aNewDomain — If you’re a motorist, odds are that you regularly drive through a municipality that is one of the many currently engaged in a strict crackdown on “distracted driving”: using a mobile device to text, or talk on the phone without using a hands-free device.
A distracted driving ticket sucks. Fines are high, usually hundreds of dollars. Tickets add a lot of points to your record. (In New York, which suspends your driving privileges at 12 points, distracted driving costs you 5.) Your insurance rate, of course, may go up. And unlike other moving offenses, judges are refusing to vacate tickets for these offenses, even if you have a clean record and a good traffic lawyer. Nabbed recently for using the speakerphone to talk because my headphones were busted — yes, that’s against the law — my kickass lawyer was lucky to get it knocked down from 5 to 2 points, for turning without proper signaling.
Oh, and if you get two of these suckers in 18 months, say goodbye to your license for at least a year.
I’ll spare you the lecture about the perils of distracted driving. You’ve seen other drivers do it, oblivious and therefore a danger to themselves and others. If you’re honest with yourself, you know your driving goes to pot when you do it.
I’m here to clear up some confusion about distracted driving laws, and what to do if a cop pulls you over.
Let’s Clear Up A Few Things
One thing a policeman told me, and I bet you didn’t know this, is that in many states you’re not allowed to block both ears while driving. So if you’re like me, and you use white iPhone earbuds, you can only use one if you live in New York. Leave the other dangling. In Pennsylvania, go ahead, use both. If you’re not sure about your state, go with one — it’s safer anyway.
There is a common misconception that it is legal to, say, fire off a text message while sitting at a red light. As long as the engine is running, you’re vulnerable to a distracted driving ticket. Cops actually lurk at busy intersections because it’s easier to catch you there!
“Distracted driving” isn’t just about phones. Anything that takes away your attention from the road — applying makeup, reaching around for something, petting your dog, anything — subjects you to one of these tickets.
Here’s How They Caught You
Cops complain that this law is hard to enforce. How are they supposed to know what you’re up to inside your little metal and glass box, flying down the highway at 55 mph? But they’re trying.
Many police departments have purchased undercover, unmarked trucks that allow them to look down, where you’re looking down, at your lap. (Never mind that the cops are distracted themselves!) If you notice a “friendly” trucker matching your pace, look out.
Unmarked cop cars are key to enforcing this law. In Massachusetts, for example, three out of four infractions were issued this way.
Cops look to see if you have both hands on the wheel. It’s not a foolproof system, as the California man who baited his local enforcement by driving around with one phoneless hand on his face can attest (his ruse worked). I myself got pulled over by a very confused cop for talking on my phone — though I didn’t have one with me at the time. I was talking to my passenger, old school. He let me go.
What To Say If You Get Pulled Over
It’s not illegal to lie to traffic cops, so you don’t have much to lose by telling a fib. Bear in mind, however, that if you challenge a texting- or talking-while-driving ticket, the police can subpoena your phone records before your court date, which will reveal what you were up to at the time of the stop.
Still, given the fact that judges are going to hit you hard no matter what, you don’t have much to lose by claiming that you were doing something totally legal on your handheld device.
That’s right: legal. In some states, including California, there are clear exceptions to the distracted driving law. Courts have ruled that you may use your cellphone’s GPS in these states. So, when you get pulled over, before you grab your license and registration, fire up the GPS and have that running before the officer approaches. When you open the window, and he mentions your phone, say you were using your GPS. I’d do this even in a state like New York, which does not have this exception, because courts haven’t settled the issue yet — and it might convince the judge to reduce or throw out the ticket if you go to court (which you always should).
What To Do If You Get a Moving Violation
Call. A. Lawyer. It’s usually cheaper to pay a lawyer than to pay all the fines.
Cover image of driving while texting: Intel Free Press , via Wikimedia Commons