Let’s Hear It for the Cellphone Ban!

Cell phones

Yesterday, the NTSB recommended banning all cellphone use in cars. The proximate cause of this was the horrific crash in Missouri that tgriffith referred to below. The probable cause of the crash was “distraction likely due to a text messaging conversation…” Further NTSB details are here; more examples of what influenced the NTSB are here.

We’ve written, probably to the point of your distraction, about driver distraction. My last piece advocated rigorous national standards for driver licensing and enforcement. But, as one of our commenters pointed out, the problem really is that driving is no longer seen as a privilege but has become a civil right, a “basic freedom.”

So we now have a situation in which people conceive that they have a right to do whatever they want in their vehicles, whether their actions endanger others or not. Well, they don’t.

Cellphone use has become endemic in America and around the world. There are 5.3 billion mobile phone subscribers—that is, 77 percent of the world’s population. So, we ask, why has the cellphone become so predominant and important? And how could a ban on its use in cars possibly work?

The seemingly irrepressible need to be connected seems to me like a kind of plague. Maybe it’s part of what my friend Bill Davidow, writing in The Atlantic, calls Internet Compulsion Disorder:

people who can’t put down their smart phones and kids sending and receiving hundreds of text messages a day. Many families no longer have dinner together. They sit at the same table but use their iPhones to check in with virtual friends on Facebook. The person weaving from lane to lane on the freeway is thumbing away on his BlackBerry.

DistractionThere is indeed a kind of addiction operating here, some sort of dopamine pleasure reward that a person gets from being connected. Bill compares it to the way fast food has hijacked the American diet. Twitter has hijacked our brains.

Our retail economics are built on the manipulation of desire, and a national cellphone ban for cars certainly won’t change that. Most state bans are ineffective. Though there have been a few successes, they are simply Band-Aids. The NTSB can only recommend a ban to the states.

The Congress needs to pass a law that electronically disconnects cellphones in cars, and don’t hold your breath for that to happen. Even then, how do you take even the first steps in combating the electronic addiction?

On the New York Times story about all this, one commenter (Joe6paq) has a solution:

Maybe if the USA would encourage cell phone use and texting while driving, the IQ of the general public would be improved by getting rid of stupid people.

Would a national ban disconnecting cellphones in cars help or hurt?


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  1. Mike, sorry to say that you are very likely to become a statistic at some time in the future. You’re very typical of cell phone users who think they are in control of their vehicle and that is why they become involved in so many accidents. I agree that any kind of distracted driving is dangerous, but finger-pointing at some babe playing with her hair won’t help you when you’re distracted just long enough (it only takes few seconds) to cause a crash. As with drunk drivers (and distracted driving is like drunk driving) you won’t be convinced until it is likely too late, and then the blood will likely be on your hands.

    Frankly, your problem is that you’re simply too self-centered and selfish to take responsibility for your own behavior, kind of like a drunk who drives or someone HIV positive who has unprotected sex without telling their partner. Hopefully you’ll grow up before it’s too late.

    As for the ban, what a joke. The police around here can’t (and don’t) enforce traffic laws. That’s why so many people in Michigan ignore the law, because they know the cops aren’t going to catch them. (Same reason why they speed and break other traffic laws.)

    Making people stop using cell phones in cars is a bit like prohibition– the devices are so endemic in our culture that you can’t stop it. I suppose the only smart thing to do is to make it easy for insurance companies to refuse to insure the losses of people who cause an accident while using a phone (but still insure their victims, of course, and make it easy for victims to get triple damages from cell phone users. Even Mike might think twice if he knew an accident would result in him being personally on the hook for the damage to both cars and any injuries.

  2. I’ll just copy my comment from the article by tgriffith, as it apples here, too:
    While I do agree that this is a tragic event, I personally will continue to use my phone while driving. I very rarely text while driving and the only time that I do text is while I’m at a stoplight. However, I will continue to make phone calls in my car. I am getting a hands-free solution, (a car-mount and bluetooth for my RAZR) but will continue to use my phone without it until I get it to make phone calls. I think that one can make a phone call while paying attention to the road. The main problem is that so many people don’t pay attention to the road while on the phone. I’ve seen people using their mirrors in their visors while driving presumably to put on make-up (or maybe they’re just checking themselves out, I’m not sure) and that is much more dangerous than making a phone call or even texting while driving yet their is no great demand for car manufacturers to take mirrors out of cars. Just today, on my way home from class I saw someone fixing her hair in her mirror while waiting for a light and then she continued to sit there, stopped in the middle of the road, for 10 seconds until someone had to honk at her. And what about eating while driving or drinking coffee/pop/water while driving. Are those not equally as dangerous? Or talking to someone in the passenger’s seat while driving? That’s no more dangerous than talking on your phone with a hands-free device, yet there are no outcries for only allowing one person in a car at one time. I could go on and on, but I believe I’ve made my point. There are many things as dangerous as or more dangerous than talking on the phone or texting while driving. If one must be banned, then they all should be banned.

    In addition to what I said there, I don’t understand why they wouldn’t then also ban radios in cars as well. Seeing how they can be a distraction. And then shouldn’t they take the laptops, as see in the picture of the cop car above, out of cop cars? I mean, aren’t those just another distraction? How is it any more safe for a police officer to be using not just a cell phone, but a laptop in a car?

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