Judging Traffic (February 2018): PA Lawsuit re: License Suspensions; French Smartphone Ban; Tesla Autopilot Defense...
Judging Traffic Header

Equal Justice Under Law Challenges Pennsylvania License Suspensions for Drug Offenses

Equal Justice Under Law has filed a class action against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for its policy providing for automatic suspension of the driver's license of anyone convicted of a drug offense, even if the individual has a clean driving record. The complaint notes that drug offenses are the only offenses, except for traffic offenses, for which Pennsylvania suspends driver's licenses, and also notes that 38 states have already repealed similar laws. The suit argues that the law violates the plaintiffs' (and others') equal protection, procedural due process, and substantive due process rights, and it asks for a declaratory judgment that Pennsylvania's policy is unconstitutional, a permanent injunction against the policy, and the reinstatement of the plaintiffs' driver's licenses. To read the complaint, click here. For more background about the lawsuit and about the plaintiffs, see this page from Equal Justice Under Law. For more coverage of the lawsuit, see this article from NPR.

France Bans All Smartphone Use While Driving--Even While Pulled Over

A new ruling by France's highest court means that drivers in France cannot use a cell phone at all while driving, even if pulled over on the side of the road. Instead, drivers must pull into a parking space and shut off their car's engine before using their phones. Drivers found violating the new law will be fined 135 euros (or about $166). The law does not, however, ban use of hands-free devices. For more context to the ruling, see this article from Gizmodo, or if you can read French, this article from Le Figaro.

Two California Drivers Claim Tesla Autopilot Defense for Crashes

Two drivers in California have asserted in separate traffic crash incidents that they are not at fault because their Teslas were set to "autopilot" mode. On January 19, one driver was found crashed and passed out behind the wheel on the Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Oakland. The man had a blood alcohol content approximately twice the legal limit. Despite his assertion that his Tesla was driving, alleviating his need to be sober, the man was arrested on suspicion on DUI. Another driver crashed into a parked fire truck in Culver City, CA, a few days later at 65 miles per hour. Fortunately, there were no injuries. The NTSB is investigating both incidents. To read more about the incidents, plus more about the potential hazards of Tesla's autopilot system, see this article from the Washington Post.

Virginia Considers New Distracted Driving Bill

A new bill introduced in the Virginia House of Delegates attempts to strengthen the Commonwealth's law regarding distracted driving. The bill provides that "any person who drives a vehicle on any highway (i) in a negligent manner but does not endanger the life, limb, or property of another or (ii) while using a handheld personal communications device where such use substantially diverts the driver's attention from the operation of the vehicle is guilty of improper driving." The offense of improper driving carries with it a fine of up to $500. However, according to one of the sponsors of the bill, the provision that cell phone use must "substantially divert[] the driver's attention" require that drivers be caught in the act. To see the text of the bill and track its legislative history, click here.

Indiana Man Files Lawsuit Over Ticket for Giving Policeman The Finger While Driving

Mark May of Terre Haute, Indiana, has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that an Indiana State Police trooper violated his right to free speech and unlawfully detained him when the trooper pulled him over in August 2017. May admitted to making the gesture at the officer because he felt the officer cut him off too closely in traffic. After seeing May's gesture, the officer chose to stop May and give him a ticket for "provocation," which comes with a $500 fine. May challenged the ticket in Terre Haute City Court, but was found guilty. He then appealed to the Vigo County Superior Court, which dismissed the charge with prejudice. May's current federal suit contends that he missed two days of work because of the incident and is seeking unspecified damages. The ACLU of Indiana is representing him in the case. For more on the story, you can read the Indianapolis Star's story here and an article from the Washington Post here. To read a decision from the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in a similar case from 2013, click here.

ABA 2018 Traffic Court Seminar

The ABA is holding its annual Traffic Court Seminar in San Diego, California this year on March 5-7, 2018. The Traffic Court Seminar is a 2 1/2 day seminar designed for judges, judicial officers, prosecutors, and defense attorneys appearing in these courts. Attendance will provide you with an opportunity to meet and network with others from throughout the country to discuss the latest developments in traffic court law, technology, and scientific evidence. The course is expected to qualify for 14 CLE hours. To view the program's agenda, click here. For details on how to register, visit this page. In order to receive the special seminar rate for hotel reservations, reservations must be made by Friday, February 16.

