Don’t Use Your Smartphone At A Red Light…For Anything

It all started with seat belts.

Okay, maybe it didn’t start there, but I’m going to guess that’s where it started.

What started? The ability for police to pull you over based upon something they noticed inside your motor vehicle in the United States of America, of course. Really key here to understand is that I’m talking about something you can get pulled over for, which means it is a “primary enforcement law” as compared to a “secondary enforcement law” (which is something they notice only after they’ve already pulled you over for the primary offense). For example, with the seat belts: Wearing a seat belt in the USA was put into law some time ago (other than New Hampshire, where there is no seat belt law), but it has only been more recently that it was became a “primary enforcement law” across the board to where you can get pulled over for not wearing it. Before that time, not wearing your seat belt was only something you could get ticketed for if–and only if–you had already been pulled over for some other reason, because at the time it was only a “secondary enforcement law”. But, as I said, across the board (other than New Hampshire), not wearing your seat belt is a “pull-overable” offense. See what I mean?

The whole seat belt law is a pain in the ass, no doubt. Really, the fact that anything going on in your car can get you in any kind of trouble or cause your leisurely drive to come to a halt is ridiculous on its face. I can (almost) understand why there is concern if tail lights are out or someone is driving rather recklessly (again, almost–I’m an anarchist, me and laws are like oil and water, they just don’t gel). But things going on in your car? Whose business is that? No one’s, in my opinion. In fact, I dare conjecture that legislating things that happen within a vehicle is just a (even greater) money-making scheme on the part of the police (and its government). Perhaps cars were getting built so well in the 70’s that they were running out of reasons to give out tickets (even seat belts themselves could have been part of a safety racket to sell more cars since cars from the 40’s and 50’s were still lasting decades later). Or perhaps it’s all just to empower the “Police State” even more. Wouldn’t shock me at all.

New_Jersey_State_Police_Traffic_StopBut, I grant you, a lot of that is conjecture and perhaps even conspiracy theory (!). So why don’t we cut to the chase?

Something that has become a reality in the realm of you getting pulled over in the USA because of something you’re doing inside your car are handheld cellphone laws. Emphasis on the handheld as you’ll see. While “no texting while driving” has:

  1. Been common sense for most.
  2. Been a law for a long time in many states (not that I agree with laws in any way).

I bet you didn’t know how far that law really went. Yes, you can get pulled over/ticketed for texting while driving, but did you know that you can get pulled over/ticketed for texting while at a red light or stop sign? I didn’t, until I saw someone in court for that reason, and then researched it myself. In fact, this person didn’t get pulled over for texting at a red light, she was pulled over for “using her cellphone at a stoplight“.

You read that right. It didn’t matter what she was doing. She could have been putting on a podcast (perhaps like my own tech show–Sovryn Tech), or some music, or checking her account balance of some kind…who knows? Or perhaps she was lost and was checking Google Maps? Guess what, it doesn’t matter what she was doing. The police officer saw the glowing haze of light from (potentially) a cellphone, being held in her hand, within her vehicle’s cabin. And I don’t care if you’re using the Samsung Galaxy Bigger-Than-Your-Ass 24 (not a real phone, duh), there’s no way that cop could’ve known what she was doing on that phone, texting or otherwise. So it was made clear in a court in New Hampshire (I’m a participant of the Free State Project, after all) that this woman was using her cellphone, in her hand, and a cop saw her doing it and pulled her over for it.

So let’s make this a little more clear. If you are using a cellphone, specifically in your hand, and it doesn’t matter what you are doing on it (GPS related, texting, playing music, whatever), you can get pulled over and ticketed for that.

Now, in which states in the USA is this relatively new “primary enforcement law” in effect? Here’s the list: Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delware, Washington D.C., Guam (fucking Guam!), Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire (I know, I know), New Jersey, New York (All hail the Empire), Oregon, Puerto Rico, Vermont, Virgin Islands, Washington, West Virginia, and a few other states have some varying degrees on this sort of thing. Feel free to look into this for yourself.

While I’m disappointed that New Hampshire is on the list of states that have vehicular handheld cellphone use on the books as a “primary enforcement law”, as I really enjoyed that seat belts are not required in New Hampshire, giving the police one less excuse to pull you over. But in my opinion, now, they may as well pass the seat belt requirement laws. If all a cop needs to pull you over is the glow of something in your hand, and that the use of a cellphone while driving–or even completely stopped at a red light or stop sign–can get you a ticket…well, who needs “Reasonable Suspicion” anymore? In our “mobile first” world where everyone is carrying a cellphone, you might as well just come out and say that police can pull you over willy-nilly (more or less they do that anyway, honestly). Fuck, if you’re a cop, just say, “He was holding his cellphone”, and you can at the very least give them a ticket, or go digging for more so-called “dastardly” acts by peaceful people, or who knows what else could go down in that encounter…all due to these purposefully and disgustingly vague handheld cellphone “primary enforcement laws”.

So, is there anything that can be done to avoid getting pulled over for this nonsense? In the end, not really. Sure, you could have your cellphone on some kind of windshield or dashboard mount–and that way it’s not technically in your hand (which is what the law is supposedly concerned with)–but I don’t think that will really help matters. All a police officer will need to do is claim that he/she saw the glow of a cellphone and you’re done. You may also wonder about using a dedicated GPS device instead of a cellphone for getting around the USA? While these are legal to use (even while driving, apparently, oh the irony), I can’t really envision how an officer could tell the difference between a non-in-dash GPS device and a cellphone, and they’d likely take the opportunity (and it is about giving the police opportunities) to pull you over anyway. And speaking of in-dash GPS devices that come out-of-the-box with your car, those I would imagine are pretty easy to tell that they are just that, GPS and vehicle management systems. But while that may protect you from getting pulled over by police, owning modern vehicles with those systems built-in creates a whole slew of other problems that I’m not interested in.

I know, you thought this whole “no texting” stuff was about safety. Yeah right. This is about what everything else government does is about: CONTROL. You probably thought that smartphone of yours was all about freeing you in a lot of ways. Well, here’s one more example to show you that maybe, just maybe, smartphones may be enslaving you more than you ever realized in our conventional society.

At the Dark Android Project, one of my secondary goals is, admittedly, to get people less reliant on persistent data connections (or, at least the ones coming from major telecoms), and less reliant on their smartphones. Now that doesn’t mean that you need to be “less-connected”, it just means being more conscious about how, why, and what’s behind your connection to the World Wide Web and/or other people at any given time. Maybe this recent development in United States law will be inspiration to make that your personal goal, too.

Carpe lucem!