Sunday, April 26, 2009

Should We Ban Cell Phones While Driving?

For those of us who drive a lot, we have all experienced it. A driver in front of us is driving a lot slower than everybody else on the road or is swerving a little. A drunk driver perhaps? But when you get a chance to pass that person, you will more likely see someone with a cell phone yakking away, oblivious to the rest of the world. It is then that many of us wish that we could ban people from using cell phones while they drive.

In fact, legislation in Pennsylvania to ban drivers from using hand-held cell phones was
narrowly rejected a few days ago.

Rep. Josh Shapiro, D-Montgomery, watched the state House defeat, on a 100-95 vote, his legislation that would have allowed police to stop a car if they see the driver using a hand-held cell phone and issue a $50 ticket.

"There are accidents all across this state as a result of this dangerous distraction," he said, adding that two recent polls show the public supports a ban on drivers using hand-held cell phones by wide margins.

Mr. Shapiro said state records show there have been nearly 7,000 accidents on Pennsylvania roads since 2002 in which the driver was using a hand-held communications device, but only 425 in which they were using a hands-free device such as Bluetooth.
many countries around the world ban cell phones while driving unless a hands-free device is used. So is this all a good idea?

I’m not so sure. It’s difficult to argue against any law that says it promotes more safety since nobody wants to be perceived as being against safety any more than being against mom and apple pie! But are laws that are so intrusive on personal conduct worth whatever benefit they claim?

Is talking on a cell phone while driving inherently more dangerous than talking to passengers while driving? Or listening to or tuning the radio? Or operating a GPS device? None of these are inherently dangerous enough to make us ban these activities. But if a driver allows him or herself to be distracted enough, any of these examples can cause an accident. So maybe it’s a lot more about the individual driver rather than the devices in question. The great majority of drivers can deal with small distractions because they have the discipline and ability to keep their primary focus on their driving. It’s the small number of drivers that don’t have this ability that are causing all of the problems. Should we place restrictions on everybody because of these few people?

While we can’t restrict drivers in general from talking to passengers while driving, throughout the country there are existing along with proposed restrictions that teenaged drivers have a maximum of one teenaged passenger at a time.

New Jersey takes this one step further with the passage of a law that will require
external identification on cars to indicate that they are being driven by teenagers. I understand that teenagers are more likely to die from traffic accidents than any other cause. But how far is too far when it comes to laws that intrude on personal conduct? Just like with the cell phones, do we place restrictions on all teenagers because of the bad judgment of a few?

I realize that I may come across as a libertarian ideologue to some. But I get it that accidents are happening because of distractions like cell phones. It’s just a matter of disagreement on how we should address the problem. If making drivers use a hands-free device to talk on their cell phones really makes a difference, I have no problem with that. But others feel that hands-free cell phones are no safer than hand-held units while driving. And I see no need for people to send text messages while driving. As a freedom loving American, I just believe that we have to be on guard against heavy-handed government getting involved with minutiae in our personal lives like whom we can sit with in our own cars in the interest of “safety”.

And while the Pennsylvania House rejected the proposed cell phone ban, they did vote overwhelmingly to impose an additional $50 fine if someone is caught driving carelessly and was found to be using a hand-held cell phone. In my view, laws like this that do something about the actual offenders instead of needlessly intruding on everybody make a whole lot more sense.

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