Schwarzenegger: Honey, this law about cell phones and driving...

Governor's wife is pictured breaking ban for motorists he introduced

The next time California's motorists are fined for cruising freeways with a mobile telephone clamped to their ear, they might wonder if there's one rule for them, and quite another for the state's political elite. How else do you explain the lofty disregard that Arnold Schwarzenegger's wife has been caught displaying towards traffic laws?

Maria Shriver, a lifelong Democrat and scion of the Kennedy dynasty who has been married to the Republican Governor for 23 years, has been thrust to the centre of public controversy after paparazzi photographs showed her repeatedly violating a ban on "driving while dialling" that was introduced by her husband's office, with great fanfare, only last year.

The first two shots, one taken on Sunday, the other several months ago, were published at lunchtime on Tuesday by the tabloid website TMZ. They immediately prompted Mr Schwarzenegger to public apologise, promising readers of his Twitter feed that "there's going to be swift action" taken against the Californian first lady.

Quite what that "swift action" will be remains to be seen: normal Californians caught making calls while behind the wheel can expect a fine of $20 (£12.50) for the first offence and $50 for the second, though court fees can make the final penalty nearer to $300. Mr Schwarzenegger's apology soon became academic anyway. Just hours after it was issued, TMZ gleefully contacted him with news that "your scofflaw wife is at it again."

Ms Shriver had just been caught again driving through Brentwood, near the Governor's family home, while talking on the phone. Video of the incident showed her guiltily dropping the handset to the floor of her black SUV when she realised that she was being filmed.

Though the affair may seem delightfully petty, it is guaranteed to enrage the more than 150,000 Californians who have been formally cited and who have paid heavy fines after committing the same offence.

Many will see it as another example of Mr Schwarzenegger forcing voters to do what he says, rather than what he does. He has previously faced criticism for using a private jet to commute from LA to his office in Sacramento, and for driving a fleet of thirsty cars, while simultaneously instructing the electorate to scale back carbon emissions.

By coincidence, the Governor had this week signed a new law that will curb the activities of LA's paparazzi, fining them for taking photographs that invade a celebrity's right to privacy. Unfortunately, for his wife, at least, it does not take effect until January.

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