DC Bans Cell Phones . . . and Other Stuff

As noted here in January, the DC city council banned the use of a hand-held cellular telelphone while driving. Enforcement begins July 1st–this Thursday.

Reader DeltaDave e-mailed me a memo that has been circulated about some less-publicized aspect of the ban. Sure enough, the original Washington Times story head it buried several paragraphs down:

[Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican and the principal sponsor of the bill] said she broadened the scope of the bill that passed yesterday to be consistent with existing laws in Maryland and Virginia so drivers also could be fined for other distracting activities, such as putting on makeup, fumbling with music collections or interacting with children or pets.

Dave is understandably perplexed:

So don’t be caught thinking (about anything); looking at a map; turning your head to look at a passing pretty girl; sipping that morning drive time cup of jo; eyeballing a crime inprogress; talking to your passenger …. or anything else some law enforcement official arbitarily decides is “distracting behavior”. This appears to approach mind control to the extreme.

Gotta love it. Somebody probably pointed out to Schwartz that talking on a phone is no more distracting than fiddling with the radio, putting on makeup, juggling a Big Mac and Diet Coke, or dozens of other activities people do while driving. So, she banned those, too.

Only in D.C.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Thomas says:

    Only in D.C.? We’ve had that law in the entire NYState for 3 years now.

    And here in NYC, they saw fit last year to ban cell phones in movie theaters, concert halls and on Broadway.


  2. James Joyner says:

    Lots of states have laws banning driving with cell phones. They’re silly–because no evidence shows that cell phones actually contribute to more accidents–but getting commonplace. Bans on interacting with one’s pet are more unusual.

  3. jen says:

    Tourists will love that.

  4. Richie says:

    Actually, I saw a study some years ago that indicated some loss of periperal vision occurred while talking on the phone. Wish I could remember where I read that.

  5. delta dave says:

    Acutally all the commenter have miss the point… if it were just cell phones… then your guess is as good as mine if its a good law… but they ban “DISTRACTING BEHAVIOR” … such as grooming (picking your nose while driving) and much much more.. read the article… any law enforcement offical who arbitarily decides you are Driving While Distract (DWD) for whatever the reason can pull you for for a $100 fine.

    I think a nationwide alert needs to go out to warn tourist and prospective employers that driving in the District is at their own risk.

  6. keith taylor says:

    An old school friend of mine was killed a few years ago when a car pulled out at a junction, forcing him to swerve into a bridge support. The driver of the car was busy talking on a cellphone and neglected to check before pulling out. Laws like this may be annoying, but when I’m driving a couple tons of steel the road has my full attention, and I expect nothing less from my fellow road users. If you don’t like it, take the bus and chat away.

  7. James Joyner says:


    I hear ya. People yapping on their cells are annoying and have to be more dangerous than people paying attention. Studies have failed to show any difference between those using hand-held versus hands-free phones or between cell talkers and other distracted drivers. I’m just not sure how one legislates paying attention.

  8. Darren says:

    This is just another mayor Anthony Williams’s law to get more money out of everyone. He even admits that traffic camera are for generating revenue for the city.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I walk to work from Dupont Circle to Foggy Bottom and back every day – and every single day I see at least one driver coming around a corner or down the street who does not know what’s going on around them because their attention is on their cell phone converstation, not the road, not the cars around them, and certainly not the pedestrians jumping out of their way to avoid getting creamed while crossing the street. I’m all for this law.

  10. Debbie says:

    I doubt the new law will help much. People that are so easily distracted by a simple cell phone coversation will also be just as distracted by a conversation within the vehicle or changing the dial on the radio. Common sense is needed and it just isn’t found very often when some people are driving.