Safety and OSHA News

Distracted driving defense: ‘I was holding a hash brown, not a cell phone’

After getting a ticket for alleged distracted driving while talking on a cell phone, this Connecticut resident went to court and was able to get his ticket thrown out by arguing that he was actually eating a hash brown at the time. 

On April 11, 2018, Jason Stiber was pulled over by a Westport, CT, police officer. He received a $300 citation for allegedly driving while using a cell phone.

Stiber appealed the ticket. He says he was eating a McDonald’s hash brown, not talking on his phone.

He represented himself in court and initially lost his appeal. So he hired a lawyer and tried again.

Records showed Stiber wasn’t on his phone when he was pulled over. His car is also equipped with Bluetooth which would let him to make hands-free calls, which are allowed under Connecticut law.

Stiber’s lawyer argued that his client’s lip movement was “consistent with chewing” the hash brown.

The officer who made the stop testified he clearly saw Stiber speaking into a black, illuminated cell phone.

A Freedom of Information Act request for records showed the officer was on the 15th hour of a 16-hour double shift when he pulled Stiber over.

The judge ruled there was a lack of evidence that Stiber was on his phone when pulled over.

“It’s a big deal to my client, but small potatoes in the grand scheme of things,” was the punny observation from Stiber’s lawyer.

But was he distracted anyway?

So the court has ruled: Stiber wasn’t talking on his phone, he was eating a hash brown … with one hand off the wheel.

Isn’t that distracted driving, too?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there are three types of distracted driving:

  • Visual: taking your eyes off the road
  • Manual: taking your hands off the wheel, and
  • Cognitive: taking your mind off of driving.

Note the second one. On its distracted driving webpage, the CDC mentions “eating while driving” as one example.

Then, why did the hash brown defense work?

Because in Connecticut, when it comes to distracted driving, some activities such as eating behind the wheel aren’t regulated.

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