We need a little more anarchy. I’m late in posting this because I had to write it from a New York jail.
See, I made a serious error in judgement. I texted my friend Liz Arden from my car. “On my way to Plattsburg Airport,” I wrote.
I was about to pull back out onto entrance ramp from the shoulder where I had stopped when I noticed flashing lights in the rear view mirror.
“May I see your license and registration, sir?” the trooper asked politely.
“What’s the trouble, officer?” I said.
“You are in violation of section 1225-d of the vehicle and traffic law of New York state,” he replied. “Texting while operating a motor vehicle.”
“I wasn’t moving, officer. My speed was zero. I pulled over and stopped deliberately to sit here so I could use my electronic device safely and legally.”
“New York does not require you to be speeding for me to consider that you are operating your vehicle, sir.”
I found that interesting, since motion is defined as the act, process, or state of changing place or position and some ΔV is necessary to effect that.
Sir Isaac Newton compiled his laws of motion in the 17th Century, some years before we started regulating vehicular communication. In fact, some years before we started thinking about vehicles powered by much other than hay. His three laws describe the relationship between the forces acting on a body and its motion due to those forces; they form the basis for classical mechanics.
Newton’s First Law: The velocity of a body remains constant unless the body is acted upon by an external force. It is often expressed as “a body in motion stays in motion and a car sitting dead on the street ain’t moving.”
“Now wait just a darned minute,” I said. Troopers like being told that. “Imagine this scenario, officer. Imagine that I am sitting in a public park, motionless, with a butter knife. A ground squirrel has chewed on my nuts. I am seriously enraged and am plotting the hideous death of that squirrel. Foam is coming out of my ears. Steam from my mouth. But the squirrel is still sitting in the tree, chattering. And I haven’t moved from my park bench.”
He moved his hand to the side of his utility belt.
“Step out of the car, please, sir.”
“You can’t arrest me for murder for sitting in a public park, motionless, with a butter knife,” I told him. “So you also can’t arrest me for a moving violation when I am sitting in my stopped car, motionless.”
Vermont’s 2009 “Texting Law” (23 V.S.A. § 1099) states, “A person shall not engage in texting while operating a moving motor vehicle on a highway.” New York’s law is similar but longer winded. Police in New York can stop drivers for using handheld devices while driving, making it a primary traffic offense. That state’s law also increased the penalty from a two- to a three-point offense with a fine of up to $150.
The trooper is using a definition of “operate a motor vehicle” that means more than just “drive,” “driving,” or “driven.” Their definition seems to cover all matters related to having a car near a highway, whether you be in actual motion or at rest.
Under those circumstances, the New York law that states that “no person shall operate a motor vehicle unless all front seat passengers under the age of sixteen are restrained by a safety belt…” means that the trooper can cite me for sitting at the foot of my friend’s driveway in Rouse’s Point with my granddaughter if she’s not belted in.
“I’m thinking it’s time to tune up the law,” my friend Denny Crane might say.
Fortunately, the cursory examination of my car didn’t turn up the butter knife in my glove box.