Ray LaHood, Driven to Distraction

I am not a fan of texting while driving, but I’m even less of a fan of ill-considered federal interventions. My new Bloomberg View column concerns Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s war on “distracted driving,” and the dubious evidence behind it.

Advocating the [National Transportation Safety Board]’s preferred ban, its chairman Deborah Hersman noted that 3,092 people had died in distracted-driving incidents in 2010. The Transportation Department estimates that Americans drove 3 trillion miles that year. That works out to 970 million miles driven for each distracted-driving fatality.

To put these numbers in further perspective: Drunken driving caused more than three times as many fatalities. And mobile phones were not the main cause of distractions, either, even if Hersman implied that they were. In 2009, the Transportation Department found that phones were either being used by or “in the presence of” a driver in 18 percent of distracted-driving fatalities. Another department report concluded that “conversing with a passenger was the most common source of distraction” from inside cars.

I go on to argue that federal efforts to ban the use of cell phones in cars, and even GPS systems, would be a mistake.

Ramesh Ponnuru — Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg View, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.