Saturday, October 01, 2005

Column on Bannig Phoning While Driving

Banning Driving While Phoning

Tibor R. Machan

Richard Roy, a state representative of Connecticut, is quoted in The New
York Times, Saturday, October 1, 2005, saying "There's nothing worse than
seeing someone driving down the road, on the phone or shaving or putting
on make-up, and there's a child in the back seat." With this hyperbole he
was defending the new law in the state banning the use of cell phones
while driving a car.

Actually, cell phone use by drivers can be just as safe or unsafe as
combing one?s hair, fiddling with the CD or cassette player, searching for
house keys in one?s pocket or purse or doing innumerable other things that
may distract one. To pick on cell phone use is unjustified.

This is not to say that some people aren?t quite reckless as they drive
and use their cell phones. But, that?s not unique to cell phone use, as
already noted. Indeed, a good policy is to get away from drivers who are
talking to and looking at their passengers. It?s scary?they could get so
involved as to miss umpteen hazards. But is it sensible to ban this?

I am not disputing the authority of the managers?the government?to set
rules for the use of the roads. Clearly this is what underlies all these
rules of the road, even when they are an overreach. Anyone who owns or
manages a realm may establish rules within that realm?prohibit people from
smoking in one?s home or restaurant or offices, require them to take their
shoes off before coming in; you name it and ownership confers such a
right. Other people, of course, have the right to stay clear of such
realms when they disagree with such rules.

Unfortunately, when it comes to roads, there is no alternative to using
the ones the state administers, so unlike in the case of homes and
restaurants, there?s no choice??You want to drive, you got to deal with
the man.? That?s how it is, unless you can find some private road system
someplace, and even then the government will probably have intruded big
time. (Perhaps an exception is raceways, where the owners set the rules;
however, these are only available to qualified racers.)

So the issue of whether to ban hand held cell phones by automobile
drivers isn?t about who has the power to impose such a ban?clearly, in the
way our society is managed, the government does, although we can dicker
about whether local, county, state or federal politicians and/or
bureaucrats have that legal authority. It seems, however, that whether a
general ban ought to be imposed is very difficult to know?some drivers may
well be using cell phones and while doing so driving even more safely than
when they do not; while using them, they may well be especially focused on
their driving, whereas when they are not, they could become complacent.
This can apply to the use of any other implement?I, for example, often
shave as I drive and increase my focus on the road as I do this. Shaving,
of course, doesn?t run the risk of getting too involved with something
that can take one?s mind off the road. Selecting a CD from one?s
collection, however, can be much more distracting than using a cell phone.

When politicians and bureaucrats get involved in micromanaging how people
ought to drive, they can very easily become pointlessly intrusive. They
can be like those parents who meddle in everything their teen children are
doing and thereby drive a serious wedge between them and the kids, even
encourage rebelliousness instead of prudence. This would likely be even
worse with those who manage the roads?they are, after all, dealing mostly
with adults who pretty much hold on to the notion that they, not some
official, ought to decided how they ought to drive a car. Evasion of or
resistance to rules can become routine and this may work against the
purpose a cell phone or similar ban is meant to serve.

It seems to me that the answer is to focus not on what people do in their
cars while driving but on the actual driving they do, which is what those
who enforce the rules of the road can deal with most effectively. It
shouldn?t be an issue whether one is using this or that implement that may
for some but not for others serve to impede their driving. It should be an
issue of whether the driving is competent, which is something quite
independent of why it may or may not be.

In a free society it isn?t the state of mind of citizens that should be
the concern of law enforcement, but primarily their actual conduct.

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