O'Fallon Missouri, December 12, 2014
Checking Your Blind Spot in O'Fallon Missouri Could Potentially Get You A Ticket For Distracted Driving Says Former Judge Mike Carter
There is a debate raging in the City of O'Fallon between some government officials, who say they are taking a stand for public safety, and residents who feel a local ordinance is intrusive on their rights. While many local communities have enacted distracted driving ordinances to deal with texting while driving, O'Fallon has expanded the definition of distracted driving to include a whole litany of things many drivers take for granted.
Currently, state law only bans texting for those 21 and younger. Because the State Law says it supersedes local ordinances, the O'Fallon City Attorney believes cities which only ban texting may be subject to having those laws challenged. O'Fallon is attempting to get around that potential problem by writing a much broader law that would apply to any distraction. Other communities, such as the City of St. Charles, have simply banned texting for drivers of all ages while operating a motor vehicle and don't believe there is a conflict with the state law.
|Checking Your Blind Spot Could Potentially|
Get You A Ticket In O'Fallon Missouri
For Distracted Driving Says Former Judge
The exact wording of the relevant section of Ordinance 6042 paragraph C reads:
"It shall be prima facie evidence that a vehicle operator is not exercising the highest degree of care if the operator of a moving vehicle engages in any conduct that causes his or her vision or attention to be obscured, diminished or directed away from the path of travel or operation of the vehicle, including, but not limited to, by using a mirror to engage in grooming; reading anything located in the vehicle other than operational information displayed on vehicle gauges and equipment; writing; drawing; manually inputting information into a GPS or mapping device, or turning one's head substantially away from the path of travel to observe things in the vehicle or outside the vehicle but contrary to the path of travel."
Proponents like to point out that things like putting on make-up, checking your hair in the mirror, writing down an address, or texting are dangerous and should be banned. However, opponents believe that the wording of the law could include normal occurrences like turning your head to find out if your child unsnapped his seatbelt, looking for an address or sign on a commercial building, or even getting your sunglasses out.
Opponents of the new law have begun a petition drive to try to have the City Council reconsider the ordinance or place it on the ballot in April. Former State Representative Cynthia Davis of O'Fallon says that the new law violates individual liberty and is an intrusion, and Councilman John Haman, the lone dissenting vote on the Board of Aldermen, has expressed concern that people could be pulled over for eating or having a beverage.
O'Fallon Police Chief Roy Joachimstaler has said that officers would mainly use the law when investigating accidents that have already occurred. But some are concerned that since the new law says that turning your head away is "prima face evidence", a police officer could pull you over just for seeing you turn your head.
|Judge Mike Carter|
Current Judicial Candidate and former Municipal Judge of Wentzville Missouri, Mike Carter, says that "there are very serious questions about the validity of ordinances that use terms like "prima facie" and allow for the wide latitude of police discretion that O'fallon's new ordinance allows for; especially if O'fallon's police chief is suggesting his officers will rely on witness testimony after accidents to determine if a driver was potentially eating, correcting a child, adjusting the air conditioner or reacting to a deer coming into one's peripheral vision. It even looks like you could potentially get a ticket for checking your blind spot."
Someone convicted of violating the ordinance would be subject to a fine of up to $500 and up to three months in jail, or both. Some worry that the heavy fines have the potential for abuse in order for the city to make more money. Officials deny that it is intended to generate revenue.
Opponents hope to collect the required 416 signatures to have the City Council reconsider the ordinance or have it placed on the April ballot.