This has been a big couple of weeks for nanny-staters and those that loathe individual liberty. Fresh off a big win for statists, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced his national initiative to once-and-for-all end the scourge of our time: cell phone usage while driving.
His initiative, called the “Blueprint for Ending Distracted Driving”, is aimed at states that have not already banned the practice of driving and talking. But while LaHood would like to see states adopt this ban, he made it clear that he would like to see Congress enact a national ban.
LaHood, dropping any pretense of trying to “curb” distracted driving, has opted for the more direct route. “The bottom line for me is to get where we’re at with seatbelts and with drunk driving,” LaHood said. “When those programs were started, people were very skeptical that you could get people to buckle up.”
While LaHood may be right that seat belts are good ideas, he is wrong in the assumption that it is the government’s role to legislate on behalf of what are good ideas. Rather than being in the business of legislating that which is good for us, those that govern should be more concerned with maintaining an administrative function.
How long until there are bans regarding cell phone usage and talking? Wait, too late, it’s already here. Police in Fort Lee, New Jersey, are ticketing pedestrians who text and walk. Claiming it’s a distraction, police are issuing tickets that are $85. This is precisely the slippery-slope problem we need to address.
Currently, 39 states prohibit texting while driving while 10 states ban cell phone use altogether. Meanwhile, a comprehensive study last year found no conclusive evidence that hands-free cell phone usage was any less dangerous. Furthermore, it found no evidence that cell phone and texting bans have reduced crashes. More than simply being ineffective, such laws function as the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent and only beget more of the same. Nanny-statism runs rampant and more and more laws are created by a government that, quite frankly, has bigger fish to fry.
Using both the “stick” and the “carrot”, the House and the Senate have been mulling over how to address this “problem”. In the House in 2009, a bill was pushed by several lawmakers to twist the arm of state governments by withholding federal highway funding until they pass appropriate anti-cell phone legislation. Considering such thuggish tactics worked to get the drinking age raised to 21, I see this as highly likely.
The Senate went with a different approach and has been considering a bill pushed by Democrats that award grants to states that play ball and outlaw texting and hand-held cell phone usage while driving. The windfalls are to be used to educate the public about the dangers. I honestly don’t know which tactic I find more abhorrent: the one that uses extortion to achieve federal ends or the one that treats us like children being rewarded with candy for doing what we’re told.
Maybe I’m not marching on Washington, but I am committed to my own form of protest. I talk and drive. I do it not because I am merely unwilling to change; I do it because I do not recognize this arbitrarily prohibited action as any more dangerous than other actions which are allowable by law. I talk and drive while others change CDs, eat hamburgers, hold dogs in their laps or do all of them at the same time. If, as a pedestrian, I get hit by a car driven by someone on a cell phone or someone with a dog in their lap, am I any less injured one way or the other? Either we need to ban everything that isn’t “hands at ten and two”, or we need to accept inherent risks of driving, and take personal responsibility every time we take the wheel. Personally, I’m rooting for the latter. Alas, I’m willing to bet that this isn’t the last we’ve heard of the nanny-staters.