An Impossible to Enforce Law Passes State Senate

Aren’t laws supposed to keep people on the straight and narrow? Aren’t they meant to make it so that people know that there are consequences for their actions and impose a penalty for violating those laws?

If that’s the case, then there is little reason to pass the ban on texting while driving because it’s impossible to enforce. How can a police officer know if someone is texting while driving? When they pull you over, are they going to ask for your license, registration, insurance and cell phone? Does anyone seriously think that police officers are going to be going through the “sent items” folder on all of the cell phones they request?

The reality is that it is unenforceable but in a law I saw no reason for before, I at least understand why they passed it. The reason is this — I sat down for several hours last month and talked with a lady who had lost her husband to a teenager who was texting and driving. The teen had been tapping away at her cell phone and ran into the man while he was driving his Harley-Davidson motorcycle last summer.

The widow explained to me how they had plans for retirement. They were looking forward to spending more time together and going to civil war re-enactments and more Indian pow-wows. She had pictures of him on her living room walls — pictures which kept him alive in her memories. Her eyes welled up a few times with tears but I tried to bring levity to the situation. I knew she hadn’t laughed as much these past few months.

Still, Wisconsin does already have laws on the books against inattentive driving. This law is little more than a feel good measure for legislators who want to pass a law that they perceive will make them look caring at election time and since it passed on a 30 to 3 vote, it seems that everyone in the chamber wanted to get on board with the tough on texting legislation. The problem is that this is knee jerk legislating. If there’s already a law on the books to address inattentive driving, why do we need another law to do the same thing? The reality is that we don’t.

If they wanted to make it tough, they should have required that violators of this new law go into high schools classrooms a few times a year for some lengthy period of time — say a decade, and explain how their texting while driving caused harm to persons or property.

After all, while I have been driving, I have noticed people texting while driving and there is a marked difference in how people text and drive across the generations. Young people, including people in their teens and early 20’s I have noticed, sit there and stare at their phones until their messages are done; driving with their knees and giggling. People a little older hit a few keys and return their attention to the road before looking back down at their phones. This is not to say that either is safe — in fact both are dangerous. However, only the oblivious would argue that they are equally dangerous.



  1. Emily:

    They are equally dangerous. Looking away from the road for three seconds can have the exact same consequences as looking away for thirty seconds. It doesn’t take long for something to go wrong while you’re traveling at car speeds.

  2. Martin Goldberg:

    It’s not really that hard to see someone with their head down looking and thumbing at a cell phone as they drive by – or from behind even. Hell, I see it all the time with teens, which is why I’m glad this may pass.

  3. Steve:

    Nice editorial, but perhaps you should do a little more research before jumping to such conclusions. I would hardly call it “knee jerk legislation.” Wisconsin is just following what more than 30 other U.S. States have done enacting similar laws to protect its citizens by banning texting while driving. Do you really think 30+ states would enact similar laws that can’t be enforced? If an accident occurs and a party to the accident or a witness sees that the at-fault driver was texting at the time of the accident, attorneys routinely subpoena cellular telephone records to prove this. Similarly, if a law enforcement officer can see that a driver is texting it would not be hard to prove and back it up in court if contested especially with cameras mounted in squads.

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