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Citizen Catches Pol Phone-Handed

Kathleen Gregory was driving home from work when she saw a guy yammering on a phone held to his ear--one of the countless violations of the District's law restricting cell conversations to those using hands-free devices.

But as she got closer, she recognized the man behind the wheel--it was D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2.) When she got home, Gregory dashed off a note to the man who should know better:

Mr Evans - Of all people, I would expect the legislators in this city to follow the law. I was driving behind you yesterday on my way home from work. I could instantly tell you were on the phone, hand-held, by the way you were driving - not concentrating on the road, going well below the speed limit, with no particular direction. Maybe you shouldn't have a license plate that tells everyone who you are, and I am sure it makes you a target, but you have to follow the laws, too! I am sure you are a contributing member of the council but can I tell you how annoying it is to see people who enact the laws not following them??? Yes, there are bigger things to complain about, and yes, there are bigger issues to be dealt with, but it all comes back to decency and fairness, and the little things! Please purchase a headset and use it - I am sure i am not the first annoyed citizen. If a law is worth enacting, surely it is worth following.

A few days later, she got a reply, just a single line, but a no-excuses mea culpa nonetheless. Evans copped to the violation and said he should have known better.

The D.C. police continue to dish out hundreds and hundreds of tickets for cell phone violations. Has it made a difference? The police say yes, I say minimal at best. It is not possible to drive around Washington without seeing lots of drivers flouting the law. Of course, the research on handheld vs hands-free phone use casts significant doubt on whether the hands-free devices really make much of a difference--it's the act of conducting a phone conversation, not the mechanics of handling the phone, that creates the bulk of the distraction.

But let's be real--people aren't going to stop talking on the phone while they drive. Hands-free is probably marginally safer than trying to cradle a too-small phone into the crick of your neck. And the council members ought to behave as if they know people are monitoring them, because as long as the city's politicians continue to drive around with highly visible VIP plates on their cars, we'll all be watching.

By Marc Fisher |  June 10, 2008; 1:06 PM ET
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While Councilman Evan's violation is infuriating enough, it's seeing the number of police officers driving around in their squad cars with hand-held cell phones pinned to their ears that drives me around the bend. It's infuriating especially in light of the fact that I was once stopped, ticketed and had to fork over a fine for these very same cell phone violations being committed by our "city's finest".

Posted by: SWDC | June 10, 2008 4:38 PM


Posted by: Cell Phone Avoider | June 10, 2008 5:31 PM

When was this letter written? I can think of far more irresponsible drivers in this city than that and I would prefer him to go below the speed limit than over it. Sorry, but this sounds like whining. Let's deal with the real issues this city faces.

Posted by: NWDC | June 10, 2008 5:36 PM

The hands-free law has had a minimal impact on the number of people still violating it. The reasons are twofold.

1.) The cops don't enforce the law (despite their claims to the contrary) and routinely break it themselves.

2.) The penalty is too light.

Change those two things, and you'll see far fewer people using their cellphones while driving.

Posted by: Downtown | June 10, 2008 9:02 PM

I've seen Evans driving around in his convertible talking on his cell at least twice.

And re: license plates. Sure it's annoying to see the council-members cars parked wily-nily, but what's more annoying is the special plates that the government hands out to the "well connected" (they're the ones with really low numbers and the red stripe around them).

Either this is a way to communicate to cops what cars should "get a pass" or they're utterly useless. Regardless of whether this has a corrupt motive or not, in a town with such a bad history of cronyism, even the hint of it should be eliminated.

Posted by: Georgetown Resident | June 10, 2008 9:44 PM

So Evans, who voted FOR regulations on cell phone usage for the rest of us, sees himself as above the law. Good heavens! What's next? Will we have members of Council doing crack cocaine in the Vista Hotel? Or multiple officials not paying their District and Federal income taxes? The voters have already sidelined incumbents Jarvis, Chavous, and Brazil. Maybe someone should give Evans the message. Just don't call him while he's driving.

Posted by: We Pay Their Salaries! | June 11, 2008 11:31 AM

This reminded me of one of my favorite gotcha moments of city council hypocrisy. The late David Clarke had just introduced some initiative to raise parking fines. There was a lot of criticism that he went out of his way to find a revenue scheme aimed at non-DC residents. A reporter caught him on the street on camera and asked him about. Clarke denied that it was directed at commuters, made some high-minded comment to the effect "people who do not observe the laws of the District of Columbia should be prepared to pay the price, then said he had no more time and set off across the street. The reporter yelled out to point out that he was crossing on a "no walk" sign. Clarke turned around in a such a rage that he looked like Herman Munster when Lilly told him he couldn't have desert. Too bad there was no YouTube then.

Posted by: Paul | June 11, 2008 12:39 PM


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