Former Republican Ray LaHood, now Obama’s Secretary of Transportation, recently announced that he wants to outlaw cell phones and navigation systems in cars. He maintains that even hands-free cell phones (Bluetooth) are too much of a distraction. Apparently, he believes that reading a map is safer than a navigation system. These 19th-century proposals – along with some other doozies he has up his sleeve – have created a major dispute between the federal government and the State of California.
You may have heard that California has a minor budget imbalance -- about $25.4 billion dollars. Without the ability to freely raise taxes, the new Democrat Governor and his big-spending allies have focused on traffic fines as the primary means to correct this revenue shortfall. They have escalated the penalties for every conceivable driving infraction into the stratosphere. For example, if you forget to notify the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) within ten days of your address change, it will now cost you $214. A jaywalking ticket will set you back $191. Not using your seat belt now lightens your wallet by $148. And if you commit the ultimate of infractions – parking in a disabled zone for a second time – you’re looking at forking over $1,876.
The point of contention between Washington and Sacramento starts with the practice of using a hands-on wireless phone in your car. California now charges $148 for the first offense, and $256 for every one thereafter. Sending - or even just reading – a text message now puts you on the hook for $148. The legislative analyst, who estimates the effects of budget changes, predicts that these cell phone-related penalties could bring in over $3 billion in the first year. And if the police strategically station themselves outside restaurants where Hollywood agents have their lunches, they might even haul in another billion!
This is why the spendthrifts of California’s legislature are so upset. They want to stifle LaHood before he steps on their new revenue stream. Governor Brown actually called President Obama and pleaded with him to muzzle LaHood and his cockamamie idea of eliminating cell phones in cars. Obama replied by letting him know of Washington’s additional plans to control in-vehicle activities, and that’s when matters spun totally out of control.
Apparently, the Transportation Department has plans on the books to outlaw several other activities that people frequently do in their cars. On the list is drinking coffee, eating donuts, consuming hamburgers, and applying makeup. Sure, the Obama Administration has once again been rattling on about eliminating pointless regulations, but, as usual, the regulators themselves don’t seem to have gotten the message.