A stuffed animal tiger frightened a fellow roadster into calling 9-1-1. The officer's response puts a funny twist on a dangerous problem the law faces.

To start, it’s important to highlight the real emergency in this case. The person who called in the stuffed tiger didn’t use her phone for its intended instagram purpose. That insta would have put them on the map.

Connor Zuvich, from Vancouver, Washington (not British Columbia…another surprise twist in this story), discovered a life-sized stuffed tiger lying lonely next to some trash bags next to some lake located in less-than-domineering shadow of Canada. He naturally decided to strap the stuffed animal tiger to the top of his SUV (probably a Subaru given the location) and drive around the town everyone thought was in Canada.

A concerned citizen promptly called the cops, who arrived at the scene prepared to wage war with a ferocious beast that someone was able to train well enough to lay comfortably atop a car traveling at highway speeds. They quickly realized the tiger was a stuffed animal. Buzz kill. Police decided not to charge Zuvich with a crime because there wasn’t one. As the Sergeant of the City of Camas Police Department said, “no report was taken during the Monday incident because there is no law against strapping stuffed animals to the top of a car,” according to a Reuters story out of Seattle with Eric Walsh, Cynthia Johnson, and Victoria Cavaliere taking the byline.

UNC's Ramsees can attest to the true epidemic that is stuffed realism.

But distracted driving is not funny. It substantially imperils public safety and the law struggles mightily at all stages to protect the public from the antics of others on the road. N.C.G.S. § 20-137.4A is North Carolina’s law that prohibits the use of mobile devices for the purposes of texting while driving. To quote subsection (a) in its entirety is a good example of how rigid laws fail to flex with a constantly adapting society.  

§ 20-137.4A.  Unlawful use of mobile telephone for text messaging or electronic mail.

(a)               Offense. - It shall be unlawful for any person to operate a vehicle on a public street or highway or public vehicular area while using a mobile telephone to: (1)  Manually enter multiple letters or text in the device as a means of communicating with another person; or (2)  Read any electronic mail or text message transmitted to the device or stored within the device, provided that this prohibition shall not apply to any name or number stored in the device nor to any caller identification information.

This statute brings to light three main difficulties legislatures, law enforcement officers, and the judiciary share with distracted driving. For legislatures, it’s nearly impossible to draft passable legislation that accounts for activities like driving with life-sized stuffed animal tigers strapped to someone’s SUV. If it’s too narrow, no one will support it. If it’s too broad, it will be unconstitutionally so and likewise fail.

For law enforcement officers, detection of these crimes is nearly impossible.Looking at North Carolina’s statute, the scenarios in which an officer can (constitutionally) detect the difference in texting versus typing an address into Googl- let's be real, Apple Maps, are slim to none.

For the judiciary, it’s nearly impossible to punish the crime except that it’s statutorily negligence per se (that’s like automatic-fault liability inception) should someone get injured. Failure to comply with the penalty carries no driver’s license points or insurance points. It’s like a parking ticket, except that a parking ticket on UNC’s campus is probably more serious.

The legislature is on to something, though. The solution is probably more civil than it is criminal. It calls on our ongoing duty to recognize that our place in the world is one shared with billions of other people. To co-exist civilly requires us all to maintain a heightened situational awareness while on the road. Put simply, the text can wait. Your life and those around you are too valuable to risk.