One of the most pressing safety concerns while on the road today is distracted driving. Admit it: we all use our phones while driving sometimes, no matter how much we tell ourselves that we won’t. While it might seem harmless, even just a quick glance at a mobile phone or other device can distract drivers and put lives at risk. To help cut down on distracted drivers, some cities are enacting and passing new distracted driving laws aimed at cutting down in-car phone use and other common distractions. Before these can go into effect, however, they face significant challenges both in court and in their enforcement on the roadways.
One city testing out new distracted driving laws is Columbia, Missouri. The Columbia City Council voted unanimously to approve the new laws which define distracted driving as “anything that takes a driver’s attention away from the act of driving, including the use of cell phone.” The law is one facet of Columbia’s so-called “Vision Zero Action Plan,” which aims to eliminate all traffic fatalities by the year 2030. While that sounds utopian and all, the laws face significant legal hurdles before they can be officially enacted. Defining what constitutes being “distracted” can be subjective, and it’s not yet determined how police might prove drivers were distracted.
Even worse, Missouri attorney Dan Viets, a member of the mid-Missouri Civil Liberties Association, says that he and many other civil liberties attorneys feel that the laws could be easily abused and used as a pretense for police abuse:
It certainly seems to invite more pretextual stops and more stops for extremely minor conduct. For instance, turning one’s head away from the path of travel to observe things in the vehicle or outside the vehicle. That could be necessary for safety purposes. When someone is involved in a serious traffic accident and prosecuted under this ordinance and their future, reputation and money is at stake, we very well may see that constitutional challenge go forward.
While I’m sure this law was likely crafted with public safety in mind, I can’t help but wonder if there aren’t easier solutions staring us in the face. Let’s face it: giving police more powers isn’t the answer – self-driving cars are. Resistance is futile.