A ban on using cell phones in cars is a lot like putting a Band-Aid on a sucking chest wound. Neither does much about the underlying problem.
In the case of cell phones, the underlying problem is bad driving — not the phones as such. Write a law forbidding their use and bad drivers will still be bad drivers — applying makeup, changing pants, or reading the paper while driving instead of yapping on their phones. And even if all those other things were also made illegal, the basic problem — scores of marginally skilled, inattentive or outright inept/reckless drivers — remains.
Do something about that — by closely scrutinizing any driver involved in an “at-fault” accident, for instance — and the “problem” attributed to cell phones will quickly become a non-problem.
But that’s not likely to happen, for several reasons.
First, Americans have an entitlement mentality about driving. Whether they’re able to drive competently — and without endangering others — is almost a non-issue. Obtaining a license in this country is extremely easy — and taking a bad driver’s license away often takes years of flagrant abuse. We barely require any demonstration of skills on the front end, when we first apply for a license — and in our dotage, only a few states have any measures in place to screen for age-related physical and mental decline. Almost every week, it seems, we hear or read about a senior driver plowing into a crowd of pedestrians. Or a three-time DWI offender who still had a valid operator’s permit when he killed a young couple. And so on.
Second, our system of traffic law is designed primarily to gin up “revenue” rather than promote safe travel on our roads. Everything from artificially low speed limits set anywhere from 5 to as much as 20 mph below the normal flow of traffic on a given stretch of road to things like bans on cell phones are set up to increase not just the number of potential “offenses” — but also the number of drivers potentially open to being ticketed for those “offenses.” Almost all of us “speed” from time to time, meaning we drive faster than the posted limit, because posted limits are significantly below the normal flow of traffic and it’s both uncomfortable as well as dangerous to drive appreciably slower than all the other cars out there. But the catch is, we’re open to a ticket for “speeding” at almost any time.
It will be the same with cell phones. It won’t matter whether you were actually driving in an unsafe manner at the moment the cop saw you on the phone. You might even be stopped at a red light. Just like all those tickets issued for doing 65 or 70 mph on the highway during the reign of the old 55 mph National Maximum Speed Limit (repealed, thankfully, in 1995), you’ll be ticketed on a technicality. The summons will likely be accompanied by an unctuous sermon about “safe driving” (again, just like the typical ticket for “speeding”). But you’ll know it’s a scam — that you weren’t doing anything intrinsically unsafe. That all you did was run afoul of an arbitrary rule enforced arbitrarily. You’ll still have to pay the fine, of course.
Many drivers are perfectly able to handle a cell phone and a steering wheel at the same time. They know when — and when not to — involve themselves in a discussion that might become a distraction. If that were not true, accidents should be at all-time highs, since cell phones (and driving and using cell phones) are now ubiquitous. The fact is, most people seem able to drive and use their cell phones responsibly.
There are, of course, some drivers who can’t handle a cell phone — and many of us have encountered such a driver ourselves.
But they often can’t handle a steering wheel, either.
Taking away their cell phones might reduce the threat such drivers represent — somewhat. But a more sensible approach would involve getting marginal/inept drivers off the road entirely — or at least, into a remedial driver’s education program. Followed by close monitoring to assure they’ve got what it takes to handle a motor vehicle with a minimum degree of competence.
Cell phone or no cell phone.