A universal driver-cellphone ban?

by Walter Olson on May 7, 2012

I’ve got an op-ed in Saturday’s Orange County Register taking exception to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood’s call for Congressional legislation to ban “talking on a cellphone or texting while driving any type of vehicle on any road in the country.” Something you might not have known: the feds blame a crash on distraction if a cellphone is so much as “in the presence of the driver at the time of the crash.” (Distracted Driving Summit Press kit (PDF), “Traffic Safety Facts” p. 2, h/t Investor’s Business Daily; earlier here, here, etc.) More: Rob Port, SayAnythingBlog. Update: LaHood spokesman says Reuters overstated his boss’s position.

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LaHood’s cellphone crusade, cont’d - Overlawyered
05.20.12 at 11:00 am

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1 Steve Parker, M.D. 05.07.12 at 3:59 am

Why don’t they just ban talking to your car passengers, too?

2 Frank 05.07.12 at 9:29 am

Yes, because talking to someone sitting beside you is just as distracting as typing and reading.

Of course, in some states, for beginning drivers, talking to passengers is effectively banned , by a ban on passengers at all. The majority of states restrict passengers for beginning drivers to 0ne or none.

Maybe you can count on the fingers of one hand how many texting/phoning drivers have driven into your space on the highway, I can’t. I have looked right at them through the window as they approach me while looking right at the two inch screen in front of them.

I wonder how many people on the other end of driver’s phone conversations ask “What’s that horn?”

Think of people you see walking and talking on a cell phone. Do they look like they are in tune with the world around them?

As a motorcyclist, I have observed that cell phone talkers/texters are much less aware of the traffic around them. I support any measure that will make it less likely for auto/truck drivers to run me down unawares.

3 Mannie 05.07.12 at 10:14 am

the feds blame a crash on distraction if a cellphone is so much as “in the presence of the driver at the time of the crash.

What’s that line about lies, damned lies and statistics?

I wouldn’t mind this so much if they also banned radios and computers in police cars. But the rules are for the little guy.

4 Dave B 05.07.12 at 11:36 am

Yep, and they ought to ban radio use for the police too. Dang, those guys/gals get to drive fast with red and blue flashers, sirens, got the radio, cell phone, and mobile data terminal, not to mention the adrenalin rush. Can’t forget the pilots, always on the radio near the airport, busy airspace they encounter and they’re on the radio with the tower, ground control, flight planning, geez, lots of distraction. Just can’t agree with nanny government, hold people accountable and quit punishing the rest of us.

5 mojo 05.07.12 at 2:38 pm

Then why are they asking me to break the law with their “Call 911 if you see a drunk driver” signage?

Does anybody think about this stuff?

6 DensityDuck 05.07.12 at 3:01 pm

Frank: So you admit to intentionally distracting yourself from driving by taking a survey of what other drivers are doing? Interesting.

7 gitarcarver 05.07.12 at 3:38 pm

There are two major points that need to be mentioned:

First, as Mr. Olson points out in his editorial, the government is ginning up the numbers to make the proposed regulations seem more “palatable.” Yet when the basis for the regulation is rooted in the sand of lies, the regulation itself is faulty and without merit.

Secondly, in deference to Frank’s thoughts on the issue, it is already illegal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to drive in an unsafe manner. If you are swerving in a lane, that is a traffic violation. If you merge into a lane where someone is there, that is a traffic violation.

We penalize the action, not what may happen. Texting and cell phones may be a distraction that we can address through education. If texting and cell phones lead to an actual act of unsafe driving, you penalize that act.

(And this doesn’t even address what right the Federal government has to mandate regulations on what is by definition, a state issue.)

Adding more laws on top of those that already exist is the epitome of “overlawyered” or at least “overlawed.”

8 DEM 05.07.12 at 5:00 pm

It seems to me that the operation of modern cars –almost uniformly automatic transmission, steering highly assisted, with all sorts of alerts, not to mention the sense if invincibility that comes with umpteen airbags and 5,000 lbs of SUV steel surrounding you — is incredibly easy and safe. The reality is that one can safely operate a car while talking on the phone, as evidencing by the fact that it happens about a billion times a day without incident.

This proposed ban is about the fact that some people, me included, find it annoying when other people use phones while driving. Often, you have to wait on them to start when the light turns green, etc. In that respect, and probably in many others, phones are no different from fishing your hand around in a bag to find some of the french fries you just bought at the drive-thru. Why one supposedly calls out for a massive (and likely unenforceable) ban, while the other does not, is a mystery to me.

9 Ted 05.07.12 at 7:30 pm

“We penalize the action, not what may happen. Texting and cell phones may be a distraction that we can address through education. If texting and cell phones lead to an actual act of unsafe driving, you penalize that act.”

Like speeding?

10 David Schwartz 05.07.12 at 9:02 pm

Frank: Why not penalize drinking as it can lead to drunk driving? Heck, why not penalize driving?

I wouldn’t mind so much if I thought the ban would be effective. But actually, it will just encourage people to be further distracted by the effort to look for nearby police, try to conceal what they are doing, and so on. It will also discourage the development of technologies that could make it less distracting.

I’m also puzzled how police can tell the difference between texting and navigating. Or are we going to ban the use of navigation devices while driving?

11 Jeff 05.08.12 at 9:53 am

David, you asked the question, “Or are we going to ban the use of navigation devices while driving?” Funny you should ask that, because the NHTSA just published a report that navigation devices are a distraction and recommended that they be changed in such a way as to make them useless for actual navigation (no dynamic view, latency, etc.). Wait for the first lawsuits against Garmin, Magellan, Tom Tom, etc. because the device offered those features.

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