Posts Tagged ‘traffic laws’

Ohio bans distracted driving, cops to fill in details

A number of states have banned driver use of handheld cellphones, but the Ohio legislature has now gone further by enacting a ban on distracted driving that

retains [such a ban] while also expanding distracted to include “Engaging in activity that is not necessary for the vehicle’s operation and that impairs, or reasonably would be expected to impair, the driver’s ability to drive safely.”

The new law provides no further explanation of the new definition, leaving it to the discretion of officers and the courts. It is thought that this definition could be applied to any kind of distraction that is related to an accident, including consuming food and beverages or adjusting car systems like climate and radio.

The problem here with vagueness and enforcement discretion go beyond the scope of the penalty, which for now is only $100. [Tim Zubizarreta, Jurist; Scott Greenfield; Tim Cushing on Twitter (“a blank check for pretextual stops”); earlier]

“Vehicle Safety Inspections Don’t Increase Safety”

When New Jersey repealed its requirement for periodic auto safety inspections, there was no statistically meaningful rise in the frequency of accidents due to car failure, or to road fatalities whether linked to car failures or not. Alex Tabarrok: “It’s time to ditch the annual safety inspection and either move to no inspection system at all or like Maryland move to a system that requires safety inspections only at transfer. I’m not convinced that is necessary either, since at transfer is precisely when the buyer will run an inspection anyway, but at least that system would reduce the number of inspections significantly.” [Marginal Revolution, New York Post editorial; Alex Hoagland and Trevor Woolley]

NYC police union may cut back courtesy cards

Patrick Lynch, boss of New York’s Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), is reportedly slashing “the number of ‘get out of jail free’ courtesy cards distributed to cops to give to family and friends… to current cops from 30 to 20, and to retirees from 20 to 10, sources told The Post. The cards are often used to wiggle out of minor trouble such as speeding tickets, the theory being that presenting one suggests you know someone in the NYPD.” [Dean Balsamini, New York Post; also the topic of a discussion in our comments section]

Perfect New York touch: the anonymous griping in the Post comes from sources who complain that things aren’t corrupt enough in that cards aren’t being distributed as freely as before. The courtesy cards are sold on eBay for prices that can range up to $200, but awareness of their commercial availability is said to be one reason “plastic [lowest-level] cards are being honored less and less by officers.”

Alex Tabarrok quotes one source on “gold” (family member) and “silver” (most favored civilian) card levels, and another with extensive reflections on the workings of “professional courtesy,” which can include retaliation against officers who incautiously “write over the card” by ticketing someone with police connections.

Commentary from my colleague Julian Sanchez:

Think about the message these cards send to every officer who’s expected to honor them. They say that the law—or at least, some ill-defined subset of it—isn’t a body of rules binding on all of us, but something we impose on others—on the people outside our circle of personal affection. They say that in every interaction with citizens, you must pay special attention to whether they are members of the special class of people who can flout laws, or ordinary peons who deserve no such courtesy. They say that, at least within limits, officers of the law should expect to be able to break the law and not be punished for it. They say that a cop who has the temerity to hold another officer or their family to the same standards as everyone else is a kind of traitor who should expect to suffer dire consequences for the sin of failing to respect that privileged status. Moreover, they say that this is not merely some unspoken understanding—a small deviation from impartial justice to be quietly tolerated—but a formalized policy with the explicit support of police leadership.

Can we really be surprised, when a practice like this is open and normalized, that the culture it both reveals and reinforces has consequences beyond a few foregone speeding tickets? Should we wonder that police fail to hold their own accountable for serious misconduct when they’re under what amounts to explicit instructions to make exceptions for smaller infractions on a daily basis?

And Ed Krayewski:

The cards cut to the heart of the problem with public-sector unions: They create an environment where government employees who are supposed to ‘serve and protect’ the public instead get extra privileges. This is particularly dangerous with police unions, whose membership is armed by the state to enforce laws. Such unions regularly push for rules that protect bad cops.

