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DWI meets DWP

Driving while primping is getting the once-over from lawmakers

Red light? Apply lip gloss. Stop sign? Trim goatee. Fast lane on the 405? Anything goes.

“I have seen women putting on mascara and that powder blush at 65 miles per hour. Or guys shaving and talking on the phone,” says California Highway Patrol public affairs officer Humberto Jimenez. “But there is no law, so we can only give out verbal warnings.”

Overseas cops aren’t so tolerant. Early this month, a woman in Wales was stopped and fined 200 pounds (about $350) for taking both hands off the wheel at 32 m.p.h. to apply eyeliner. Alas, the exact shade is not known. Personal grooming and other driving distractions are also becoming a hot-button issue here in the U.S.

“Cell phone use has gotten a lot of attention, but now legislators are looking at other distracting behavior, like applying makeup and interacting with pets,” says Matt Sundeen, a program principal with the National Conference of State Legislatures.

This year, five states — Maryland, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Virginia and New York — are floating bills to ban motorists from engaging in activities that could impair driving. In Connecticut and the District of Columbia, driving while primping is illegal.

Your punishment in California? A finger-wagging lecture from a highway patrolman.

“I have limited my efforts to banning hand-held cell phone use,” says California Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), who has been trying to pass such legislation for the past five years. “Prohibiting broader behaviors like personal grooming would be tough. What about taking a bite out of a hamburger? Should that be banned, too?”

Well, yes. Obviously, Simitian hasn’t tried to unwrap a Double-Double in rush hour. According to a 2003 study of highway safety by the U. of North Carolina, preparing to eat or drink takes approximately 15 seconds. Applying lipstick or mascara takes an average of 11.8 seconds.

“You swerve more when you’re unwrapping a hamburger because you take both hands off the wheel,” says Jane Stutts, a senior researcher at UNC. “But the worst offense we saw in our research was someone putting in eye drops while driving. And that wasn’t at a traffic light.”