Out of Control Policy Blog

Distracted lawmakers

Since a new "distracted driver" law took effect August 1, DC cops have doled out hundreds of tickets and $100 fines. Most tickets went to drivers using hand-held cell phones, but 31 went to other drivers who were "distracted" by their kids, their pets, eating fast food, or drinking coffee.

Usually government safety agencies are all for any and all laws against anything, but ...

Jonathan Adkins, spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, said drivers should be trained not to use cell phones while behind the wheel, but that the lesson should not include a ticket and a fine.

"This is common sense," said Mr. Adkins, whose nonprofit group represents state highway administrations, including the D.C. Department of Public Works. "If we start to pass laws for every potentially dangerous behavior, laws lose their impact."

Lawmakers who want to crack down on possible precursors to dangerous driving (after all, it's possible to drink coffee and safely), seem to forget that there's plenty of actual dangerous driving to police (e.g. red-light runners, intersection-blockers).

Perhaps some officials know this. It's interesting to note one cop's equivocation:

"[Distracted driving] is not our number one priority, but it is important," said police Capt. Kevin Keegan of the Traffic Safety Unit. "We are not getting preoccupied with it. ... This is just another law that fits in among hundreds of traffic violations, though it is high on the list of items that would contribute to a crash."

Seems a tad defensive about the crackdown.

And here's an interesting factoid: According to Lon Anderson, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, rubbernecking at accidents is the leading distraction contributing to crashes.

Ted Balaker is Producer


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