News Item: The nannies at the National Transportation Safety Board want states to ban cell phones for drivers. Period. No texting, web surfing or calling, not even with a "hands free" headset or car speaker phone system.
The NTSB rationale: The number of accidents caused by distracted drivers. Some 3,092 roadway fatalities last year involved distracted drivers, although the NTSB claims "the actual number may be far higher." (In other words, they don't believe their own statistic, but they're still more than willing to use it to make their point. Nice.)
First of all, there is a significant problem with using "distracted drivers" as evidence that a cell phone ban is needed. Nobody keeps stats on what, exactly, distracted those drivers.
Certainly I would concede that cell phones are a part of that equation, but how big of a "cell phone problem" are we really talking about?
No one knows.
If the cell phone is now such a menace to sane automotive navigation, then statistics should show an overall increase in traffic accidents and fatalities from... say... 10 years ago.
The truth is just the opposite. The NTSB's own numbers show a decline -- all the more striking when you consider that there are more cars and trucks traveling more miles now than 10 years ago.
Sure, we've all heard the anecdotal evidence. A driver weaving wildly down the road like a drunken bear (my apologies to bears) with a cell phone in each paw. Horrifying! Disgusting!!
But one such story or a hundred stories are not a sound basis for government policy.
And what happens when we ban cell phones in cars and discover that the number of distracted driving fatalities per passenger mile (the only truly meaningful measure) doesn't drop to zero? What then?
I say we ban Slurpees in cars. Burgers too. Burritos. Fries. All food.
I'd vote for a ban on radios. I have seen drivers singing and even shouting at their radios. Surely they can't be devoting their full attention to the road.
Ditto for CD's and ipods.
Get rid of those GPS devices. Have you ever tried to decipher one of those maps on a 4.3 inch screen? Big distraction.
Then there's makeup, electric shavers (guilty) and newspapers. Yes, I've seen people reading newspapers and maps while driving. Ban all of it.
And kids! Ban kids. Talk about a distraction.
Spouses too. And backseat drivers. (Sometimes they're one in the same.)
Better yet, we should mandate that all drivers have to wear those old horse blinders.
Or, how about sealing the driver in a Plexiglas bubble? -- A cone of silence!
Okay, take a breath.
I am not making light of the accidents that every day break bones and lives. The tragedies that happen on our roadways cause too much heartbreak. Nothing funny about them.
I am trying to demonstrate the absurdity of focusing on "bogeymen."
Do we really think that by taking away just a bit more free agency and individual responsibility we will all be safe?
So, how about this: When police officers see a car swerving, crossing lanes or otherwise creating a hazard, let them pull over that car. If the driver has a lipstick or a cell phone in hand, add an "enhancement" to the ticket they get for the moving violation. You can even call it "distracted driving."
What's more, if it can be proved that someone caused an accident because they were distracted -- for any reason -- throw the book at them. Make such a lapse a criminal offense that can include jail time similar to a DUI.
There. Now I feel better.