Tiger’s Still Not Out of the Woods

CaptureUnless you’ve been living in a sand trap, by now you’ve heard the news – Tiger Woods is again making headlines and not for his golf game.

On May 29, 2017, an officer found Woods asleep at the wheel, with the engine running, and the blinker signal on. Both tire rims on the driver’s side showed damage, both tires were flat, and white scuff marks were found on the bumper. The report states he was awoken with slurred speech and didn’t know where he was.

Classic drunk driving scenario, right?

Wrong.

Thinking Woods was [clearly] drunk, the officer on the scene performed a Breathalyzer test. The result? .000. Twice. No alcohol was found in his system. And yet, he was still arrested for a DUI.

That’s where this story loses most people.

DUI, or “Driving Under the Influence,” is commonly thought of as requiring drunken intoxication. While alcohol is the most prevalent cause, like most states, Florida’s law targets “impairment.” Specifically, it includes driving “under the influence of alcoholic beverages, any chemical substance … or any substance controlled under chapter 893, when affected to the extent that the person’s normal faculties are impaired.”

And, despite the name, actually “driving” is not required. Rather, the statute incorporates intoxication when “in actual physical control of a vehicle.” Different jurisdictions will interpret this in various ways and to different extents, but most will consider your vehicle’s location, where within the vehicle you were located, where the keys were, and the vehicle’s operability.

According to the arrest report, Woods was “seated in the driver’s seat,” his car was running and “stopped in the roadway in the right lane” with the brake lights on and “the right blinker flashing.” Woods claims he had “an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications.”

Woods’ court appearance is scheduled for July 5, 2017.

Car Idling is No Idle Threat

the-shining-frozen-guy5min-54d39b6156653It’s winter. It’s cold; the mornings even more so. The wind chills your bones as you trudge out to the car. Your breath smokes inside the cabin. The ignition starts up; you hit the defrost. But, why sit in the frigid car when your home is nice and toasty? So, you leave the car idling to warm up while you wait comfortably inside.

WRONG! A lesson learned by one Michigan man this month – idling your car unattended may be illegal in your state.

Nick Taylor of Roseville, MI did what many of us do; he left the car running, in his driveway, while he waited inside for it to warm up. When he came back out what he found was a $125 ticket on his windshield. Although this sounds unusual, Michigan isn’t the only state to have such a law. Joining the ranks are:

  • Maryland
  • Washington, D.C
  • Virginia
  • Michigan
  • Pennsylvania
  • Ohio
  • Colorado
  • Texas
  • Wisconsin
  • South Carolina

Why?

Well, as cited by Roseville Police Chief James Berlin, it’s a public safety issue. Specifically, a running, unattended car makes easy bait for car theft. And the problem with that, Berlin notes, is car thieves “typically flee the area at a high rate of speed, [cops] have to chase, and that puts motorists and pedestrians at risk.”

Like most laws, awareness is usually a matter of enforcement (or lack thereof). And, maybe you just lucked out with a safe, private property. To the rest of us in ticketable areas, while this may seem preposterous, perhaps you can take solace in the fact that you’re also cutting emissions.

… Then again, I hear climate change is a Chinese hoax. So, maybe you should just buy gloves.

Google: Get Out of the Left Lane!

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The left lane is for passing traffic! Oh, wait, there’s nobody driving this car… ?

As you may or may not know, Google has been experimenting with self-driving cars on the California roadways. What you probably, definitely, don’t know is that this past week a Mountain View Police officer pulled over one of these auto-automatons – for driving too slow.

If you’re wondering, yes, it is legal for these cars to be on the road (well, certain roads, anyways). Per the California Vehicle Code, Google’s self-driving vehicles are allowed on roads with speed limits under 35mph. But it is illegal to operate a vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede or block traffic. And that’s exactly what happened here. Though no citation was issued (I’d love to attend that traffic court date), the officer did question the operators on how the vehicle was choosing its speeds.

