The wrong-headed attempt to ban cellphones in cars

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

134 comments Add your comment


December 14th, 2011
5:49 am

Safe-driving in today’s traffic requires total concentration on driving. Chatting on a phone takes away from that concentration.

[...] the pros …Regulators Seek Ban Of Cell Use In Cars, Even Hands-FreeWall Street Journal (blog)The wrong-headed attempt to ban cellphones in carsAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Cellphone ban for drivers, even hands-free, is urgedTimes of [...]

godless heathen

December 14th, 2011
6:34 am

I’m no fan on the nanny-state but drunk driving is illegal for a good reason and we don’t see it as an intrusion on our liberty. The penalties for texting and driving (it’s already illegal in GA) should be severe. A total ban on cell phone use is probably severe.

So the cops claim they can’t enforce the no texting laws?? They need to look around and start doing their effin jobs.


December 14th, 2011
6:34 am

If the author were among the 7% that were killed by cell phones then we would not have this article. Now I don’t want anything to harm the author but when you personalize the statistic, 7% is a pretty big number. I support the total ban of cell phone use in a moving vehicle, I would support emergency use, and my support comes from common sense observation of drivers when they engage in a conversation on a cell phone, much less engage in texting. I do not agree that it is unenforceable. With the dash mounted cameras in police cars it should be very easy to nail at least 50% of the offenders and back up the ticket in court with the video. And one last thing, make the fine similar to the DUI fines. The behavior of drivers on cell phones is very similar to a DUI driver, continually crossing the center line, speed of vehicle continually speeds up and slows down and many drivers cannot help but talk with their hands and arms. So I vote to ban the cell phones and if an addict has a need to check messages he or she can pull off road at some legal convenient spot and return calls, check their text, etc without putting fellow drivers in harms way.


December 14th, 2011
6:35 am

@ Jack ^

What about chatting with the passenger next to you? No different than chatting on a hands-free phone. If YOU feel you can’t carry on a conversation and drive at the same time, then don’t. I, and millions of others, can.


December 14th, 2011
6:36 am

There is no question using a cellphone makes you a dangerous driver. Period. And typically, most drivers think they can handle it, it’s the other guy who can’t. Does this sound like drunk driving?

We all know this is a serious problem, the only question is what to do about it. I agree laws without any teeth are dumb. We need to treat it like drunk driving. Have cops in unmarked cars look for the swerving, 40-mph in the fast lane idiot and give them a $500 ticket. Lower the boom on repeat offenders and take away their license. Let insurance companies ratchet up rates. In short, do all the things we did with drunk driving.

The biggest problem will be enforcement, because unlike drunk driving, once you hang up there’s no tests that will prove you were a severe danger to yourself and others on the road. “Reckless driving” is in the eye of the beholder. But records of cellphone use are available, and that’s easy to prove. If there is a blanket law of no cellphone use while driving and you’re pulled over at that time—boom.

We have become such a nation of a-holes we think it’s a god given right to drive while blabbing and conservatives are leading the charge, whining about the nanny state and so forth. Shut up, hang up and DRIVE.


December 14th, 2011
6:41 am

@Bobbo ^

Actually, Bobbo, there have been several studies that have show the OPPOSITE to be true: talking on a cell phone is VERY DIFFERENT than talking to the person sitting in the passenger seat. The difference is that if the car in front of you slams on their brakes, the passenger next to you is going to stop talking and let you focus on the situation, where the person on the cell phone is going to continue to talk to and distract you because they cannot see what is happening in front of you.


December 14th, 2011
6:42 am

It’s simple, make personal responsibility more of a priority. Increase the fines for accidents caused by cell phone use while driving. The officers are already there investigating the accident so it does not utilize any additional police resources, yet still adds a penalty for driving while distracted.


December 14th, 2011
6:49 am

Well, I have to leave soon and hit the road, I’m sure I’ll be passing Bobbo on the right while he/she yaks away oblivious to the world.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights?.....

December 14th, 2011
6:50 am

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?”

Kyle, it is interesting that you should bring that up as Fairfax County, Virginia, just outside of D.C., has a local ban on ALL distracted driving that covers not only all cellphone usage while driving, but eating and even adjusting the radio as well. Being caught driving distracted in Fairfax brings at least a $300 fine.


