June 13, 2001 -- Here’s another one for the “There ought to be a law!” file: banning cell phones while driving. It is distracting and may even cause road rage in fellow drivers. There ought to be a law, right?

With 40 states considering some type of ban on using cell phones while driving, most people think so. New York Governor George Pataki even issued an executive order banning state employees from using state-issued cell phones while behind the wheel. And the New York state legislature is considering a statewide ban. “There ought to be a law!”

On the talk radio circuit, listeners and hosts alike complain about swerving drivers and near-miss accidents. On Capitol Hill, Congress holds hearings. “There ought to be a law!”
This is about safety, right? The government just wants to protect us and keep us safe, even if it means protecting us from ourselves. But if this was an issue of safety, then why aren’t there hearings about listening to music, talking with fellow passengers, or eating while driving? Studies by the National Highway Safety Administration and the UNC Highway Safety Research Center indicate that these are more likely to cause accidents, but we don’t see Governor Pataki banning them. We also don’t see polls indicating 87 percent of New Yorkers wanting such a ban as we do for cell phones. “There ought to be a law!”
This is about politics, not safety. Cell phones are an easy and popular target. People love their own cell phones, but hate other people’s cell phones. We can’t stand it when we are forced to listen to someone else’s phone conversation in public places. We get into a huff when we hear the phones ringing while dining out. We hate this, and with the rise in cell phone usage we see it more often.
We’ve become a society in which everything we do is covered by some law or regulation. And because of this we are losing the ability to decide for ourselves how to act. Should I drive and talk on the cell phone? I better ask my congressman. Should I take this supplement? I better ask the FDA.
What we should be concerned about is self-responsibility, a character trait long missing from American culture. We make stupid choices and expect others to pay for them. We would rather our representative make decisions for us; we don’t want the responsibility of having to actually think about it ourselves. It is so much easier to wait for an elected or appointed official to tell us what to do.
Adults make their own choices and take responsibility for the consequences of their choices. This is what it means to be an adult! We’ve become a nation of children, looking to the government as our parent. We’ve abrogated our responsibility and we are no longer truly adults.
Laws already exist in most states punishing reckless driving. So, if you are driving carelessly because you are chatting on the cell phone, you can and should get a ticket. Adding a new law banning cell phone use while driving is redundant and so not required. Furthermore, the people’s cry for such an unnecessary law is illustrative of our lack of self-responsibility. Rather than responsibly considering whether or not our actions are reckless, we give over this job to bureaucrats and politicians.
Not knowing how to behave without being told what to do, people will still clamor for such a law, and politicians—in a race to please—will gladly oblige. Now, there ought to be a law against that.


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