The do-gooders are at it again. From the Associated Press:
Texting, emailing or chatting on a cellphone while driving is simply too dangerous to be allowed, federal safety investigators declared Tuesday, urging all states to impose total bans except for emergencies.
Inspired by recent deadly crashes — including one in which a teenager sent or received 11 text messages in 11 minutes before an accident — the recommendation would apply even to hands-free devices, a much stricter rule than any current state law.
The unanimous recommendation by the five-member National Transportation Safety Board would make an exception for devices deemed to aid driver safety such as GPS navigation systems. …
Currently, 35 states and the District of Columbia ban texting while driving, while nine states and D.C. bar hand-held cellphone use. Thirty states ban all cellphone use for beginning drivers. But enforcement is generally not a high priority, and no states ban the use of hands-free devices for all drivers.
I don’t want anyone to die in a car wreck because some idiot was texting while driving; if I see you texting while driving near me, you are liable to hear the sound of my car’s horn. But let us count the ways this proposed ban is wrong-headed:
1. Authorities already acknowledge that bans on texting while driving have been ineffective unless accompanied by intensive enforcement campaigns by law enforcement, in large part because it’s difficult to catch a motorist doing it. Even if we accept the statistics presented to us — more on that in a moment — we are talking about a problem that accounts for something like 7 percent of all traffic fatalities. Is that the best use of law enforcement resources?
2. The director of the Governors Highway Safety Association says success of the ban ultimately depends on “technology that will prohibit the use of these devices while the car is in motion.” It’s going to have to be pretty fancy technology, though, to detect which cellphone is mine and which belongs to one of my passengers — and if it can’t, will passengers also be unable to use their phones in moving vehicles? If it does allow passengers to use their phones, does it not seem ripe for being worked around?
3. The ban does not extend to some devices, such as a GPS. So, dialing a cellphone should be illegal, but entering an address for the GPS to find should not be? Does that make sense? And how about eating in cars, using radios, talking to passengers (see next item)? Are all those activities next?
4. Just last week, the AP reported: “In 2010 there were an estimated 3,092 deaths in crashes affected by a wide range of driver distractions, from eating meals to thumbing email, the [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] said.” But the statement issued yesterday by the NTSB’s director’s would lead you to believe that all of these deaths were due to the use of electronic devices. When officials start playing fast and loose with statistics to make their case for a sweeping change in the law, I get suspicious.
5. The same goes for NTSB’s putting the example of a major crash last year caused by a driver who sent or received 11 texts in 11 minutes front and center of its campaign. It’s a tragic example, no doubt. But is it representative enough to justify a ban on all cellphone use? (Keep in mind that Americans logged 261.8 billion highway miles in July of this year alone.)
Unenforceable, arbitrary, over-reaching, resource-intensive regulations like this proposed one will make some people feel good about themselves. But that’s all they will accomplish.
– By Kyle Wingfield