December 14th, 2011
6:59 am

If I see a driver weaving in and out of traffic, apparently drunk, I’ll pull over and call the cops. If we all do this for cellphone users, there’ll be more enforcement.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights?.....

December 14th, 2011
7:01 am

“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.”

I agree. A ban on texting while driving is a ban that makes some sense because if someone is STARING at messages on a cellphone screen while driving then they are obviously not looking at or watching the road, something that it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out.

But banning hands-free cellphone use goes way too far, especially when so many people have to drive and get stuck in longer and longer traffic jams. Banning hand-held cellphone use would be an example of a blatant government overreach into our lives.

Road Scholar

December 14th, 2011
7:01 am

Kyle, the ban is unenforceable unless you get stopped for driving dangerously or have an accident. The fines we have now are a joke. Increase the fine,and educate drivers, esp the young and new drivers. Also Kyle, as you drive down the road watch the road, not the drivers in the other cars!


December 14th, 2011
7:02 am

The NTSB just made a recommendation; it isn’t passing a law. Does anyone think that this type of “nanny-state” legislation has a chance of passing the “government-is-bad-and-can’t-tell-what-me-to-do” Republican House of Representatives? No way, no how.

Back to your regularly scheduled program, “Newt or Mitt, 2012″.


December 14th, 2011
7:03 am

What an idiot u r!!! I see women and men driving like idiots and every time they are on the phone!! Don’t put my life on your line!!!


December 14th, 2011
7:13 am

But banning hands-free cellphone use goes way too far, especially when so many people have to drive and get stuck in longer and longer traffic jams.

Cell phones are one of the ways the government has been able to ignore the traffic problem, they’re like a pacifier for many drivers, and people can conduct their business while on the road. That’s one of the reasons we won’t have a cellphone ban while driving, even though it’s clearly a HUGE problem.


December 14th, 2011
7:25 am

So it’s pretty clear that people are very creative when it comes to doing stupid things while they’re driving instead of focusing on not running off the road or killing somebody. The fact that people seem so ready to give up their common sense when it comes to driving a vehicle would suggest that somebody ought to intervene somewhere and say, Hey people, this is unnecessary and it really does have bad consequences, so KNOCK IT OFF! So, when somebody comes forth and tries to do the responsible thing, remind people that they DO have a responsibility to the people around them, your response is to whine. God forbid YOU should be involved in an accident caused by some imbecile chattering while driving.

Here’s the thing: you have every right to point out a bad law’s failure to address a wrong. When it’s clear–clear as can be–that a behavior endangers the lives of others, what on earth is wrong with you that you can’t bring yourself to go beyond whining about a crummy law by enjoining people in a pretty powerful way to respect human life and act responsibly?

Ayn Rant

December 14th, 2011
7:29 am

Driving is not a right. It is a serious social activity in which qualifications must be met and rules observed. Hands-on cell phone use while driving is an act of recklessness that should be punished by a fine, confiscation of the phone, and suspension of driving privileges.

Surely everyone who drives has observed careless and dangerous acts by irresponsible fools talking or texting on a cell phone. Fortunately, the ban can be enforced as easily as the requirement to use seat belts and child seats, and to avoid driving while under the influence of alcohol. Police should stop any motorist observed or reported using a cell phone, and inspect the call or texting record of the phone for evidence.

GPS devices are usually programmed at the beginning of the trip, and need no more setup once the trip is underway. A driver should pull off the road to fret over a GPS device.

The sensible European approach to cell phone use in cars is that a driver observed using, or even having, a hands-on phone within easy reach is subject to a heavy fine unless the cell phone is installed in a hands-free device. Talking on a hands-free phone is somewhat distracting, but no more so than talking to a passenger in the car. Emergency calls should be made by first pulling off the road or freeway.

Europeans use cameras to enforce driving rules, including speed limits and hands-on phone usage. A photograph is much more efficient and reliable than direct observation. Fines for traffic violations are sent via mail and are rarely appealed in the face if irrefutable photographic evidence.


December 14th, 2011
7:38 am

The nanny government must be stopped. Things like the seat belt mandate! Sure, seat belts will save some of those using them, and, kill some of those using them! It is the wrong agenda to constantly report when someone is not wearing a seat belt, but, never when they are! Is that a left wing liberal agenda?? YES! The government has to be stopped from controlling every last little insignificant thing in our personal lives! To do that we must insure no liberal, leftist, socialist, communist, progressive, democrap is ever elected again! Then we must impeach EVERY SINGLE ACTIVIST JUDGE AND INSURE NO MORE ARE EVER PUT INTO A LIFETIME JUDICIAL POSITION!

ragnar danneskjold

December 14th, 2011
7:38 am

Agree, too many laws already. If they will abolish two for every one they pass, I’ll take it.


