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.

  • Bruce


  • I agree with a secondary violation for smoking with children in the car. “Inattentive driving” usually would cover things like applying makeup, shaving, etc. if it was the cause, but while I have a breath of life in me, they will never take away my god-given right as an American to FAX and DRIVE!

  • JohnnyZoom

    Let add “changing the position of the turn signal lever”, “adjusting the rear view mirror”, “adjusting the windshield wiper speed”, etc.

  • Bob Collins

    Minnesotans move their turn signal levers? When did that start?(g)

  • I offered our views on Rep. Slawik’s bill yesterday on WCCO-TV, KSTP-TV and on Minneapolis News Network. Links to the teevee stories below.

    Civil liberties, Bob? Here’s a senerio:

    Doctor to parent who smoked with kid in car: “I have good news and bad news.”

    Parent: “Give me the bad news first, Doc”

    Doctor: “Your daughter suffered a severe asthma attack in your car and will have to be hospitalized until we can get her breathing problems under control. I’m afraid it going to be very expensive.”

    Parent: “Oh no! What’e the good news?”

    Doctor: “Your civil liberties are doing fine…”

    We see this as a public health — really a common sense — issue. I wish we didn’t have to talk about this at all, but sadly, there are still smokers out there who haven’t thought this out very well (I know many smokers who would NEVER do this). I hope the publicity about this bill does some good, and helps to change some behaviors out there.

  • Alanna in MI

    As someone who often drives 16 hours in a weekend, not being able to talk to someone sitting next to you would be worse than talking to them. Sometimes, that’s the only thing that will keep your brain from fogging over. Obviously, State Rep. “Chente” Quintanilla doesn’t drive much. Even listening to music keeps your brain awake for far longer than just staring at the road ahead. It’s just ridiculous.

  • JSmith

    Bob M:

    Public health? I hate to sound insulting but I actually have asthma. And on top of that everyone in my family knows this, and many members of my family smoke. When I was a kid they smoked in their vehicles with myself in them, and I didn’t have problems with my asthma (which is quite severe even as an adult, just for reference). Why? Because they rolled down their window even in winter. And if it was too cold they didn’t smoke.

    It’s not public health to disallow smoking in cars, nor is it common sense. It’s someone trying to tell other people what to do. It would be more thoughtful to teach people proper smoking etiquette, and/or have a fine if there were negative effects that could be traced back to it.

  • bsimon

    “We see this as a public health — really a common sense — issue.”

    If its a common sense issue, it clearly doesn’t need to be a law. Something tells me that the people who smoke in cars when there are children present aren’t a demographic that will change behavior based on another idiotic law. Spend the time & effort publicizing the danger of the practice instead.

  • Bob Collins

    Folks, a housekeeping request. If you post links, use html, don’t put the whole link there that’s not “hot.”

    Just above the “name” box in the comments form, there’s a display showing how it should be entered.

    Please do. You’ll save me lots of time.

  • Okay, Bob C. I’ll try again:


    JSmith — your story sounds like mine. My mom smoked when I was in the car, too, and yes, I also have asthma. By the time my sister (then also a smoker) had kids and was doing the same thing, my mom had come around to thinking differently about it. Both have since smoking, BTW. I’m a former smoker myself.

    bsimon, we can’t convince people not to do this if we don’t talk about it. This bill has people talking — and that’s a good thing.

  • Hmmm. The Internet ate my last comment?

    No matter.

    “Spend the time & effort publicizing the danger of the practice instead.”

    Doing just that, bsimon. People are talking about the bill, which is a great way of getting the word out about the health risks of smoking near kids. Keep in mind, the American Lung Association of Minnesota didn’t draft this bill, Rep. Slawik did.

    I see it as a great “teachable moment.”

  • Bob Moffitt

    Oh, and I agree with the other commentors on State Rep. “Chente” Quintanilla’s list.

    Guy sounds like a nut!

  • Bob

    Because the evidence that second-hand smoke is harmful is conclusive, it makes sense to have a law that forbids smoking in the car when infants and kids are present. In fact, because second-hand smoke is harmful, opponents should be glad that the legislators aren’t contemplating making car smokers liable for assault charges…

    Regarding the idea of education vs. having a law, I can’t think of too many situations where education alone ever moved the meter on quelling undesirable behavior.

    To the list of no-no’s proposed by the Texas legislator, I’d add driving with your feet and driving with your head out the window.

  • Anita

    “If its a common sense issue, it clearly doesn’t need to be a law.”

    This statement made me sit back and blink. What is this nonsense? Is it really so “clear”? Example: Is it not common sense that being impaired by alcohol or drugs while driving is unsafe? By your logic, we shouldn’t need a law against DUI either. People are going to do it whether there’s a law or not, right? It’s also common sense that you should stop and look both ways before proceeding through an intersection with a stop sign, but… well, you get the point.

    As for the nut with the law that would make driving worse than prison, if we really want to have safer roads, we need safer drivers, and hands-on behind-the-wheel training is the only way to do this. Driver’s ed in the U.S. is currently a huge joke and safer roads start with an overhaul of that system. Knowing the rules or not changing the radio station won’t automatically translate into being a safer driver.

  • JSmith

    Anita, did you just compare becoming a severe road hazard to smoking in a car?

  • I’m not a fan of smoking but once you get into banning it in private property or outside like on college campuses it goes a little too far in my opinion.

    at that point why not just ban cigarettes outright?

    btw, what will replace the money made from all the taxes and fees on cigarettes if smoking rates decline?

  • bigalmn

    Interesting, as I was looking at the list I was thinking about how many times cops would be in violation of the law.

    They have computers they use in there car

    They use two way radios

    Some of them have police dogs

    Some eat in the car

    Some smoke in the car

    Some use their cell phones in the car