No one can agree on distracted driving bill

driving

A little over a year after Superstorm Sandy hit the New Jersey coastline, another threat is now approaching. This time, it isn’t coming from the ocean but from inside the halls of the state legislatures in Harrisburg and Trenton. I’m calling it: Superstorm Regulations.

Starting Jan. 1, a gas tax hike will take effect in Pennsylvania — a 9.5-cent increase per gallon for unleaded, according to PennDOT. And with higher gas prices at the pump, that means less people will take the trip down to the shore this summer.

If that wasn’t bad enough news, check out phase two of Superstorm Regulations — a newly proposed distracted driving bill in New Jersey could slap unsuspecting vacationers with a $200 fine.

In New Jersey, Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) is a well meaning man on a power-tripping mission.

“Folks pay attention to the road,” Wisneiwski said.

What’s wrong with the current distracted driving law, which includes a ban on using a cell phone? It doesn’t go far enough, he believes.

“Cell phones aren’t the full universe of distracted driving,” Wisneiwski said.

If his bill passed, eating a hamburger, smoking, putting on makeup or any activity unrelated to the actual operation of a motor vehicle could result in being pulled over. This would mean countless tickets for summer vacationers who just want to spend a carefree weekend on the beach.

Of course, Wisneiwski didn’t explain his bill that way, claiming that the examples he’s read in newspapers were “absurd”. But when I asked him to explain an example of distracted driving, he gave me a bizarre, unlikely example of his own.

“If a police officer sees you shaving and drinking a cup of coffee while driving to work,” Wisneiwski said, “you’re distracted and he ought to pull you over.”

The problem with the bill is that distracted driving is a vague, subjective concept. The assemblyman even admitted it was a subjective idea when I talked to him.

Common sense tells us that unless a motorist is swerving over a line or in obvious danger to other drivers, they should not be pulled over.

Steve Carrellas, a New Jersey spokesperson for the National Motorist Association, said the newly proposed law in New Jersey is not needed.

“The problem with the bill is it goes after certain actions that could be interpreted as careless driving,” Carrellas said. “Just because someone is looking at a map or changing a CD and a police officer observes them, it is not clear this is unsafe driving.”

Wisneiwski called Carrellas out for his comments.

“The NMA representative says you should be able to read a map and drive. If I’m driving 60 mph and reading, I’m a danger,” Wisneiwski said. “It’s not the NMA, it’s the association to minimize any violations.”

Carrella said that his organization aims to protect motorists from unneeded driving regulations. He said that like the proposed bill, the cell phone law also falls in to that category.

“The cell phone bill overemphasizes a particular action,” Carrella said. “It distracts from the overall problem.”

Wisneiwski said that he was frustrated by the “don’t tell us how to drive,” libertarian attitude.

If we needed any more proof the bill was too vague — both of these men know the driving laws like the back of their hands and even they can’t agree on what “distracted driving” is. How will police officers and drivers ever agree? But Carrellas isn’t too worried. He laughed off the assemblyman’s previous attempts with a similar bill, known several years ago as the “ham sandwich bill.” Carrellas said he believed it wouldn’t pass. Wisneiwski disagreed.

“I’d like to borrow his crystal ball,” Wisneiwski said.

I don’t have a crystal ball either, but for the sake of the shore and vacationers, let’s hope this bill doesn’t pass. The gas tax hike will do enough economic damage for one summer.


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