Distracted driving law will do more harm than good

Washington’s new, extremely vague Distracted Driver Law, foolishly passed by our liberal lawmakers, creates many unintended consequences that will hurt Washingtonians and Grays Harbor County.

Even before a Supreme Court has a chance to deem the law illegal because it is “overly vague” and violates the Constitution’s 4th Amendment of Due Process, severe economic damage will occur.

A law is “overly vague” if it does not adequately explain or state what behavior the law is meant to affect.

Within the law, the wording in question is, “For the purposes of this section, dangerously distracted means a person who engages in any activity not related to the actual operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that interferes with the safe operation of such motor vehicle on any highway.”

That can be interpreted to mean eating, drinking, smoking, grooming or gesturing with one’s hands.

If the average citizen cannot figure out from reading the law what he should or should not do, a court may, and likely will, find that the law violates due process.

And what of law officers trying to enforce this Orwellian law?

Law experts say a law may be void for vagueness if it does not adequately explain the procedures that law enforcement officers or courts must follow when enforcing the law or handling cases that deal with certain legal issues. Further, the overbreadth doctrine says a law is unconstitutional or void for being too broad if it covers activities that are protected by the federal Bill of Rights or the rights listed in state constitutions.

Economically, this new law likely will cause the closure of most of the thousands of drive-through coffee shops in Washington state. Drive-thrus are a feature of many of the more than 224,000 fast food restaurants in the United States, which employ over 3.5 million people and generate more than $185 billion in sales each year.” Passing this law will likely cause the closure of thousands of drive-through coffee shops and dramatically reduce traffic to convenience store gas stations.

Imagine what this law will do to our tourism industry when tourists no longer feel comfortable driving in our state. Rather, they’ll remember Washington as the state where they got fined for drinking a Coke.

Remarkably, safety may not be improved by this law because many of the activities it bans are things drivers do to keep from getting bored, and research shows boredom causes 5 times more accidents than cell phone use. According to an analysis of 2010-2011 Fatality Analysis Reporting System data by Erie Insurance and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the number one cause of distracted driving fatalities was not, as might be expected, talking on a cellular phone or texting; unspecified internal distraction, more commonly termed “mind wandering” in the psychological literature, was the prime culprit. In fact, Erie’s analysis found that 62 percent of all Fatality Analysis Reporting System cases involving distracted driving could be attributed to mind wandering. The second deadliest source of distraction, cell phone use, accounted for 12 percent of fatalities.

Further, the race to be reconnected with our electronics may cause more accidents. Often, electronics improve safety by allowing drivers to reschedule appointments, ask directions, reconnect with family and friends. Electronics may reduce stress while also make traveling business people more productive. Disconnecting drivers will increase anxiety and rushing to get reconnected.

Comically, Washington state is begging to be the butt of jokes across the nation as comedians start listing the things one no longer can do while driving in Washington because anything that causes a driver to look away or take one of two hands off the wheel can be considered a distraction. No doubt Saturday Night Live writers are salivating at this law. Because of the nuisance factor the law will also drive away tourism and business leaders.

Read the bill and you’ll discover that this is a progressive attempt to increase government control over individuals through surveillance and stop and seek authority. It also appears to be about nudging people away from rural areas and into urban areas where they can take mass transit so as not to worry about distractions.

Randy Dutton