Risky business

The more drivers imperil others, the more government steps in

Much of the country needs stronger laws, in our view, governing the use of cell phones while driving.

What we don’t need is a one-size-fits-all policy from on high that treats texters, handheld and hands-free cell phone users the same.

The five-member National Transportation Safety Board voted unanimously recently to urge all 50 states to ban all cell phone use by drivers.

While we appreciate their perspective and agree that it’s risky to use cell phones while driving, we’re glad that five people are incapable of setting policy for 300-million-plus Americans across our very diverse nation.

Fact is, we think Georgia has it about right: Texting is banned for all drivers, and talking on cell phones is prohibited for drivers under 18.

And while we’re nonplussed that – once again – South Carolina legislators are way behind the curve, and haven’t outlawed texting, the beauty of this country’s governing structure is the freedom of states to fashion their own solutions to problems. That encourages innovation while leaving room for flexibility, common sense and local sensibilities and conditions.

We do think texting while driving is one of the most dangerous components of modern life, pure and simple. Can you imagine plopping a Royal typewriter down on your lap and typing out a letter while careening down the road? Well, the chief difference is simply the size and swiftness of the machine; there is no discernible difference in the danger of the two.

Some 35 states outlaw texting while driving. The others are sure to follow.

But banning all cell phone use? Much less likely.

For one thing, it may be too ingrained in our society. Much business gets done on cell phones, often in vehicles. Going back may be hopeless.

For another thing, there’s cell phone use and then there’s cell phone use. Talking on the phone is nowhere near as consuming as texting. And hands-free phone use is even less consuming than handheld.

As for hands-free, banning that would be ludicrous – as there’s hardly any difference between that and chatting with someone in the passenger seat. Are they going to ban that too?

It’s a good idea to avoid talking on cell phones, especially handheld, while driving. We strongly endorse it. But there are a lot of good ideas that a free people need not have forced upon them. Should the government also tell us what to eat (it increasingly is), what to wear, what habits to quit?

The government simply cannot reduce the risks in life to zero. It can help try to eliminate the worst of them, such as texting – and, indeed, a horrific texting crash in Missouri was cited in the NTSB’s cell-ban recommendation (even though Missouri already outlaws texting while driving). But there are other calculated risks in life that the government has little chance to eliminate. And the fact is, the overwhelming majority of cell phone users are doing just fine.

It’s always a delicate balance between security and freedom in a country such as ours. But in most cases, we err on the side of liberty.

The more that distracted drivers endanger others, the more likely it is we’ll lose freedom.

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