NTSB “Recommends” that States Ban Use of Cell Phones to Call or Text While Driving

The National Transportation Safety Board today said it “recommends” that states outlaw all non-emergency phone calls and texts by all operators of vehicles on the road.

We know how this goes. First it’s just a “recommendation.” Next, it becomes a string attached to federal funding that the states can’t afford to do without. Or maybe Congress — or perhaps even a regulatory agency without even a peep from Congress — goes ahead and promulgates the ban under the pretense that calling while driving and texting “affects” interstate commerce. After all, if your refraining from purchasing health insurance affects interstate commerce (as many smart appeals court judges apparently believe), then surely phoning and texting while driving does.

In a proper society we’d have private roads, with the owners of those roads deciding what rules to impose. And we’d have insurance company policies and tort liability rules geared to punish those whose calling and texting behavior caused accidents. Instead, today we have the increasingly interventionist nanny state giving us a “one size fits all” approach.

Thoughts?

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18 Comments

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18 responses to “NTSB “Recommends” that States Ban Use of Cell Phones to Call or Text While Driving

  1. If I’m recalling correctly, it’s rather like what Ayn Rand talked about in regard to the students engaging in protests of the Vietnam War in the 60’s, and their takeover of public administration buildings. So long as the buildings were public, the school administrators had the right to control them, not the students. Likewise, with roads, there’s many safety laws that are essential — and though the roads should not be public, someone has to administer them. We can argue if it should be the Feds (I don’t think they should), but there’s a valid safety issue with regard to using phones while driving. One doesn’t need to quote studies to know they are distracting; I’d guess anyone who has tried to dial or talk while driving knows that. Does it rise to the level of a ban, like drinking and driving? Probably not for speaking into a phone. Probably should be banned for texting, unless the person can do it with their eyes closed.

    But as a practical matter, a texting ban would be pretty hard to enforce and violations would be rarely charged, so what’s the point? We could just as well have bans for reading books while driving, or watching TV while driving, or women putting on their makeup while driving. (I’ve seen all of them.) I’d just prosecute people for negligent or hazardous driving, when it occurs, and let it go at that.

  2. I think it has been clearly shown that texting and driving is dangerous and not a good idea. If one has to look at the keyboard or the read-out while driving, more accidents are going to occur. Talking on the phone has also been shown to be highly distractive, unless one has a hands-off device and doesn’t have to hold the phone up to your ear. Some people claim they can multi-task in this manner of either texting or talking on the phone while driving, but even the Myth Busters have done studies and have shown that it is highly distractive. And I know from personal experience that people are not focused on the road while talking on the phone — can’t tell you how many times I have waved people on to cut in front of me being a nice guy, and while they are on the phone, they just aren’t paying attention. Looking at a map while driving is also distractive, and I recommend pulling off to the side of the road.

    But I think whether it should be banned or not is another question. Certainly, I agree with the drunk driving laws, as that puts other people in danger (and no one has a right to do that). But I don’t think cellphones have been shown to be as dangerous as drinking and driving. It’s a distraction, yes, but so are many other things, both inside the car and outside the car. We can’t go around banning everything that might make life a little more dangerous, as the driver ought to be taking full responsibility for his driving.

    I’m not against insurance rates going up, if one uses a cell phone to text or talk while driving, but I don’t know how they would enforce it. Or having a rider on the policy that says if you have an accident while texting or talking on a cell phone, then your rates will go up. But I don’t think it is something the Federal government ought to get involved in, since it depends too much on the conditions of the road and the ability to focus and multi-task while driving. I think it would be a local issue.

  3. John

    Clearly, texting while driving is dangerous, but people should only be prosecuted if they get into a crash because of it.

    As with all government regulations, the problem only gets worse with the regulation on top of it; in the case of texting, people try to lower their phones even further away from the windshield so that cops won’t see it. As a result, their reaction time is even further impaired, leading to an increase in crashes.

  4. Euphemia

    I’m a cyclist. My observation is that, for example, six out of ten drivers don’t signal until they are a few feet from making the turn. One of twenty doesn’t signal at all. Holding a cell phone leaves no hand free to signal. Yes, I could patiently wait for the phoning/texting driver to be penalized by a higher insurance rate after an accident occurs. Even then, the consequences to a cell phone user would be minimal and monetary. But if their inattention impacts me, the consequences are anything but minimal; they are almost certain to be life-altering if not fatal. Bottom line, any cell phone found “on” in a vehicle after an accident ought to negate all insurance coverage, hands-free devices excepted.

