Lapses in Judgment

Earlier this month, the First District Court of Appeals ruled against a California man who was cited in 2009 for talking on his cell phone while stopped at a traffic light. I’ll say the word again, stopped, which I am boldly implying is not the same as in motion. According to a long-established law of physics, an object at a complete standstill doesn’t mow over a kindergarten class even if said object contains a person holding a communication device against his ear (ok, I paraphrased). This FDCA decision is part of a larger, organized movement to make the profession “Jurist” more despised than “Politician,” “Used Car Salesman,” or “Politician Who Sells Used Cars On Weekends.” At this time, it is despised at the same level as “Very Late Cable Installer Who Proceeds To Clog Your Toilet.”

In effect, if you’re in the unfortunate position of not having a hands-free and needing to make an important call on the road, you have two less-than-ideal options. First, you can find a place to park, shut off the car, and make the call. (And yes, you’re breaking the law if the car is still running, according to Nazifornia law.) Second, you can keep driving until you’re in a state that allows it and then make the call. While I haven’t checked the driving laws in the other 56…I mean, 49 states, I would still argue this is the better option of the two.

This state I hesitatingly call home is famous for judges who have less business serving on the bench than the movie stars who pretend to be them. Exhibit A is Rose Bird, who given the chance would’ve happily formed a human blockade between the needle and the arm of a murderer, even if his victims were her extended family and all of San Luis Obispo. Exhibit B is Lance Ito, who made a name for himself back in the mid-90’s, though not a name I’d want people to call me. With the L.A. Coliseum-sized latitude he gave the defense lawyers, I’d almost bet a month’s pay O.J. Simpson sent Ito a gift basket every Christmas. That is, until a judge with more than six brain cells presided over a trial with the former running back as starting defendant.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the members of the 9th Circuit Court, who have made a hobby of telling California’s voters that the state constitution is unconstitutional, and I’m also recommending a rap on the knuckles to Los Angeles County’s entire judicial roster, just for Lindsay Lohan’s incarcerations being so short she’s never even left cheek-prints on her bunk.

Full disclosure: I’ve never been awakened in a parked car by a cop while legally intoxicated. (I have woken up on my own in my neighbor’s vegetable garden wearing his silk pajamas with a nasty hangover, but I digress.) So my take on what follows will be largely uneducated, and we’ll just let this disclaimer stand by for whatever else I end up writing about.

In my research into the motorist from above, I also learned a little something interesting on the subject of DUI laws; never mind driving, it seems alcohol and owning a car don’t mix.

According to, any licensed driver with a .08 blood-alcohol content is risking a night at the Graybar if he gets into his car, sets his keys on the console, and sleeps it off in the driver’s seat. Even sleeping in the back seat may not keep you out of jail, but if your keys are in your pocket, your chances of carnal knowledge of someone you wish had kept you carnally ignorant are greatly reduced.

The main point of these laws is what they term “physical control of a vehicle,” which if they expand their criteria just a microbe, would include the ability to use the word vehicle in a sentence. Even if you’re in the back seat, quoteth the website, “(i)t can be argued that, without much effort, you could be in physical control…” Pardon me, but that’s just about the scariest thing I’ve read since my local paper reported Pete Stark was re-elected to Congress.

“Could” is an awfully dangerous qualifier in the world of law-enforcement. That’s the sort of thing that will land a person in a checkout line a shoplifting rap (“she could have run out the door instead of going to the cashier”), or a high school baseball player on his way home arrested for vandalism (“he could have smashed up someone’s windows”). It’s like the classic joke where a fisherman’s wife takes his boat out to read peacefully on an unfamiliar lake, and gets cited for poaching because the warden saw she was in possession of the necessary equipment for fishing. The woman then asked for the warden’s office phone number, to report his commission of rape. (“But I didn’t rape you!” he protested.  “I know, but you possess the necessary equipment,” she replied.)

I could go on, but something tells me I’m about to discover it’s illegal to drive while working on a laptop.

Author Bio:

Jeffrey Webb is just an average, blue-collar guy who likes to write stuff. He left his home state of Vermont for California with his family at age 7 and has regretted it ever since. A 24-year veteran of the home improvement industry, his hobbies include cooking, playing the drums, and verbally savaging annoying celebrities. He lives in San Diego with his extremely patient wife and two children.
  • Drew Page

    There is no report of anything coming out of California too absurd to disbelieve.

  • Dave O’Connor

    “talking on his cell phone while stopped at a traffic light. I’ll say the word again, stopped,”
    Imagine if he started up, we’d have a televised car-chase; he’d get beaten and frog walked. Then he’d counter-charge with police brutality, invasion of privacy (He was on the phone.) and he’d probably get a reality show, write a book and eventually run for public office.

  • Homer

    What about voice operated vehicles? You’re not supposed to get anywhere near those cars!

  • begbie

    I agree with the “could” arguement you’ve made. That part of the DUI laws is kind of silly. But let me sound off about this cell phone thing, please!

    Distracted driving, in its many forms, is not cited ENOUGH in my opinion. Cell phones are bad enough, but then you have makeup, food, maps, GPS, the notepad on the dash, etc,etc,etc.

    Cell phones are easy….hands free or pull over. It irritates me that people complain about getting a ticket after they make their own INCORRECT interpretation of a law. The judge was absolutely right…..operating a motor vehicle includes sitting at a stoplight because you are still operating and maintaining control over that vehicle (I’m assuming that was the reasoning).

    Remember all the fuss recently about stopping at that white line? DUh! It’s there for a reason, and you won’t get to where you’re going any faster by crossing that line. You get a ticket, fool….especially in an economy where the cities and towns are trying to stay out of bankruptcy themselves.