Don’t touch that dial

Cars may be the next battleground of personal liberties. We’ve seen the debate before when the subject of wearing seat belts comes up, but two proposals from vastly different states opens up new fronts in the battle.

In Minnesota, Rep. Nora Slawik, DFL-Maplewood, has filed a bill to ban smoking in any car in which kids are riding. Like the seat belt law, it would be a “secondary violation,” meaning you could only be charged only if you were stopped for some other transgression first.

In Texas, an El Paso lawmaker has proposed a much more sweeping set of restrictions for drivers, including a ban on changing the radio, or even talking to other people. State Rep. “Chente” Quintanilla’s bill outlines a broad set of restrictions in his attentive-driving initiative.

(1) reading;

(2) writing;

(3) performing personal grooming;

(4) consuming food or a beverage;

(5) interacting with a pet;

(6) interacting with a vehicle passenger;

(7) using a personal communications device; or

(8) engaging in another activity that prevents the operator from safely operating the motor vehicle.

(b) For the purposes of this section:

(1) “Personal grooming” includes:

(A) applying makeup;

(B) shaving;

(C) combing hair; or

(D) attending to another personal hygiene or appearance task.

(2) “Personal communications device” includes:

(A) a radio;

(B) a personal stereo;

(C) a compact disc player;

(D) an audio or video device;

(E) a personal computer;

(F) a two-way radio, including a citizen’s band radio;

(G) a pager;

(H) a telephone;

(I) a wireless messaging device;

(J) a facsimile machine;

(K) a radar detector;

(L) a personal digital assistant;

(M) a geographic positioning system receiver; or

(N) a similar device.

Update 4:38 p.m. 2/2/09 – I got a call from a representative of Rep. Quintanilla who clarifies that the bill does not make these activities illegal. Nobody will stopped for eating a burger while driving. It is more what we in Minnesota would consider a “secondary offense,” in which you’d have to be stopped for some other violation contributed to by inattentive driving. He likens it to the doubling of fines for speeding in a work zone. You’re stopped for speeding and then the fine is increased.

Under the proposal in Texas, an officer would check on the ticket or citation that you were faxing when you committed whatever offense you were stopped for. The judge would then have the discretion to increase the fine.