Deregulate Distracted Driving? Dangerous Politics.
April was Distracted Driving Awareness Month, a month set aside to raise awareness of the dangers of driving while distracted. The goal is to not only educate the public, but to promote effective legislation that can help save lives.
However, despite empirical proof that these laws are effective, some groups oppose them and in fact, despite the statistics, support deregulating.
In an article published by the National Review on April 6, 2017 [http://www.nationalreview.com/article/446492/distracted-driving-bans-slippery-slope], writer Scott Morefield argues against the need for stricter distracted driving laws and suggests deregulating existing laws.
The argument espouses a general libertarian political mantra that personal responsibility - not government intervention - is the answer to many contemporary hot-button issues. While personal freedom is vitally important, the argument for unrestrained freedom dangerously ignores the casualties created by irresponsible behavior. Because of the direct threat to everyone's safety, the government is the entity best positioned to establish and enforce guidelines for the behavior of vehicle operators.
When Politics Meets-the-Rubber of the Real World
While a wave of political nostalgia has swept the country, we can't allow today's laws to be determined by fanciful musings about a Wild West of personal freedom that never was.
These statistics illustrate why the personal freedom argument laid out in the National Review article is dead wrong. In a perfect world, if each person was responsible, there would be no issue with distracted driving: each driver would be educated and make responsible decisions. But in the real world this isn't the case. As anyone who has ever driven can attest, every driver does not act responsibility all the time.
Debunking the Deregulation Argument
The arguments for the dangerous deregulation of distracted driving laws are easy to refute. A closer look at three objections reveals the inherent flaws in the argument(s) for looser oversight of distracted drivers.
1) It's Different than the Drunk Driving Epidemic.
The National Review article makes the observation that laws restricting drinking and driving have not eliminated drinking and driving. Presumably suggesting that distracted driving laws are unnecessary because they wouldn't eliminate all distracted driving crashes. However, the author continues by acknowledging that these laws have slashed drunk driving fatalities by two-thirds. Wouldn't it be wonderful if distracted driving laws did the same?!
A parallel argument is presented offering that distracted driving isn't as serious a problem because it kills fewer people than drunk driving and therefore we don't need distracted driving laws. The author should try to tell that to the family members of the more than 5,000 individuals killed by distracted driving.
2) What's Next?! Outlawing Big Macs???
A common argument against tougher distracted driving laws suggests that texting-while-driving is no worse than eating a Big Mac behind the wheel. The problem with this argument is that it is factually inaccurate.
Anecdotal evidence tells us that we humans have been eating and driving for decades – yet the epidemic of distracted driving crashes has only appeared in the last several years. Coincidentally, with the widespread adoption of cell phones.
According to the International Business Times, the average text takes 4.6 seconds to complete. Driving 55 mph, that is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field. During this time, the driver's eyes are not focused on the road ahead, but are looking at their device. We humans are pretty good at finding our mouth with a burger, while still looking at the road.
No type of distracted driving is safe, but failing to ignore differences between texting and eating don't help address the problem. Studies have shown that while eating and driving doubles your accident risk, texting-and-driving is 23x more risky.
3) It's All About Those Teens…
In yet another inherently flawed argument, it is suggested that teenagers are primarily responsible for distracted driving.
According to a Pew Research Poll, adults are texting-and-driving just as much, if not more, than their teenage children. Nearly half of adults who text (47%) admit to texting-and-driving, compared to 34% of teens.
While teenage drivers are more likely to be involved in distracted driving crashes that result in a fatality, this has been attributed to their lack of driving experience and other factors that contribute to the severity of the accident(s). This is hardly an argument to suggest that it is safe for adults to text-and-drive.
Driving Forward From Here
Many states have already made efforts to reduce distracted driving and have seen positive results. Almost all states in the U.S., 46 of them, prohibit text messaging while driving. According to CBS news, these measures pay off. In a study between 2003-2010 comparing states before and after implementing distracted-driving laws, the numbers of hospitalizations from car crashes went down by seven percent. As a result, more safety laws are being added. In early April, North Dakota signed a bill into law that raises the fines drivers $100 if they commit a traffic offense or are involved in a traffic accident while distracted.
The evidence shows that distracted driving laws are effective and are proven to help save lives.
We all cherish the American value of "personal freedom", but as a driver on America's highways – alongside millions of others – I reflect on the quote commonly attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes: "Your right to throw a punch stops where my nose begins."
Let's continue efforts to curb distracted driving by supporting local laws and enforcement; encouraging cell phone companies to implement safety measures; promote distracted driving safety apps; and exercise personal freedom by making responsible decisions while driving.