Meridian City Council: We're Technophobic Fearmongers!

My city is trying to sneak in a texting ban that would "make it illegal for drivers in Meridian to write, send, or read text-based communications while operating a moving motor vehicle." Since I enjoy a good unnecessary law as much as anyone -- especially one that would ban reading a text but not ban someone from revising their PowerPoint on their laptop in the passenger seat while driving through a school zone or looking at dirty pictures on their phone -- I figured I'd repost a portion of my post from earlier this year when the Idaho State Legislature was (unsuccessfully) trying to pass a similar ban:
The Idaho legislature is mostly made up of people who claim to support less government interference in people's lives, but it sure seems like they're happy to support more government interference in people's lives. The latest example is the passage of a bill in the Idaho Senate on a 29-5 vote to ban "texting while driving". While some Senators seem to be saying that the bill would not criminalize the simple act of reading a text while stopped at a stoplight, a quick review of the actual text proves otherwise. The bill defines "texting" as: "engaging in the review of, or preparation and transmission of typed messages via wireless devices." The section of law that's being amended, dealing with Inattentive Driving as a less included offense of Reckless driving, says it applies to "Any person who drives or is in actual physical control of any vehicle upon a highway, or upon public or private property open to public use..."

Unless the apologists for the new law want to claim that the police can't arrest someone for DWI who's passed out at a stoplight with the car running, then clearly the law applies to people stopped at a stoplight, and it clearly applies to reading texts. This whole issue is just the latest example of Idaho legislators who want to control the lives of those without political power -- in this case, teenagers. They claim they want to save lives, but what they're really interested in is passing a law that criminalizes behavior they lack the technical wherewithal in which to engage that's mostly being practiced by people they don't understand.

There are approximately 250 people a year who die in Idaho traffic crashes every year, and in essentially every case the accidents involve cars going over 20 MPH. However, I note that there's no bill currently introduced to lower the speed limit to 15 MPH (with exceptions for emergency vehicles, of course). I guess Idaho legislators are happy sending these 250 people to fiery deaths each year so they can race along at 50 MPH to get to the coffee shop for their mocha latte. [Rant inspired by Berkeley Breathed] Who knows, maybe next the Idaho Senate will decide that people are at risk of running off the road if they're outraged by the sight of people of different races walking down the street engaged in PDA, so they'll outlaw miscegenation. All in the interest of public safety, of course...

Hopefully the Idaho House will see through this attempt at election year political grandstanding, and keep this flawed bill from passing (or at least amend it so that it's clear that it doesn't apply to the simple act of reading texts, especially when stopped).
There's no doubt that texting while driving has the potential to cause accidents; that's why we already have a reckless driving statute. This is clearly an attempt by old people to show younger citizens that they are, in fact, the boss of them. Since the old people on the City Council actually have learned how to dial a phone, they aren't going to ban that. It's just texting, which is beyond their capabilities, that they want to crack down on. I look forward to hearing if they come up with any statistics of how often texting while driving causes accidents, as opposed to other behavior. (Unfortunately, I have to work during the meeting on Tuesday night, so hopefully I'll find someone to go testify for me.)

I really need to find the actual text of the ordinance (they claim it's on the city website, but I couldn't find it after a diligent search), because if it really does outlaw "reading text-based communications" I guess that means we won't be able to read roadsigns anymore without violating the law.

And for some reason, they're not even including a ban on shaving one's genitals while driving.

Update 1005 04 Oct: Here's a response I put up on Facebook to a friend asking if texting while driving isn't actually a problem. Agreeing that it is, I responded:
There are a lot of things I've seen here that are bigger problems that aren't being addressed by this law -- specifically, just plain idiots talking on their cell phone while drifting into my lane. My problems with this proposed law are threefold: 1) By outlawing a behavior more likely to be done by young people (the preamble [essentially] states this) it continues the trend here in the U.S. of the more powerful forcing laws down the throats of the less powerful just to keep them in their place; if they were really interested in reducing accidents, why not outlaw cell phone use altogether? Or reduce the speed limit to 15 MPH? It's because the more powerful like to be able to talk on their cells while driving. 2) It's just another example of a law that encourages people to break it, rendering the younger generation into a bunch of scofflaws. Here in Idaho, we sell fireworks but everyone has to sign an "agreement" not to use them in the state. People laugh their ass off at the law. 3) The law is poorly written, specifying "wireless" devices. You'll end up with a bunch of kids leaving their cell phone plugged into the power cord and texting away.
Here's the text of the proposed ordinance that the Mayor was kind enough to provide to me. Unless the city code otherwise defines "wireless", they really could have a problem with people keeping their cell phone power cords plugged in and texting away, if they choose to fight the law in the courts.

Bottom line -- yes, texting while driving is a problem. I think idiots talking on their cell phones while drifting into my lane is a bigger problem. New laws that kind of address one problem while ignoring a bigger problem just because that behavior is more popular among likely voters doesn't seem like the best use of law enforcement's time. If the police see someone driving negligently, pull them over. Don't keep me from reading a text from my wife to pick up a gallon of milk on my way home from work. Idaho's supposed to be about personal responsibility, not nanny-statism.

Update 1045 04 Oct: If the Meridian City Council really wants to protect its citizens, here's an example of another resolution they could pass.