Opinion

Editor's Column: A fine way to pay for roads

News that chatting on cell phones while driving results in four times as many accidents than not chatting while driving hit hard in the Washington State Legislature.

Our legislators face another dilemma: How do we regulate the little people without having to follow the rules ourselves?

Chatting while driving is something legislators do with abandon. Their whole lives is talk, so what else can the voting public expect? Legislators equate talking with work, and long hours on a cell phone with productivity, so how can we expect them not to talk in their cars? That’s where they spend much of their time, thanks to their inability to give us modern roads.

Maybe they’ll handle it like drinking while driving. They made drunk driving illegal with stiff penalties, but left a loophole called “diversion” for themselves and Supreme Court justices. The little guy pays a stiff fine and might spend a day in jail, and carries the DUI stigma for decades, while the “diversion” course leads to a clean record after a few months of night meetings. Maybe they can divert CWD (chatting while driving) charges as well.

Or they could handle CWD like they handled life jackets. In this case, people in boats under 18-feet must wear life jackets, but those in larger boats needn’t bother. This is because legislators usually own larger boats, or go boating on yachts owned by lobbyists. With everyone required to wear Mae West, it’s impossible for lobbyists to get close enough to properly influence their legislators. So they adopted a law in which the little guy risks a hefty fine if he doffs his lift jacket in 80 degree weather, while legislators can wander unprotected around the deck sipping martinis. In keeping with this tradition, chatting while driving could be allowed in any automobile costing $50,000 or more, leaving only the little guy to face penalties. Our legislators will say it just means they really care about protecting the little people.

Perhaps the little people should intercede in the coming regulation of cell phone use by drivers by launching an initiative to preempt legislative dodges. Let’s make chatting while driving universally illegal, and require that every car be equipped with an electronic chatterbox to keep track of how many words are spoken.

Then, when a driver is stopped by the State Patrol, the chatterbox can determine the price of the ticket at the rate of 5 cents per word. If the initiative requires troopers to stop every chatting legislator they see, the resulting fines will produce a gold mine of revenue. In a year or two we’d have enough money to widen and pave I-5 all they way from Mount Vernon to Olympia. Finally, we’d get something positive from all this legislative chatter.

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