Michigan cops: Movie? Laptop? Yeah, that's the ticket

By Charlie Morasch
staff writer


Wallace Scifres’ laptop computer is so old it predates the Windows 95 operating system by two years.

Yes, that’s the 1995 computer operating system you likely stopped using 10 years ago.

“It can’t even play a DVD,” Scifres said.

Scifres was surprised in late September when he was cited for violating a federal regulation concerning television screens because of his mounted computer, which he says has barely enough memory to power his mapping software.

Scifres was headed from Cincinnati, OH, to Albion, MI, on Sept. 28, when his 1999 International was pulled over on Interstate 94 near Dearing, MI. A state police officer told him his computer was not allowed because it qualified as a television receiver under FMCSR 393.88.

“I said, ‘you show me how to receive television on this and I will thank you,’” Scifres told Land Line on Sept. 30. “It’s a 1993 computer with 600 Mhz. You can’t even get online with it.”

Scifres is an OOIDA life member from Lucasville, OH, who’s been driving since 1974. With a clean driving record and millions of safe miles, Scifres said he’ll fight the ticket.

“I’d like to fight this thing one way or another. It’s the principle of the thing that irritates me more than anything,” he said. “I know it is possible that these computers could be misused.

“You could be e-mailing, and I’m totally against that. But I just got a safety pin from my company and a $100 bonus with a certificate. I must be doing something right.”

Michigan State Police Lt. Ron Crampton told Land Line that though the citation says Scifres is being prosecuted under FMCSR 393.88, the officer should have written Michigan state code 257.708B, which prohibits operating “motor vehicle with television or similar electronic device viewable by operator … that displays a video image.”

“That was corrected. She put the wrong violation on there when she wrote the citation,” Crampton said of the officer.

State police can change the statute by which citations are being issued after the fact “if they’ve made a mistake on a section of law.”

Crampton called the officer’s immediate superior after Land Line’s inquiry about the laptop citation. The supervisor told Crampton that the officer noticed a movie playing on the laptop’s screen.

Both the incident report and the citation, however, make no mention of a movie.

Wouldn’t such an important detail about a violation normally be noted in either the report or the ticket?

“Yeah,” Crampton said. “You would think so.”

The state law specifically allows “vehicle information or navigation” systems that shows information about “vehicle location, available routes and destinations, road layouts, weather conditions, traffic and road conditions, vehicle conditions, or traveler services.”

Scifres said he had his navigational mapping system up only because that’s all the early 1990s computer can handle. He denied watching a movie.

“She didn’t like me using my laptop, and I asked her if she had one in her car, and that got us off on the wrong foot,” Scifres said. “She informed me she was an officer of the law, and she was allowed to have one.”

Scifres remembered reading Land Line’s coverage of OOIDA Member Gerald Cook, who was ticketed in 2008 by an Arizona DOT officer under 393.88, though Arizona later dropped the charge and suspended enforcement against laptops.

“I have a one-track mind. I’m 62 years old,” Scifres said. “I don’t try to do anything on this computer while I’m driving.”

FMCSA said in 2008 that laptops shouldn’t be cited under the TV regulation.

In October, FMCSA Spokesman Duane DeBruyne reiterated that current federal rules still don’t prohibit laptops. LL