Crime and punishment roundup

  • “This Massachusetts Lawmaker Wants to Throw Folks in Prison for Having Secret Car Compartments” [Scott Shackford; earlier on compartment bans here, here, and here]
  • Traffic stops dangerous and intrusive. Why not focus them where they’re most needed? [Steve Chapman] More: a different view from Scott Greenfield;
  • Why is AG Sessions enabling forfeiture end runs by police around their own state lawmakers? It’s not good federalism [Natalie Delgadillo, Governing] Angling to end suit, Philadelphia offers to end use of asset forfeiture funds for law enforcement [Robert Moran, Philadelphia Inquirer]
  • White-collar prosecution: “Time To Revisit The Yates Memo?” [Robert Bork, Jr.]
  • What happened when Rhode Island inadvertently legalized indoor prostitution [Elana Gordon, NewsWorks]
  • What if U.S. Department of Justice policies had to be run through OIRA regulatory review for cost-benefit comparison, as many other agencies’ do? [Mark Osler, Marshall Project]

Crime and punishment roundup

  • Citation nation: abuse of fees and fines erodes legitimacy and accountability in local government [C. Jarrett Dieterle, City Journal]
  • If concept of obstruction of justice is not to do injustice itself, it must be confined to a limited number of well-defined offenses [Tim Lynch, Cato]
  • “Drug recognition experts” deployed at traffic stops have a reliability problem, and that can put innocent people behind bars [11Alive Atlanta, Ed Krayewski] Zero-tolerance THC: Unimpaired driver gets six months for fatal crash she did not cause [Jacob Sullum]
  • New York Senate approves bill to make police protected group for purposes of hate crime law; similar proposals have become law in Louisiana, Kentucky, and Mississippi [Tim Cushing/TechDirt, earlier here and here]
  • Now renamed “trafficking”: “Why Governments Always Exaggerate the Prostitution Threat” [Camilo Gómez, FEE, related Libertarianism.org podcast with Elizabeth Nolan Brown]
  • Some problems with requiring “racial impact statements” for new bills on criminal justice [Roger Clegg and Hans von Spakovsky, NRO, James Scanlan, Federalist Society blog]

NYC responds to jury verdict on speeder-friendly street design

After a biker was badly injured by a speeding motorist on Gerritsen Avenue in Brooklyn, a jury in 2011 held New York City legally responsible for not having more speeder-unfriendly street design. The city is now instituting such changes, which according to one advocate should no longer be deemed “subject to debate.” The city was held 40 percent liable, but paid 95 percent or $19 million of a $20 million settlement. “‘This ruling from New York’s highest court puts an end to the notion that traffic safety improvements should be subject to debate and contingent on unanimous local opinion,’ said Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives. ‘The scientific verdict has been in for several years: traffic calming works to save lives and prevent injuries.'” [Alissa Walker, Curbed]

Prosecution roundup

  • Fourth Circuit will review forfeiture case of “pre-conviction, pre-trial restraint of untainted property” [Ilya Shapiro, Cato]
  • “Voodoo Science in the Courtroom: The U.S. has relied on flawed forensic-evidence techniques for decades, falsely convicting many” [Alex Kozinski, WSJ; ABA Journal] “Highest court in Massachusetts throws out another shaken-baby syndrome conviction” [Radley Balko on Boston Globe]
  • Federal judge Andrew Hanen gets results! “Justice Department orders more ethics training for lawyers” [Politico, earlier]
  • Like settlement slush funds, contingency-fee prosecutions divert money from the public fisc to influential private players [Margaret (“Peggy”) Little, CEI]
  • California appeals court: Orange County district attorney’s office’s war on a judge was legal but represented “extraordinary abuse” [C.J. Ciaramella]
  • “New Jersey Bill Would Punish Eating, Drinking While Driving” [Reason]