In politics there exists a peculiar phenomenon. It is when a story becomes viral then it is grabbed up by politicians who then turn that story into a cause and then pass a law to address the cause. This process I called “television politics.” The best example of this is texting while driving. There is no hard evidence showing that texting causes more accidents than any other activity going on in a car while it is moving. None. In fact, in order to “prove” it is a problem, it is lumped in with every other act that occurs under the heading “distracted driving.” What is distracted driving? Well, anything that distracts you. Let’s go over the more popular actions:
1. Talking to a passenger while driving.
2. Kids in the car.
3. Using a GPS/map.
4. Tuning the radio or CD player.
6. Dropping something.
9. Odd incident within the car ( I almost wrecked once when a wasp flew in and down my shirt!)
All of these can cause distraction. Politicians like to lump all distractions into “texting” so they can punch up the numbers and create a crisis. But why? Because we think a “crisis” has to be addressed. Since politicians often have to justify to the voters why they should be reelected they jump at the opportunity to be the saviors of this crisis. Funny how that works out isn’t it?
In Huron SD we see the natural extension of the texting “crisis” as the local politicians, those given power by voters (hint- who is coming up for reelection guys?), decided to help out by making it illegal to do anything in the care except drive it. An impossibility but a potentially good source of income for the city. (Which is the other reason there are so many laws.)
HURON, SD –
Huron is the latest city in South Dakota to ban texting while driving.
The ordinance approved by the City Commission on Monday night also encompasses distracted driving. Mayor Dave McGirr says that includes everything from eating pizza to reading a newspaper while driving. The ordinance also bars drivers with learners’ permits from talking on a phone while driving.
The ordinance will go into effect sometime around the start of the new year, with police giving motorists a grace period while they become familiar with the new law. The fine for texting while driving will be $100, and the fine for distracted driving $15.
If you’ll notice, Huron doesn’t have a real problem with you eating or talking on a phone, it just wants the power to tax you for doing it. This is what tickets are. They aren’t prevention tools, they are tax collecting tools. If you speed and get caught you get a ticket. Then you are let go to potentially speed again, at which time- if caught- you’ll get another fine for speeding in the form of a ticket.
Now think about a couple of things here. First, is there a crisis of wrecks caused by eating in the car? Nope. Drinking a soda? Nope. Even reading something like a map? Nope. Yet, as it is the natural tendency for government to do, it has decided to make those actions taxable.
Second, and probably more maddening to me as a retired police officer, is the guy or gal giving you a ticket is far more distracted while driving than you’ll ever be, even if you figured out how to hook up your PS3 to the car! Why? Let me show you in a series of photos.
The above photo is shown in the following article. It is an accurate representation of what it looks like inside a patrol car at night. Now understand what else these officers deal with. They have radios (usually two- one in the car and one on their belts with a mike on their shoulders), computers, emergency equipment panels and yes- cellphones (of which I’ve seen them more on then off when riding around). All of this equipment is constantly talking to them, messaging them, sending updated data to them as they drive their patrol units around.
So, these guys and gals who are going to write you a ticket are distracted by far more than you are, and aren’t wrecking into everything and everyone. So, where is the crisis concerning you?
It’s hard enough to resist picking up the phone or glancing at a text when you’re behind the wheel, but imagine you have a laptop computer with internet access, no less mounted to your dashboard. That’s what driving is like for most police officers, whose squad cars are often equipped with these tools of the trade. And for all the help computers surely provide to officers, they’re also a tempting and dangerous distraction, especially when the person behind the wheel is the one charged with keeping city streets safe.
So it’s probably a smart move for the city of Fort Wayne, Indiana, to install a new system in the police department’s squad cars that automatically disables the computer’s keyboard and touchscreen when the car is moving more than 15 miles per hour.
It may be the first time this technology has been used in the U.S., according to Fort Wayne Police Chief Rusty York, who described the new system to Indiana’s News Center:
“We wanted to develop a system that wouldn’t inhibit officers from utilizing their equipment any more than possible. But just like we tell everybody, you shouldn’t text and drive. There’s a reason for that. And this is a way that we can better protect our officers,” York says.
Police cars are increasingly being seen as mobile offices, where officers can log into databases, run vehicle registration and license numbers and even log into remote surveillance cameras. But of course, being able to do all this while driving kinda takes the safety out of public safety. And the potential distraction is growing.
About 75 percent of squad cars in the U.S. were equipped with computers in 2010, a figure that’s likely increased since. And while there aren’t any specific statistics on police crashes resulting from computer distraction, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence. A 2011 analysis of police crashes in Minnesota found that 14 percent of all crashes were caused by distracted police officers, and half were due to being distracted by in-car computers. An investigation in Texas found distracted driving caused at least 70 emergency vehicle accidents over the past two years.
Drivers in general are 23 times more likely to crash when they’re reading or sending text messages, according to research [PDF] from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Fort Wayne reportedly hasn’t experienced any computer-related crashes, and it’s hoping to keep it that way.
Does all of the input distract the police? Yep, absolutely. My partner and I used to stand in alleys at night off of streets where our fellow officers would drive by. I would stand there just inside the alleyway, visible to anyone looking in my direction. Every time an officer went by they would not see me. The glare from the computer screens, the concentration they had to maintain watching that, talking on the radio and possibly talking on the phone kept them from seeing me and my partner. We used to laugh about it as the officer would drive by. What if we were bad guys breaking into something?
Yet, according to places like Huron, you are the bad guys.
Makes you wonder if it is more about power, control and revenue, rather than safety doesn’t it?