According to the Associated Press, 17 of Google’s other self-driving cars have been in “minor” collisions since 2010. In response, Google claims that all of the incidents were minor, and that none were the fault of their cars. More troublesome here, however, is Google’s intent to program their cars to drive ‘less like robots’ and ‘more like people’ to reduce how frequently these self-driving cars get hit by real people.

You might be asking yourself, “Why is this troublesome?” Well, putting aside how bad ‘real people’ drive (not exactly the best role model), how would you expect an automated car to make moral decisions?

huh-meme-generator-huh-what-0e4b63.jpg

Imagine yourself driving down the road. Suddenly, a person darts out in front. You slam on the breaks, swerve, and hit a pole. Your life versus his. No? What about 3 people? Or 1 kid? Maybe a crowd of 20 people?

Should (or how should) a car be making these decisions? Would you feel safe(r) in a car that put priority on your life over all others? Or is there a moral imperative to save the many over the individual? A kid versus an adult?

Ok, a little heavy, perhaps. But these are decisions which every motorist makes, every day – whether conscious or not. So while driving the speed limit and avoiding other law-abiding vehicles may be on the horizon, we’re a long, long way away from an A.I. capable of such moral determinations.

For now at least, philosophy aside, the law allows them. And that’s enough… ?

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Pastafar-ID: MA Awards Pastafarian Driver’s License?

Pastafari “Pastafarianism”, or the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Yes, it’s real. At least, in the sense that it’s a real thing… But now, thanks to Ms. Lindsay Miller of Massachusetts and her Flying Spaghetti Driver’s License, this “religious movement” just gained a noodle more traction with religious accommodation.

It began in 2005 when the Kansas State Board of Education was arguing to promote ‘intelligent design’ in Biology class as a parallel to education on evolution. Mr. Henderson, as any good concerned citizen would do, sent in an open letter satirizing creationism with his own account of existence. Basically, he postured that any discrepancies in carbon dating (you know, like how the dinosaurs could possibly exist with the Bible’s account of time), can be attributed to a supernatural creator – which just so happens to closely resemble spaghetti and meatballs – there “changing the results with His Noodly Appendage”.

According to the “faith’s” central creation myth, an invisible and undetectable Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) created the universe “after drinking heavily” (which intoxication is the cause for all of the flaws in Earth). Evidence in favor of evolution was actually just planted in an effort to test the faith of Pastafarians.

Whether you believe this or not is your right (hooray 1st Amendment!). But whether the government chooses to accommodate you for that choice has, until now, been ‘under sauce’ … er… scrutiny.

Just this month, Ms. Miller was approved to wear a colander on her head in the MA State-issued driver’s license:

Pasta ID

Why? Because the 1st Amendment, in addition to letting you believe what you want, also extends to religious accommodation by others – such as wearing a religious “garment” in government identification.

I’ve previously argued that, despite the inherent subjectivity of religious morality, extending protections to all deeply held convictions without close scrutiny actually opens the door to weakening and undermining policies behind religious freedom. So, let’s save that kind of depth for the law reviews. But the question here remains: at what point does satire or parody cross the line with 1st Amendment freedom? Do Atheists really, actually believe in the FSM? Should they have to prove it before something like this happens again?

Maybe the changes in New York have something to say about this…

Beginning in 2016, New York residents might need more than just a driver’s license in order to fly. Why? Because the “REAL ID Act of 2005” imposes requirements on state driver’s licenses and ID cards to be accepted by the federal government for “official purposes”, as defined by the Secretary of Homeland Security. In short, driver’s licenses are state issued – not federal – and therefore have become the de facto identification. Prior to the this Act, each state set out its own rules and criteria, including the look of the card (hint hint), what data is on the card, what documents must be provided to obtain one, and what information is stored in each state’s database.

So, while MA may have made statewide advances for Pastafarianism, perhaps the federal government will ‘spill the sauce’ on the movement. Only time will tell (unless, in a drunken fit, His Noodly Appendages change that, too).

Drinking and Driving …. Coffee?