  5. The most distracting thing in my car is my own chidlren. Is the NTSB going to ban them next?

  6. John Stossel just published a blog post about this with some interesting statistics:

    http://www.foxbusiness.com/on-air/stossel/blog/2011/12/14/caution-government-makes-everything-worse

    “Millions more drivers have cell phones now, but fatal crashes are at an all-time low, with just 1.1 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2010. Total highway deaths fell to 32,885 which is the lowest level since 1949.
    “I’m just as distracted by the radio, my GPS system, and the dog in the car as by my phone. As I’ve written before, cell phone bans don’t solve anything. In fact, a ban may led to more accidents”

  7. Craig

    Suppose (reasoning implies or statistical studies show) the consequences of an activity are good or bad according to someone’s notions. Does that justify mandating or prohibiting the activity? Would any law with such a basis be compatible with a free society and/or individual rights? If so by what principle?

  8. Luke Murphy

    @Euphemia:

    “Bottom line, any cell phone found “on” in a vehicle after an accident ought to negate all insurance coverage, hands-free devices excepted.”

    Really? So not only are we not allowed to talk on our phones while driving, but we have to remember to turn them OFF every time we go anywhere? What if a loved one has an emergency? You think that I should be unreachable as soon as I get behind the wheel?

  9. Luke Murphy

    I’m surprised by the number of comments I’m seeing here in support of banning texting and talking on the phone while driving. Yes, Amy is absolutely correct that the only fully principled answer is to say that the government shouldn’t own the roads. Beyond that, all I can say is what I would do if I owned a private road, and I can say that I would NOT ban the use of cell phones.

    Commenters keep referring to studies that prove that using a cell phone while driving increases the chances of an accident. However, just because a study shows that a certain event is statistically more likely does not mean that it is actually more likely to occur for every individual in every individual situation. I text/talk and drive all the time and have yet to have an accident due to it. Usually I will send a text while stopped at a red light. Or, on the highway when I’m just cruising along, it’s fairly easy to text (especially with Siri :D)and extremely easy to talk without increasing the risk of an accident. I’ve had quite a few close calls, ranging from no-big-deal to wow-that-was-close while I was driving distracted, in which the car in front of me stopped suddenly and I didn’t see it quickly enough and had to either brake hard or in a couple cases even swerve a little. However, as far as I recall, NOT ONE of these close calls occurred due to talking or texting on my phone. I’ve had near misses because I looked down to adjust the volume on the radio, or to pick up a drink from the cupholder, or to adjust the air conditioning, or to look at printouts from Google maps, or to look at the map on my phone. There are dozens of possible distractions for drivers that can all cause accidents. Do we really want to try and ban them all? This kind of thing falls under the category of risky behavior, and the best way to deal with risky behavior is to individualize the total cost to the risk-taker when the risky behavior results in harm to other people. Otherwise, you’re punishing people for victimless crimes. There are many benefits to being able to do other tasks while driving, and this should not be ignored.

    For the record, I always use my turn signals, even if I’m on my phone. And again, other distractions like eating or drinking also require you to drive one-handed.

    • Yet another excuse, er, um, reason, to get Siri 🙂

      • Luke Murphy

        I’ve found Siri to be of most use so far while I’m driving. She’s not perfect though, and certainly does misunderstand my text messages sometimes. I usually will send these messages to my friends anyway, because the mistakes can be really funny :D.

  10. For the record,I have not said cell phones / texting ought to be banned, and I don’t think anyone else has said that either. When I mentioned the conditions of the roads and said it was a local matter, it depends on how dangerous the roads are to begin with. Because the roads in my area tend to be country roads that a very winding, I don’t use my cell phone while driving; and I could understand having some sort of local penalty for texting / talking while driving if it is not a hands free device.

    • Luke Murphy

      “For the record,I have not said cell phones / texting ought to be banned, and I don’t think anyone else has said that either.”

      Sorry Thomas, you are right. My mistake.

  11. Luke Murphy

    Hopefully soon our cars will be able to drive themselves so that way we can be as distracted as we like when on the road!

  12. Andrew

    This seems like one of those issues that is interesting to talk about and warrants a principled position. However, it seems like one of the least important issues in terms of priority. Public roads aren’t going away any time soon, and things like education and health-care need to privatized much more urgently. Consequently, the question as to whether or not cell phone banning while driving is necessary seems like it would consume too much intellectual resources (e.g., I wouldn’t spend my time writing about this in letters to editors, but if someone was passionate about it, good on ’em, I say).

    Where I live, in Ontario, Canada, cell-phone use while driving is banned.

    Also, I wonder what the statistics look like broken-down by age-group. Lets face it, teenager have terrible attention and just as they can’t have a drop of alcohol in their system under out current law, it makes sense to have a similar approach to texting and driving. I mean, the way teenagers are glued to their god-damned electronic devices is disturbing, and much like an alcoholic will still drink and drive more likely than the average person, so will teenagers text and drive, even though their attention and experience behind the wheel is weaker.

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