere.

So a traffic infraction can now lead to a search of your email (much of which may be stored on off-site servers, but still downloadable from your cell phone), GPS history, cell phone photos and video, web browsing history, history of phone calls placed and received, text message history, and anything else you do with your cell phone. Troubling, to say the least.

Late Morning Links

Friday, October 7th, 2011

Morning Links

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

I’m speaking at Tulane law school at noon today.  The talk is free and open to the public. So come on out.