On a normal day, an order of McDonald’s hashbrowns will cost you a couple of bucks, tops. But Jason Stiber didn’t have a normal day, which is why after seven months and more than $2,000, he says he’s still paying for a McDonald’s hash brown he ate in the spring.
At around 6 AM on April 11, Stiber and his hash brown were pulled over by a Westport, Connecticut police officer, and he was given a ticket for distracted driving. According to Cpl. Wong Won, Stiber was talking on a cell phone, in violation of the state’s law against making calls in the car. But Stiber insists that’s not what happened at all.
“I was eating a hash brown and he thought he saw a cellphone near my mouth,” Stiber told the Times Union. He also said that he wouldn’t have been holding his phone anyway, because he has Bluetooth. And on top of that, his cell phone records show that he did not make or receive any calls at the time that the officer pulled him over.
Stiber appeared in magistrate court in August, but a judge didn’t buy his excuse‚even though he presented his phone records in court. Stiber requested a retrial, and is scheduled to appear in state Superior Court on December 7. This time, Stiber will be accompanied by an attorney. (He said that he’s already dropped a grand on legal representation, on top of the $1,000 increase in his car insurance premiums because of this suspect ticket.) “I’m going to trial for justice,” he said. Slow clap for that.
According to the New Haven Register, from 2014 through 2017, Connecticut collected more than $6.8 million in federal funding for campaigns like its “U Text. U Drive. U Pay.” initiative. (It should be forced to refund at least half of the money because of that campaign’s cringeworthy name). Part of the reason it qualifies for those government dollars is because of its willingness to enforce its distracted driving laws.
“Texting, eating, taking photos, entering GPS coordinates and applying makeup are just some of the behavior associated with distracted driving,” Officer David Hartman told the Register. “Those are what our officers are focused on when we’re eyeing motorists traveling our streets and highways. Our message is loud and clear: put down the phone, put down the food and stay alert and focused.”
But if Westport’s cops want to ticket Stiber for being distracted, shouldn’t they clarify what his real crime was? Either fine him for eating a hash brown behind the wheel, or admit that the officer made a mistake by insisting that he was mid-call on that April morning.
In January 2015, an Alabama man was pulled over because he was definitely eating a burger while he drove through Marietta, Georgia. Madison Turner had barely finished his McDonald’s Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese when he saw blue lights in his rearview mirror. “The officer explained to me that he observed me eating a burger for two miles,” Turner told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He said specifically three times, 'You can’t just go down the road eating a hamburger.'"
Turner was given a ticket for distracted driving and the officer wrote “eating while driving” in the comments section. A month later, the charges against him were dropped.
Stiber has to be crossing his fingers for a similar outcome. Until then, maybe we should all avoid the McDonald’s drive-thru.