Ban Distractions: People, Cars

Pennsylvania Representative Joseph Markosek intends to propose on ban on using a cell phone while driving.  I must urge everyone to oppose such a law, which is a misguided (if well-meaning) restriction on the rights of free American people.  Lawmakers across the country are knocking down straw men in the name of our safety, and it’s time to send a message that we won’t stand for illogical, ineffective legislation.

This quote from the Times Herald indicates that this law is being proposed to fix the enforcement limitations on the recent texting ban.

Barry Ciccocioppo, Markosek’s communications director, said the ban is being introduced to help police enforce the current ban on texting while driving.
“Somebody can have a phone in their hand and say they weren’t texting, they were dialing a number,” he said. –

And yet, according to the press release, “Exceptions to the prohibitions would include… when initiating a phone call,” so Ciccocioppo’s hypothetical situation would persist.  Also in the Times Herald article, it was noted that there is no evidence showing that laws against cell phone use actually result in fewer traffic accidents.  Additionally, reading a text message on a phone is no different from reading a billboard, your GPS, a construction sign, or the display on your radio, yet every effort is being made to protect the legality of everything that doesn’t involve a phone.

The press release highlights the main public concerns. Amidst the rhetoric of appeals to children’s welfare, Markosek said, “People should have their hands on the wheel and be focused on the road when they are driving.”  This offhanded conflation of focused drivers with hands-free drivers is the most glaring fallacy.  With no other laws about where a driver’s hands can be, or what they can be touching, singling out cell phone use raises a red flag.  If the purpose of the proposed law is to keep drivers’ hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, we expect to gain nothing by specifying an individual item that is not allowed to be in a driver’s hand, especially when there are several exceptions to that rule.

“I have been an active proponent of legislation to eliminate distracted drivers to help make Pennsylvania a safer place,” said Rep. Eugene DePasquale, D-York County. “I sincerely believe the texting ban was an important first step toward eliminating the dangerous practice of distracted driving on our roadways. Now it is time to take another step toward safety.” –

Echoed in all three of the quotes above is the fallacy that banning a single source of distraction will prevent distracted driving.  This last quote perhaps recognizes that more needs to be done, but no further plan is discussed.  The disconnect between intended goals and proposed legislation is growing enormously across the nation, and we’re paying for it with our liberties.  In an era when large sodas are being banned in NYC to fight obesity, photo ID is being required in PA to fight non-existent voter fraud, and Americans are being terrified by the TSA to fight terrorism, our ability to be secure in our persons is being infringed upon by legislators’ quixotic and ineffective crusades, stemming from a lack of logic and critical thought.

Examine the goals, and work to meet them in a consistent manner.  The fervor is over cell phones, but the justification is being cited as “distracted driving”.  With distracted driving playing a part (not necessarily being the cause) in just 10% of all PA traffic accidents, perhaps the real target should be reducing overall accidents.  Impose strict enforcement on noticeably unsafe actions (e.g. drifting out of your lane, turning without signaling, and maintaining short following distances) to help get unsafe drivers off the road, and host additional classes and driving instruction to help get safe drivers on the road.  Decrease volume and congestion by increasing investment in public transportation and infrastructure.  Reduce traffic volume even further by fostering growth of internet and computers into every home and giving business incentives for allowing employees to work from home.  Decrease traffic deaths and injuries by providing incentives for driving cars with high safety ratings.  In addition to being more likely to achieve the intended effects, many of these proposals will add value to the state.
This isn’t about whether you think people should be able to talk on the phone while they’re driving.  This is about demanding sanity and consistency in our laws and lawmakers.  This is about having meaningful, enforceable laws, instead of showpieces that vilify scapegoats with the sole intended gain of reelection.  Our laws must make sense, and this one does not.