“Distracted Driving” Covers More Than Texting

Homer Distracted DrivingEveryone knows (I hope) not to drink alcohol and drive… But when have you ever given a second thought about the legality around that Big Gulp? Can of soda? Well, how about that travel mug of coffee in the morning?

Minnesota may have just set a troubling precedent, recently citing coffee drinkers with ‘distracted driving’ charges.

Lindsay Krieger, a Minnesota resident and coffee ‘commuter-drinker’, was recently pulled over on I-94 and fined. Not for speeding, but for drinking coffee while driving. Unfortunately, the law is against her on this one, as Minnesota (like most every state) has statutes prohibiting “distracted” (or “inattentive”) driving. Although texting while driving has received most of the nation’s attention – and for good reason – what you don’t know may just be an issue of what’s enforced.

Every state has its own specific ‘rules of the road’, including what constitutes “distracted driving”. But what’s you may not know is that most of them reach ‘eating and drinking’.

In Maryland, for example, distracted driving is defined as the “failure to pay full time and attention” and is divided into 4 categories: visual, auditory, manual, and cognitive. Fines for failing to pay proper attention can cost you upwards of $100. Distracted and injure or kill someone? With the passage of Jake’s Law in 2014, that may now land you a year in prison and a $5,000 fine.

The real question though is not always what the law says – it’s what the state (and its officers patrolling the roads) are actually going to enforce. So with the laws already on the books, could your state be next to target eating and drinking?

It’s hard to say whether others will follow Minnesota’s lead. But it’s no secret just how problematic and injurious distracted driving has become; perhaps the enforcement is just a matter of time. For now, to be safe – for you and for others on the road – you may want to hold off on taking that next sip…

Speeding Ticket “Complaints” – Protected Speech?

“F**k Your S**tty Town Bitches”

Simpsons Speeding Ticket

If you’ve ever gotten a speeding ticket – this is for you.

It wasn’t your fault, right? Or maybe you were caught at just the wrong second, maybe passing a slower car? ‘Just moving with traffic’? Or, perhaps, it’s entirely accurate, but just really pissed you off…

Well, thanks to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, sharing exactly those feelings on the ticket itself just might be protected speech under the First Amendment to the Constitution.

In 2012, Mr. William Barboza (a Connecticut resident) was driving in the town of Liberty, NY when he was issued a speeding ticket by local enforcement. Not traveling back to NY to contest the ticket, Mr. Barboza pleaded guilty on the payment form. However, that just wasn’t enough to accurately convey his feelings about the matter.

On the payment form itself, Mr. Barboza struck out the name “Liberty” and replaced it with “Tyranny”. Because that just wasn’t enough, before placing the form and his payment in the mail, he wrote this across the top:

Ticket Profanity

Although payment was remitted with his guilty plea, Justice Brian P. Rourke notified Mr. Barboza that it was rejected and he would have to return to NY to appear in court. When he did return, Justice Rourke proceeded to lecture Mr. Barboza about his use of foul language, before arresting him on charges of aggravated harassment (it being illegal in NY to “harass, annoy, threaten or alarm” someone)…  Mr. Barboza was booked, finger printed, and jailed, until paying $200 bail for release.

Here’s where it gets constitutional…

Mr. Barboza filed a lawsuit against the town of Liberty (among others), arguing that the NY statute for aggravated harassment was misinterpreted and, further, that Mr. Barboza’s constitutional rights were violated by his arrest. Just this month, the court issued its ruling agreeing with Mr. Barboza.

As stated my Mr. Mariko Hirose, a staff attorney with the NY Civil Liberties Union, “New Yorkers should not be afraid to protest or complain about a speeding ticket — or any other government action — because they might be dragged to jail for using a few harmless words. The First Amendment protects people’s right to express their opinions about the government, and our government is better for it.”

Important here is the court’s finding that the language, although crude and profane, did not convey an imminent threat. Rather, it was made in the context of complaining about government activity.

