The recent moral panic about texting while driving has been a fascinating example of how something can suddenly become a national concern. From no-one talking about this, sudenly “everybody” was. Laws have been passed!
Don’t get me wrong, I think that texting while driving is a dumb idea, although I’m not sure that this is an issue that should be legislated at the federal level. But now, it seems, it will be, thanks to the efforts of Ray LaHood, the pork-loving former Republican congressman currently serving as Transportation Secretary, a cabinet position now seemingly permanently reserved for a clown from the other side (I’m thinking of Norm Mineta here). Unfortunately, LaHood is not going to stop with a text ban. US News and World Report notes:
His goal is to have no distractions whatsoever in cars, even it means developing a device to shut down phones and BlackBerrys when the engine is started.
[He’s] no fan of car companies who pack steering wheels with high-tech gear, like Ford with its voice-activated Sync system that aids the use of hands-free phones and navigation systems. “I’m concerned that some of these car manufacturers are putting all these gadgets and bells and whistles in cars that are going to distract people.”
This just feels stupid. And it is. Reason’s Radley Balko explains why:
Of course, it’s possible that were it not for all the distraction LaHood bemoans, those numbers would be even lower. But let’s at least have an honest debate: We’re on our cell phones more, we’re driving more, and we’re on our cell phones while driving more. In that time, the roads have gotten safer, not more dangerous. Intuition also suggests that getting step-by-step GPS directions from your cell phone is quite a bit less distracting than fumbling with and following your trip progress in an Atlas. It’s also hard to conceive of a device of the type LaHood wants that would kill the driver’s phone but still allow passengers use of their cell phones. Barring all cell phone use in the car seems like a horrendous overreaction, with all sorts of unintended consequences I’ll bet LaHood hasn’t considered. But LaHood has met with the families of people allegedly killed by distracted drivers. And he has said that cell phone-toting drivers in D.C. annoy him. All of which suggests enforceability, practicality, perspective, and the possibility of unintended consequences aren’t likely to factor into his decision, nor into whether Congress decides to follow his lead.