What's Next? Can Senators Ban Stupidity While Driving?

from the legislating-while-grandstanding dept

A whole bunch of people have been submitting the story that some US Senators are now pushing a law that would effectively ban texting while driving across the country. Now, you may note that this is a state issue, rather than a federal issue, so the Senators have a sneaky way around that: they basically say that if states don’t pass such a law, they’ll withhold federal highway money. Now, let’s be very clear here: texting while driving is moronic. It’s obviously incredibly stupid and dangerous and you would have to be an idiot to do it. There was a recent study that wasn’t even worth mentioning because of course trying to type a message on your phone while you’re driving is going to massively diminish your driving skills and put everyone around you in danger.

That said, it’s unclear what good a “ban” on this does. It’s like trying to ban stupidity. There are a bunch of driver distractions, and people will continue to do them with or without a “ban.” The real answer is a combination of (a) education and (b) potentially technological solutions (voice control with voice-to-text?). Perhaps you could make the argument that a regulatory ban would serve to educate, but it seems like there should be more effective ways to teach people that it’s incredibly dumb to try to type out a text message while driving.

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Comments on “What's Next? Can Senators Ban Stupidity While Driving?”

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Dave says:

Similar law in the UK

And we needed the law simply because many drivers who DO text while driving don’t think it’s dangerous when THEY do it, because of course everyone thinks they’re a safe driver. Drivers are so frequently hypocrites when it comes to assessing how safely they drive versus that of those they share the roads with.

Placing a ban places a simple, logical reason to not text while driving, negating any driver’s apparent insistence that when they do it, they do it safely.

Richard says:

Re: Similar law in the UK

Yes – the problem was that mobile phone use by drivers became really excessive – so the police couldn’t ignore it. Many people (idiots) were using the car as an office and closing business deals etc whilst driving. The worst of it is that what we now have is a ban on holding a phone whilst driving – when safety studies have shown that its making the call that causes the distraction not specifically holding the phone. I’ve tried using hands free kits and I believe that they are more dangerous than holding the phone. When you hold the phone there is an incentive to keep the call short and you tend to suspend it by putting the phone down when the road conditions become more demanding. The law of course is stupid, so you can be prosecuted even if you are stationary in a traffic jam.

The whole thing has now fed into our “blame culture” of driving. So all kinds of minor “distractions” (retuning the radio, eating a chocolate bar etc) are pounced on by the police. It’s a slippery slope…

Richard says:

Re: Re: Re: Similar law in the UK

Well I would have thought that the phone company could tell the police if you were making a call or not.

I think the “holding the phone” rule is there at the behest of the police (so that their own mobile communications can be excused) and because of lobbying by the firms who make hands free kits.
Making a call with a hands free kit is more dangerous than holding a phone that is switched off.

Talmyr (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Similar law in the UK

A switched-off phone is just a lump of plastic. Of COURSE doing anything not driving is going to be more dangerous than this (unless you suddenly need that hand for the controls). However, how many mobile users actually drive holding a switched-off mobile? The issue here is people texting (with an ‘on’ mobile) while driving, which is obviously dangerous.

The laws in Britain were recently overhauled to include a raft of activities where the driver isn’t paying attention to the road. Rather than legislate for every little activity, a more blanket law was created which covers stuff like reading papers, eating, even smoking technically! Although I believe there are specific statutes or mentions of mobile phones – it’s more than just a fine if you get caught with one in your hand, off or not – or if the police can prove you were texting on the move.

Richard says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Similar law in the UK

There are almost no situations in which you really need two hands – otherwise one armed people would not be permitted to drive!

However I would have thought that smoking should have been the first -if not only thing to be absolutely banned – since a lighted object is pretty clearly the most dangerous possible thing to hold whilst driving.

However some of the things now included are clearly unreasonable – like reading – how on earth are you supposed to find your way somewhere in the car if you can’t read a map or set of directions whilst driving?

Driving is to some extent a natural multi-task activity. People should be taught to multi-task properly as pilots (esp military) are.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Similar law in the UK

Driving is to some extent a natural multi-task activity.

Yes it is. That is why you don’t need to add more tasks to it if you can avoid it.

People should be taught to multi-task properly as pilots (esp military) are.

Good example. There has been a lot of research done on reducing the amount of multitasking done by pilots (esp. military) because a lot of air disasters have been related to it. I know because I’ve been involved in some of that (military) research.

Sean T Henry (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Similar law in the UK

“The laws in Britain were recently overhauled to include a raft of activities where the driver isn’t paying attention to the road.”

It’s called wreckless driving and it covers all stupid activities when driving. All that is happening is adding more redundant laws that do not make a difference. I have someone get a moving violation about 13 years ago for drinking a TAB soda when driving.

interval says:

Re: Similar law in the UK

Look, its incredibly simple and I don’t understand why a progressive and forward-looking country like the UK hasn’t thought of it. Why can’t they simply ban accidents? Just make them illegal. Done. No more fuss. Simple, wot? And while you’re at at take a stab at making cancer illegal. There’s a good chap.

Frosty840 says:

Re: Re:

Actually use of the roads in the US is protected by the constitution, and the requirement of your DMV to license your car is an unconstitutional infringement on your rights.
There’s at least one guy who’s gone to the trouble of proving that in court, and the outcome was “Look, we’ll leave you alone, and give you this nice, shiny, court-approved card to tell the cops to leave you alone, if you’ll only stop suing us, because if you keep suing us, we’ll have to dismantle the DMV because it’s unconstitutional.”

