Texting While Driving

A Fedaral Law Banning Texting While Driving Is a Bad Idea

June 11, 2009

There is a movement afoot to try to get a federal law passed to make it illegal to text while driving. This is both unnecessary and irrational, but that has never stopped people from requesting legislation previously, and rarely even gives pause to congresscritters voting on the legislation.

Do I think people should text or use their cell phones while driving? No, possibly even absolutely not. It's pretty simple, it distracts you from the road and road hazards and increases your chances of having an accident. Have I ever used a cell phone while driving? Well, yes, but not often. Have I ever texted while driving? No, but then I really don't like texting anyway.

Why Do People Want a Ban on Texting While Driving?

This is pretty simple too, it's dangerous.

There are a number of cases where people who were texting or using their cell phones while driving have caused accidents, even fatal accidents. Frankly, that's a bummer. These people should not have been texting while at the wheel. They should have been paying attention and driving.

So, What's My Beef?

Did the act of texting cause these accidents? Maybe, but only indirectly. Texting or using your cell phone is not the problem. Distracted driving is the problem. A law like this is too narrow in scope, and is redundant with existing laws and regulations.

There's also a question of te validity of such a law at the federal level. Does this have to do with interstate commerce? It really doesn't seem to. Is this related to providing a standing military to defend the nation? I don't think so. In fact, that could arguably ba a case for an exception. (But I'm not sure that negligent driving in the name of national security is viable. If it were really a case of national security, you probably can pull over to make your call [see below].)

What's Wrong With a Law to Ban Texting While Driving

Well, to start with, it's micro-managing. When you start trying to legislate specific actions or excluding case, you get a heavy burden of law. There just get to be too many laws, and people can't understand them and can't work within them. You also start getting conflicting messages. One law for one little thing says one thing, while another law for another little thing says something different, and to the citizen who is doing some little thing, they may have though they were doing the first thing wen the enforcing officer thought they were doing the second. Then, of course, in court, everyone finds out that they were actually doing a third thing controlled by a completely different law. Little specific laws like this do not make the Law black and white, they make it all grey. this leads to unenforceability of broad swathes of laws, generally reducing safety.

In addition, we already have laws in most areas that ban texting while driving. An intelligent populace would be pushing, not for a new law to confuse things, but for enforcement of existing laws. Most areas have negligent driving or reckless driving laws, which are either very poorly written or already clearly cover driving while texting or driving while on your cell phone. We don't need a new law, we need to have law enforcement start enforcing the laws in place.

In addition, we need to educate people. Passing a law doesn't make people start doing something or stop doing something (especially without enforcement). You need to educate people about the dangers of whatever the concern is. Teach people not to text while driving. Teach people to not use their cell phones while driving. Teach people not to put on makeup while driving. Then start enforcing the existing laws.

When people start getting cited for reckless endangerment because they were driving while distracted, and this results in fines, jail time, public embarrassment, and possibly loss of their license, they may start to take responsibility. You weren't picked on or singled out. It isn't because you're a teenager or a woman or black or whatever, it's because you were causing a dangerous situation on the road. Or because you caused an accident. The cell phone may have been te cause of the distraction, or maybe intoxication or your cheeseburger was the root of the problem. Or maybe you were just showing off. It doesn't matter. You were negligent or reckless, and maybe caused an accident. It's your fault - not the cell phone's fault.

In addition to taking responsibility for their own actions, people need to learn what's urgent and what isn't. Maybe this is an urgent cell phone call that you absolutely must take right now. If that's the case, then it is worth pulling over, putting on your hazard lights, and taking the call. If it isn't worth pulling over for, the call can wait. With texting it is even more disjointed. Texting does not require the interactivity in real time that a phone conversation does. If you got a text, there is almost no case in which it was urgent enough to even look at right away, let alone respond to. If you need to look at it, again, pull over and top the vehicle. then you can look at the message and decide whether it was worth stopping te car for. If it does need a reply right away (which is highly unlikely) then it was worth pulling over for. And, while you're pulled over, you can reply. Then, when you are no longer distracted by the text, you can safely pull back into traffic and continue on your way.

What About the Laws?

There is no need for such a law. A law to prohibit texting is unnecessary and redundant, and reduces the effectiveness and enforceability of existing laws. No Senator or Representative who understands the purpose of law or the meaning of law will vote for a law like this in good conscience, and any who do should be promptly voted out of office by their constituency.

Informed citizens should not be pushing for a law like this, they should be pushing against it. Instead, put pressure on law enforcement to enforce the existing laws that already cover this behavior, and push on your schools and driver's education to inform students of the dangers and risks that this creates.

Yes, negligent and distracted driving are problems, but passing laws to try to deal with one possible cause can't be a solution. At best, it will annoy people. At worst, it will make enforcement more difficult and more problematic, making driving less safe overall.