NCDC Foundational Training Course

The National Center for DWI Courts is offering its Foundational Training course four times in 2018. The 3.5-day DWI Court Foundational Training is designed for courts not yet operating a DWI court program, teams that have had significant staff changes, or teams that have never attended an NCDC training before. This training uses the 10 Guiding Principles for DWI Courts and the National Association of Drug Court Professionals' Best Practice Standards to design an effective program for treating repeat DWI offenders. Your team will interact with NCDC's experts while developing an action plan to maximize your resources and integrate best practices into your DWI court program. Course dates and locations are August 6-9, 2018 in Billings, MT, September 11-14, 2018 in Duluth, MN, October 9-12, 2018 in El Paso, TX, and December 3-6, 2018 in Athens, GA. Applications are due by April 30, 2018. For more information and to apply, click here.

NCSC Traffic Resources

If you are not familiar with our Traffic Resource Center for Judges, we invite you to take a few minutes to browse the website here. We also still have physical copies of our 2017 Traffic Issue Brief Compendium, which may be acquired by emailing Greg Hurley at ghurley@ncsc.org.

Upcoming Courses at the National Judicial College

The following courses are offered by the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada, in the coming year. A limited number of scholarships are available through generous funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Please contact Katheryn Yetter at yetter@judges.org or (775) 327-8269 for more information.

FMCSA National Webcast Series (online webcasts; free)

  • Partners in CMV Safety: The Traffic Court and the Administrative Adjudicator - April 4, 2018, 12 PM PST

Ethically Adjudicating CDL/CMV Cases for Traffic Judges (various dates; online; free) This webcast will answer: (1) What constitutes a “conviction” under federal regulations? (2) What does “masking” mean? (3) Why Federal law prohibits the “masking” of CDL violations? NJC’s webcast will provide you with guidance on handling these technical and troublesome cases. Dates vary by state. Recordings available of past webcasts.

Drugged Driving Essentials (May 22-24, 2018; Reno, NV) Unlike alcohol-impaired driving, drugged driving has no bright line test for impairment. Drugged driving cases require a judge to utilize a variety of judicial tools to effectively adjudicate these cases. In addition to the ability to determine which kinds of drugs an individual may be using, it is important to know how these drugs affect the individual, and may impair their ability to function. It is also imperative that a judge knows how to effectively craft sentences, which include treatment options, in order to provide a participant with the most beneficial mode of recovery.

Drugs in America Today: What Every Judge Needs To Know (June 4-6, 2018; Las Vegas, NV) With opiate addiction at epidemic levels in both urban and rural America, the NJC has crafted a new course that focuses on the neurology of addiction with an emphasis on heroin and painkillers. This course will provide an in-depth analysis of the science behind addiction and will offer practical solutions for the judge to manage all case types affected by drug use.

Traffic Issues in the 21st Century (October 8-11, 2018; Reno, NV) Judges are facing more complex traffic issues as the law and technology progress. This course is designed to provide an overview of current traffic laws and technological trends and their applications to the judiciary. After this course, participants will be able to: improve public perception of the courts; manage and adjudicate fairly and efficiently; identify the behaviors that impair safe driving; explain the basic provisions relating to commercial motor vehicle laws and regulations; identify key issues associated with special driving populations, including younger and older drivers; summarize new technology and practices used in traffic law enforcement, adjudication and sentencing; and fully understand cultural diversity issues, including racial profiling.

Upcoming Events

Want more from NCSC? Subscribe to our other e-newsletters here.

Send us information and content!

We greatly appreciate notice of new or upcoming articles, projects, symposia, and other traffic-related events! Sending us content helps improve the newsletter for everyone. One note: when alerting us to articles published elsewhere on the Web, please include the URL, as we cannot reprint articles from other sources without permission.

Disclaimer: Opinions contained herein, as well as material appearing on external sites to which this publication provides links, do not necessarily reflect those of the National Center for State Courts or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The presence of any such material should not be construed as support by the National Center for State Courts or any of its associations, affiliates, or employees.

NCSC maintains exclusive use of its subscriber lists. Information contained therein will only be used by NCSC and is never distributed to other organizations. All communications from NCSC contain an opt-out provision for your convenience.

Some online research provided by Westlaw.   Westlaw Logo

Forward our newsletter to your colleagues, friends, neighbors, etc. Subscribe to this and other NCSC e-newsletters at www.ncsc.org/newsletters.