December 14th, 2011
7:45 am

Are they going to pass the law that keeps police officers from using their radios while driving as well? I mean, if it’s a hazard, it’s a hazard.


December 14th, 2011
7:52 am

So 7% doesn’t matter.. it’s trivial? So 7% unemployment doesn’t matter either? Be consistent. I agree, hands-free should be o’k, but the rest… NO


December 14th, 2011
7:53 am

It’s a more sensible law than the one that bans marijuana. At least driving while texting has killed people. No one has ever died from smoking pot.


December 14th, 2011
7:54 am

It is difficult to catch drunk drivers and drivers without licenses too, but those are still good laws. Just because it is dificult to enforce doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be made a law.


December 14th, 2011
7:54 am

We survived how many years without phones in the car? And Zeke stopping watching Fox.


December 14th, 2011
7:55 am

Right on. Few people will obey such a law. There are risks in life. Deal with it. I’ll choose freedom, thank you.

Phone-Using Drivers = WORTHLESS

December 14th, 2011
7:56 am

If you use your cell phone while driving, you deserve to be executed by the nearest law enforcement official.

Yes, really, and that includes YOU, too.

You are a self-centered danger and a menace to our society, and your selfishness needs to be eradicated from it.


December 14th, 2011
7:58 am

Just more of Big Brother controlling our lives. How about, you pay double if it is proven the accident was caused by stupidity…the the citizne can make a choice – to be stupid or to do the right tihng!


December 14th, 2011
7:59 am

The right to transport yourself and your property has been recognized since at LEAST the Magna Carta, which prohibited government taking horses or carts for transport. The modern equivalent is driving a car (indeed, automobiles DIRECTLY replaced horse and cart as primary mode of personal transportation). Therefore, driving is ABSOLUTELY a right. For those that claim “public road”: “public” means we BOTH have ownership of it, and you CANNOT tell me what to do with my use of my property. If YOU get to dictate the use, *I* should have the right to not to pay for it.


December 14th, 2011
8:02 am

Ayn Rant:

You are mistaken. Driving is a right, just like everything else one might choose to do. However, we have a system where the people choose representatives to regulate certain of those rights for the common good. The government doesn’t own anything it can call a “privlage” and give to folks.


December 14th, 2011
8:05 am

Jeff: This isn’t England, the Magna Carta has nothing to so with us. While moving is a right, driving is a privilege. That’s why we have to get licenses for it.


December 14th, 2011
8:08 am

Jimmy: Where do you think the Founders got their ideas of a set of “natural rights”? A: From the English system, based upon the Magna Carta…

2nd Cup

December 14th, 2011
8:09 am

Casual and continuous gee-jawing on cell phones period is a symbol of pretentiousness. People don’t need to use their phones today…they need to be seen using them.

If you honestly believe that you should be allowed to talk or text on your phone while driving that by association you believe that you should be allowed to drive drunk or stoned, risking the lives of those of us who choose not to drink, smoke pot or talk and text while driving. Stop calling distracted driving a civil liberty being squelched by “Big Brother.”


December 14th, 2011
8:12 am


I’ll say it again. Driving is a regulated “RIGHT”. Government doesn’t actually own anything that it can “give” anyone.

The Magna Carta, and the English common law that developed from it are the basis of our legal system, so yes it does have something to do with us.


December 14th, 2011
8:14 am

i am not a fan of lawsuits BUT what this will law will do is make it a CRIME and NEGLIGENT if you hurt someone while driving AND it is because you were distracted talking/texting on the phone. that is the only thing that will stop people – just like MADD did w/ drunk driving. The first person that is charged w/ a criminal penalty and civil lawsuit will make our self-centered population wake up. when you are in the car – drive – nothing else.

barking frog

December 14th, 2011
8:15 am

Truck drivers have used CB radios extensively for years which
require more attention than cellphones.

