A Needless Game of Gotcha

If you're the wife of the governor, yes, you probably should obey all of the traffic laws.

California first lady Maria Shriver says she's sorry for breaking a state law that requires drivers to use hands-free devices while talking on cell phones.

The celebrity Web site TMZ.com posted two photographs and a video Tuesday showing Shriver holding a phone to her ear while she was behind the wheel. That prompted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to write about it on Twitter, where he said "there's going to be swift action."

On Wednesday, Shriver said she will donate her favorite old cell phone to a program that helps domestic violence. She added: "That's my version of swift action with a higher purpose."

Schwarzenegger joked about the incident during a speech Wednesday at a technology conference in San Francisco, saying, "I'm in big trouble."

He said he couldn't believe his wife was caught on camera three times "holding that phone in her hand like in the Stone Age."

What this incident illustrates is that even a minor scandal with a law many people aren't respecting anyway is something that can blow up into national news. If this was the wife of the Governor of Idaho, it wouldn't have made the national news. The problem, in general, with cell phone laws is that the technology of using a hands free device doesn't actually help that much--the driver is still distracted by a conversation. It may be less of a distraction, but anything that takes the driver's attention off the road is a bad thing.

Governor Schwarzenegger handled the incident with characteristic hamfistedness--he made a joke at the expense of his wife, noted the threat to his political future that really wasn't there, and acted paternalistic in saying that he would get her a hands-free device. Really, is Maria Shriver incapable of obeying the law, getting a better phone, and dealing with the issue on her own? Why did he feel the need to act like it was that big of a deal? I don't expect him to have punched the TMZ photographer or to have declared his wife above the law, but it wouldn't have hurt him to have his wife's back against the media.