By: Laura Koch
Think you’re not ‟driving” while sitting at a stoplight? Think again before sending that text message!
The National Transportation Safety Board has just called for a nationwide ban on the use of cell phones and text messaging devices while driving. If adopted by states, the recommendation would outlaw nonemergency phone calls and texting by operators of every vehicle on the road.
California law already prohibits using a wireless phone while driving, and a California Court of Appeal decision recently made it clear that drivers can’t expect to avoid a ticket just because they waited for a red light before grabbing the phone to tap out a text.
Carl Nelson got a ticket for using his phone while his car was stopped at a red light in Richmond. Nelson appealed his traffic court judgment on the ground that he wasn’t using the phone while ‟driving” because his car was stopped, but the court disagreed.
Nelson attempted to persuade the court that it would defy common sense to prohibit cell phone use in certain situations where drivers remain behind the wheel. What if you’re sitting still in a traffic jam for hours due to an accident? How about calling your child during a rainstorm to let her know you’re waiting in the passenger loading zone of her school? Unfortunately for Nelson, the court determined that the definition of ‟driving” under section 23123(a) of the California Vehicle Code includes sitting at a red light, and it was not compelled to address these scenarios.
Many of us reflexively grab our phone to check voice mail, send a text, or get updated on the news whenever we have a free moment; however, this case is a good reminder that stopping at a red light does not qualify as a ‟free moment.” The California Highway Patrol has already issued 150,000 tickets for distracted driving in 2011, so fight the temptation to multi-task until your car is safely off the road and in park.