Take aim at driving under the influence
By Kathleen Murphy
Anna Marie Hartman, statehouse reporter for WMC-TV in Memphis,
Tenn., was stopped at a red light last year when she noticed
two small television screens mounted inside the car ahead.
The video they were playing was pornographic. I was
with a friend of mine and, after we got over the initial Ewwwwww
reaction, my next thought was, Can they DO that?"
Whats becoming known as drive-by porn is
titillating the interest of a few state lawmakers in Tennessee
and Louisiana who seek to ban it. But so far, no state has
regulated what can be watched inside vehicles -- only who
Concerned about drivers already distracted while eating,
smoking or talking on cell phones, 38 states now prohibit
drivers from watching TV mostly by controlling the location
of video monitors inside vehicles.
Twenty-one states prohibit TV screens from being visible
to the driver. The other 17 specify that monitors be located
behind the drivers seat. At least a dozen states exempt
in-dash screens for maps and driving directions, according
to the Consumer Electronics Association.
A long way from the cup holder, video and DVD players are
proliferating as a luxury vehicle accessory and a necessity
for some parents on long road trips.
Many vehicles sold in the United States now come equipped
with navigational systems, and technology allows tricking
the system into displaying a movie or television. Purchases
of vehicle video systems have quadrupled since 1999, and the
market is expected to grow from $625 million in 2002 to more
than $1.25 billion by 2006, according to Venture Development
Corp., a Natick, Mass., technology market research firm.
About 3.5 percent of U.S. drivers were involved in a crash
in the past five years that they attribute to being distracted,
according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety
After WMC-TVs Hartman aired a story about in-car DVD
players and several constituents complained about seeing pornography
through car windows on Tennessee roads, Sen. Mark Norris,
R-Collierville, proposed banning the display of sexually explicit
movies in cars.
The Tennessee House is expected to consider the ban this
week; the measure passed the Senate last year. Norris said
his bill amends a statute upheld by the Tennessee Supreme
Court that prohibits patently offensive or obscene bumper
Louisiana is considering a similar bill introduced by state
Rep. Mickey Guillory, D-Eunice, who said his drive-by porn
bill has to do with family values and community values
and common decency. Oklahoma lawmakers this month rejected
a measure that would have prevented the showing of X-rated
films in cars if the screen can be seen from other vehicles.
The Nashville City Paper editorialized in support of Norris
ban: Imagine yourself in gridlock traffic with a 5-year-old
in the back seat asking, What's that, mommy? as
he gazes at the next car's DVD player. We think banning X-rated
movies in automobiles is a no-brainer.
But Chris Rose, columnist for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans,
called the censorship effort an empty gesture in the
name of family values and a misguided effort to stop the two
people in Louisiana who actually drive their cars with porn
Both the Tennessee and Louisiana proposals have raised First
Amendment concerns about free speech protection, with the
ACLU and the Motion Picture Association of America criticizing
the wording of Tennessees ban as too vague.
Many states already have laws against public display of pornography.
But there is legal debate about whether the interior of ones
private car amounts to a public display. Still, a Clifton
Park, N.Y., man was charged in February with playing an X-rated
movie in his Mercedes. Police allege the man publicly displayed
offensive sexual material and illegally operated an in-car
screen in the drivers view.