The Maine Legislature is contemplating its annual fatuity fest of 1,700-plus proposed new laws. Ambitious legislators will again energize a six-month merry-go-round of debate, discussion, deliberation and decision as to how many of their wishes shall burden the public.

Some of these hankerings will be spawned through parthenogenesis (no known father); some by artificial insemination (lobbyist proposals); some will be retrograde (tired old carousel horses coming round again with a fresh coat of paint), and some will be simply barmy. But only a few of these yearnings will be needed or useful – and very, very few will be free of cost.

Every lawmaker wants to create a better life for John Q. Maineiac. As a path to this goal, some solons yearn for improved transportation, some hope for social equity, some crave economic benefits, some seek improved public morality (by their own standards), and some are content with simply renaming bridges or creating new license plates. But, whatever the subject matter, the overwhelming majority of their proposals costs somebody some money.

Prominent this year among these visions of an improved public life are restrictions on the use of cell phones in automobiles. Like their legislative ancestors who ensured public safety of the new horseless carriages by requiring a man with a lantern to precede each machine within city limits, these modern crusaders want to prevent motoring mishaps.

Some experts concur.

The noted safety engineer, Lucius Flatley, agreed that cell phone use while driving is a danger and should not be allowed. In fact, he thought it is time to consider additional vehicle operator restrictions beyond cell phones.

“While they’re on the subject,” he said, “They should contemplate a broader category of motoring crimes. Call them Driving While Distracted, or DWD.” He proposed a list of such infractions for consideration by lawmakers.

His suggestions included: shaving; brushing teeth; checking the appearance of children; arguing with passengers; picking nose; squeezing zits (those over 16 only); applying makeup. Also: using rear-view mirror to look at occupants in the back seat; changing radio station (except to turn off Rush Limbaugh); scratching or otherwise manipulating any portion of own or other’s anatomy; participating in license-plate games with children; passive or active sexual activities; use of earphones (except when approved by a licensed audiologist); wearing flip-flops or someone else’s glasses; praying to other than a Judeo-Christian god; looking aside to view persons of opposite sex in passing cars; holding pets in lap; wearing Arab headdress, chador or burka; use of electronic navigation equipment such as GPS; operation of vehicle with a stick shift by anyone under 40 years of age; crying, cursing, smoking, reading, eating or singing (except the national anthem when you are permitted to hold right hand over heart).

Flatley admitted that these laws would present new problems for enforcement – and he wondered about “standards of proof.” How would “intent to use” – as in the present OUI law – be applied? Was the vehicle actually being driven at the time of offense? Was the offense actually being committed or only simulated? Would texting or calling records be sufficient to ensure conviction, and if so, would erasing these be destruction of evidence?

He did suggest that we could save money by printing a small booklet of all DWD offenses. They could be included in the police academy curriculum and subsequently studied at leisure by law enforcement officials as well as all drivers. Such a booklet should reduce violations, which are expensive to the individual, and reduce enforcement, which is expensive to the state.

In these tough economic times, any such savings could be applied to a retirement fund for term-limited legislators.

Rodney Quinn, who lives in Gorham, is a former Maine secretary of state. He can be reached at [email protected]


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