Call it like it is

December 14th, 2011
8:16 am

Dont do a ban, but if your in an accident, the police should be able to pull your records and if it shows you were on the phone while drving, $1000 fine on the spot. That should make people think twice. Also I’m on the insurance side of this, and if you dont think accidents havent increased because of cell phone, gps use, your smoking crack. All I can say is if you force people to go blue tooth, accidents will drop and rates will follow and wouldnt that be nice.


December 14th, 2011
8:16 am

Aquagirl and Michael deserve a standing ovation. Absolutely correct.

Zeke and Jeff make me weep for what our country has become.


December 14th, 2011
8:17 am

Saw what I would say was probably a cell phone accident this morning. Enough of the nanny state. Just because the Democrats want the government to dictate every facit of our lives (somebody needs to help those poor people) doesn’t mean we have to let them win. Vote common sense.

independent thinker

December 14th, 2011
8:18 am

very simple- require all cars to have a jamming device for cell phones within 3 feet of the steerring wheel

Call it like it is

December 14th, 2011
8:20 am

“Truck drivers have used CB radios extensively for years which
require more attention than cellphones.”

Wrong across the board. CB’s stay on one channel, there mounted overhead, mike is on a spring that they pull down, they dont have to hold it to their ear, they dont have to dial, your cant text on one, they can drop the mike and it springs up out of way and I could go on…


December 14th, 2011
8:21 am

Give me liberty or give me a cell phone. They can have my cell phone – when they pry it loose from my dead body’s hands (in a totaled car no doubt)!

Reeves Carrol

December 14th, 2011
8:26 am

As a Health Care Provider, I firmly believe in this law going into effect. I personally have witnessed people texting while driving even with the ban on it in Georgia. What is wrong with pulling over
to make an emergency call? Another pet peeve is people in stores, grocery buggies blocking
aisles while people just “yak” to their hearts content. You can’t help but listen as you wait or
move their buggy out of the way and the conversations are always trivial.
Too many deaths have been attributed to cell phone use and texting. I recall the teenager about
2 yrs. ago in Atlanta who hit the mother and young child while talking on the cell phone. They
would still be alive if she had used the phone when she was not driving.


December 14th, 2011
8:28 am

BAN,BAN,BAN,I they keep on you will have to drive with both hands on the wheel.


December 14th, 2011
8:29 am

And yet, we have a seat belt law and it is being enforced. I suspect that those of you who lambast the nanny state for wanting a cell phone ban law are the same ones who don’t want any gun laws even though thousands are killed every year by guns. Your level of selfishness defies comprehension.


December 14th, 2011
8:29 am

The basic issue is that cars should be designed and engineered to drive themselves (or at least avoid dangerous situations). That eliminates ALL “distracted driver” situations, not to mention other surprises. I think Mercedes even has a commercial demonstrating this technology.

Bart Abel

December 14th, 2011
8:38 am

Unenforceable, arbitrary, over-reaching, resource-intensive regulations like this proposed one will make some people feel good about themselves.

I support such legislation for the same reason that I supported seat belt laws, which people argued were unenforceable, arbitrary, over-reaching, resource-intensive regulation…it works.

In response to the “…make some people feel good about themselves…” remark, this quip might have made Kyle feel good about himself, but such mockery from a big city newspaper opinion writer does not persuade. Kyle needs to grow up.


December 14th, 2011
8:47 am

I am m

I am not to concerned about texting. The shape our roads are getting to be it is difficult to do as a passenger. I agree with distracted driving, I have seen reading books, changing clothes, having se eating, slapping kids, feeding kids in backseat
Carseats, watching tv, smoking. Hands free phone is the least of my worries.
The same arguments were made when radios were put in model A cars.q. truck drivers and police spend a lots of time on radios, so I don’t buy the hands free. Problem


December 14th, 2011
8:48 am

Another example of the Obama administration’s vision for America. Next thing you know they will be telling us how to wipe our butt. They ignore the lunacy of their thoughts. Ban cells phones, you gotta be kidding. It would be a failure akin to prohibition. Next time you hit the road, take a look at how many have the phone to their ear. Most people crawl before they walk. Requiring hands-free might just work and certainly needs to be tried first.


December 14th, 2011
8:52 am

Jeff: They also got a lot of their ideas from the Bible, are you saying that the Bible should be considered law in the US?

Sorry dude, no one is disputing that the Magna Carta influenced our own rule of law, but the Magna Carta still does not apply here. Is this England? Nope. Maybe that’s your problem, geography.