California Rejects No-Porn-Onboard Proposal

Matt O'Conner
SACREMENTO, Calif. — A bill that would have outlawed the display “sexually explicit material in a motor vehicle knowing that the material is visible to the public” was shot down Tuesday by the California State Assembly’s Public Safety Committee, meaning Californians are free to continue watching adult videos while cruising the state's highways and byways.

The bill had been introduced by Assemblyman John Benoit, R-Palm Desert, a former California Highway Patrol commander.

“We've had a number of people complain that stopping at a light they've seen sexual acts of the kind we don't want to speak of displayed on the video screen in the car in front of them,” Benoit said.

California last year enacted a law forbidding the viewing of videos and DVDs on dashboard-mounted video display screens. Partially as a result of the new law, the number of citations issued statewide for drivers distracted by video screens in their vehicles rose from 105 in 2000 to 920 last year.

However, the California Highway Patrol does not issue any penalties for the viewing of adult videos or other entertainment offerings, as long as they are shown only in the back seat of a vehicle, nor does the agency take a position on debate surrounding a back-seat passenger’s right to watch hardcore material while on the road.

“In California, you practically live in your car,” said CHP spokesman Tom Marshall. “People who are going to be in their car for two hours want to do something else.”

Currently, Virginia and Tennessee are the only states that place restrictions on the playing of adult videos in vehicles. In both states, motorists face stiff fines if the material is visible to other cars.

Benoit said his bill, which was supported by the Traditional Values Coalition and California Family Alliance, was not anti-porn.

“If you want to play a pornographic film in the privacy of your own home or your own bedroom, that's your business,” he said. “But when you display it where people can see it while they're driving, that's inappropriate.”

Despite the bill’s defeat, the porn-onboard issue isn't going away, Benoit said. With the proliferation of DVD screens and advances in technology, including the size of in-car screens, “It's only going to become more of a problem,” he said. “Try to explain to your 5-year-old what he just saw when he wonders, ‘Why was that man doing that to that woman?’ It's a hard thing.”

Kat Sunlove, legislative affairs director for the Free Speech Coalition, said the bill would have improperly required drivers to monitor the reading, listening and viewing habits of their passengers.

“I want drivers to be focused on the road, not on whether a kid half a car length behind them is looking into their car,”' she said.

Sunlove added that she doesn’t believe enough motorists are watching adult videos in their vehicles to warrant any further attention.

“Most of the videos being show in the back seats of SUV's are kids movies,” Sunlove said. “The number of adult videos being shown has got to be very small.”