So, pay attention to your local statutes, but feel free to share your feelings in all their glorious form about government activity.

Penny For Your Thoughts… But Not For Your Tickets

If I Had a Dime for Every Time Someone Threatened This.

Pennies Are CurrencyTake a penny, leave a penny. But don’t leave the equivalent of your ticket or fine, because there’s no obligation for the entity to accept it as payment.

Sure, we’ve all thought about it. If you drive – or even if you only know someone who does – then you’re aware of the frustration which can ensue from an unwarranted ticket or fine. But regardless of any irk or ire, the trend of disgruntled payments has led to some equally-disgruntled official opinions on the matter.

Most recently is the case of Justin Greene out of Chambersburg, PA, who attempted to pay a $25 parking ticket with 2,500 pennies. The citation – parking on the wrong side of the road for 10 minutes – carried a fine he believed outrageous, and thus warranting this instance of a petty penny payment.

“It’s legal currency! You have to accept it!” Well, yes…. and, no.

Yes, pennies are legal tender (see Section 31 U.S.C. 5103). But, that doesn’t mean they’re acceptable as payments for any and all debts. As the Department of the Treasury points out in these cases, there is “no Federal statute mandating that a private business, a person or an organization must accept currency or coins as for payment for goods and/or services.” In fact, “[t]he minor coins of the United States are legal tender for any amount not exceeding 25 cents in any one payment.” Act Feb. 12, 1873, Rev. Stat. 387, Comp. Stat. 6574, 6 Fed.Stat. Anno. 2d. ed. p. 298 (emphasis added).

In other words – if your debt (ticket, fine, etc.) is greater than $0.25, those pennies and nickels are not “legal tender” requiring acceptance in satisfaction.

In the case of Mr. Green, Chambersburg was nice enough to accept his payment (when dealing with a man like that, sometimes it’s just best to smile, nod, take the money, and be done with it). But don’t rely on that generosity next time you take a trip to your local traffic court.

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UPDATE (6.16.17)

If only he’d read this blog…

Brian McGonegal has become the latest to learn the lesson – a penny saved is a penny earned, but 27,000 pennies cannot be spent. At least, not to pay your trash fines.

In an attempt to protest fines for trash in his yard, Mr. McGonegal brought bags of pennies to the Jackson city treasurer – unrolled, in $27 increments, which he demanded the treasurer count and process. Aside from being impractical and not the city’s job, this form and method of payment is also not legally mandated.

As noted by Randy Wrozek, “This guy would come in every time at five minutes to five — we close at five — with a big sack full of change. We’re not authorized for overtime down here.” Although it’s not unheard of for such payments to be accepted (see the Chambersburg case above), Mr. McGonegal isn’t winning himself any good will here.

Can You Spare Some Change – For Traffic Court?

That Panhandler May Be Looking for More Than Spare Change

Don't Text and Drive

“Distracted driving” – including texting while driving – is a more serious matter than you may consider it.

IT KILLS PEOPLE !

In case you didn’t bother to click that link, texting while driving is now the leading cause of death among teenagers – – surpassing drinking and driving. With statistics like that, nearly every single state has now enacted some form of traffic law to ban (or severely restrict) and penalize using your cell phone while driving. But… people continue to do it… And, in many instances, it’s because the cops aren’t enforcing the laws.

The San Bernadino Police Department, however, has taken a new approach to cracking down on distracted driving – – posing as homeless panhandlers at intersections. In just one 3-hour operation, the SBPD reportedly issued 50 citations for texting while driving. And, amazingly, for many it was because they were too distracted to notice this:

not-homeless-sb-police-cell-phone-violations

So, for those of us who don’t live in sunny California, what’s the take away?

Well, for starters, put down the phone! But, also, know your local and state laws. Although some federal laws have been enacted to encompass certain federal employees, like the majority of traffic laws the specific statutory language on ‘texting while driving’ is set by state and local governments (e.g., municipalities and counties).

Please take a few moments to check what laws apply to you, and maybe save a life.