Should Cell Phones in Cars Be Banned? a Libertarian Speaks
Was this Driver Texting?
Do Cell Phone Bans Work?
While many of us who have had close calls with distracted drivers would like to have safer roads, is a total ban on use of cell phones in the car the answer? My own state of North Carolina is currently considering a bill that would ban holding a cell phone while driving. We already have a law against texting while driving, although I still see people doing this daily.
There are several questions we need to ask before considering such a broad ban.
Is the Problem the Technology or the Individual?
Are there people capable of using technology safely while driving? We don't generally consider a trained police officer with a radio in the car to be a hazard to other drivers. During the era of CB radios I don't recall daily reports of accidents caused by truckers talking to one another about road conditions. Cell phones, however, seem to have made the roads much more dangerous. In my own city, a college professor riding his bicycle on a sidewalk was hit by a driver who was texting. Fortunately the professor survived this act of irresponsible stupidity by an obviously distracted driver. On my daily drives around town I sometimes feel like the only person not staring at a cell phone instead of the road ahead--often these drivers are weaving ahead of me with their phones in full view.
I would suggest that the proliferation of cell phones has made them so familiar that people do not even consider the danger they pose. When people text while walking across the street, text during worship services, and text during classes, why would they stop simply because they are doing something as mundane as driving? Any fool can buy a cell phone and almost any fool can get a driver's license, so our roads are highly dangerous.
Another problem is our mistaken belief in our ability to multitask. Most people underestimate the amount of attention their phone commands and overestimate the amount of attention they are paying to the important task of driving. Good driving commands attention to the road, to peripheral vision and to assessment of risks while driving. You cannot simultaneously think about the cars waiting to make a left turn at the light and think about texting "ROFL" to your "BFF".
Are Bans Enforceable?
A law that is not enforced is less than useless. Would pulling over everyone with a cell phone be possible or practical? There are already laws in many locales that prohibit texting while driving, but law enforcement can only know such a law was truly violated by looking at phone records after the fact. Catching someone in the act with your own two eyes is not easy.
Talk About It
Do you know someone who has been hurt by a distracted driver?
Is There a Better Way?
An Alternative that Would Work
I believe a better alternative is to deal with dangerous drivers severely on the occasion of their first auto accident. Cell phone records that prove the driver was texting at the time of an accident would be prima facie evidence of reckless driving--an offense that means automatic license suspension in most states. Of course, people do drive while their licenses are suspended or revoked. Alcoholics and illegal aliens often drive without a valid operator's license. The solution to this problem is to institute mandatory jail time for driving without a license following a previous moving violation.
By putting teeth into existing laws, we would raise the price of driving like an idiot. When the price of something goes up, we tend to see people think more before acting. Instituting a "stupid tax" * on foolish drivers would mean less stupidity.
* Acknowledgement to Dave Ramsey for introducing me to the concept of "stupid tax"
News story: http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/breaking/chi-ntsb-recommends-ban-on-all-driver-cell-phone-use-even-handsfree-20111213,0,5207833.story
Info on multitasking: http://www.bukisa.com/articles/507625_multitasking-versus-concentration