It’s all to do with some constitutional right guaranteeing freedom of movement within and between states. I really can’t remember the guy’s name, or the full details, but I’m certain it was a story that did the rounds a few years back.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I wonder if anyone has ever taken this “driving is a privilege not a right” claim to higher courts in the US. It is simply dogmatic and truly void of value other than to use it in the context Fred used it. It is just another way of saying STFU when someone comments in opposition. Rights have responsibilities attached to them. There is nothing inherent that makes a right irrevocable. Rights are revocable, period, we just have a higher standard for doing so. We should have a high standard for revoking something that could drastically affect the livelihood of a citizen. I have grown tired of dogmatic, trite responses such as “driving is a privilege.” No, driving is more than a privilege–Driving a Lamborghini, is a privilege.

Pete Austin says:

Clear Laws make prosecutions easier

(A) If there’s a specific law against texting while driving, then if you’re caught doing this it’s an “open and shut case”.

(B) If there’s only a general law against dangerous driving, then the police have a more difficult task. They have to prove everything they had to in “A” and also prove that texting is dangerous – possibly requiring expert witnesses and more time in court.

It should be obvious that “B” costs more taxpayers’ money. There doesn’t seem to be any issue of principle here – unless someone can demonstrate that the constitution protects “being an idiot while driving a car” or similar – so these laws seem like a Good Thing.

Ilfar says:

Re: Clear Laws make prosecutions easier

I’ve watched a guy weaving all over the road, mount the kerb, halfway onto the wrong side of the road, and thought he was drunk. Promptly reported it (on my cellphone, while driving… Here in NZ they’re adding an “in an emergency” exception to the law from what I’ve heard) and eventually found out he was texting, not drunk. So instead of having his car taken off him on the spot, he got a warning and continued on his way, despite being a danger to everyone around him…

If it’s not explicitly illegal, a lawyer can get you out of it these days. There’s a reason these laws are being passed… Less laywers would mean less laws imo ;P

Gatewood Green (profile) says:

Re: Clear Laws make prosecutions easier

To answer Pete Austin…

No, a specific law against texting while driving is no more easier to prosecute than distracted driving. The cops believes you were texting and can subpoena your phone records to prove timing for the distracted law, how does the an extra law covering texting distracted driving help here? Most (all?) states have distracted driving laws already in place and use those laws. Additionally distracted driving laws (usually part of the state’s reckless driving statute) do not require an accident to take place in order to be enforced.

Stephen Downes (profile) says:

No, sorry, texting while driving belongs in a category by itself and deserves to be banned.

Whenever I see a car weaving on the road, missing stop signs, etc., these days (and I see it a lot) I look at the driver and he or she is texting or jabbering on a hand-held mobile phone.

It used to be, drunk drivers were the most dangerous thing on the road. No more. Texters are.

The law is not intended to ban stupidity. It is intended to ban stupid behaviour. And that – when it so obviously endangers other people – is a good thing.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Driving down the road the other day, I’m watching someone swerve all over the road. They’re going between 15MPH below the speed limit and 15MPH above the speed limit. We both make a left turn onto a two lane road and I finaly manage to pass this person. Are they on a cell phone, are they drunk? No, it was a little old lady, probably in her 90s. Have we banned that yet?

Last week I’m driving down the highway when I get randomly cut off by someone. Turns out they didn’t need in my lane and cut someone else off to get back into the first one. I figured they were texting or from Ohio or something. Turns out they were reading a newspaper. Have we banned that yet?

Last year, same situation, highway driver, swerving all over the road, not a cell phone user but a 16yo teen talking with her friend in the passenger seat. Have we banned passengers yet?

I’m not going to argue that texting isn’t dangerous, in fact I’m almost for this law, but we have reckless driving laws, pretty severe ones too. How about we use some of them against these people who are obviously too stupid to be driving. And if they are too stupid to realize that texting takes your eyes off the road to far to long then they are too stupid to follow that law. Let’s start using our reckless driving laws to start banning drivers.

Lachlan Hunt (profile) says:

The title of this post is incredibly misleading. While it’s impossible to ban stupidity in general, banning specifc stupid acts can be a good thing.

Banning mobile phone use without a hands free kit, for either calling or texting, is a really good thing to do. It’s just as dangerous as drunk driving, and I see no problem with imposing fines on people caught in the act. Of course, improved education, and developing safer alternative technological solutions are also good approaches to take in conjunction with the ban. it’s not an either/or proposition as the article tries to claim.

inc says:

it’s easier tp law makers to try to ban everything sense that’s what they do all day long. I think all this stupidity stems from education budgets being cut every year. Start teaching more responsibility and stop making laws no one will follow. The “driving is a privilege not a right” doesn’t really need a new law to enforce. Negligence due to not paying attention is already a cause for losing a license. Don’t need a sensational law for that.

John Doe says:

The law is fine...

The law is fine but won’t stop or really even slow down the problem. But, if someone is found to have been texting while driving and causes an accident, then they can be held liable for that.

I myself never took driver distraction as seriously as I do now that I ride a motorcycle. Drivers turning in front of motorcyclists is one of the biggest causes of fatalities.

CastorTroy-Libertarian says:

WOW, I am simply amazed that so many people are willing to trade freedom for “safety” from the Government…
Lets think…
Government banned drunk driving (stupid act)… people still do it
Government banned “drugs”.. there bad dont ya know… people still do it

many many more examples… but this is where it breaks down and how the court system is supposed to work… you did something STUPID (killed while drunk, hit someone while texting) and now you get to stand in court and they decide if it was YOUR responsiblility for your actions… Its called personal Responsablitity… IF YOU F..up and screw up someone elses life or property it is on the Courts and you to decide how you pay (life, prison, money)

These stupid laws bog down the system, and make the government money, just like the seatbelt law hasnt saved one life, or saved a citizen one dollar, but i bet the money for the fines get used for a super nice chair for what ever puppet is sitting in the “elected” office..

Talmyr (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Spoken like a true thoughtless American!

The whole point of banning stuff is that it is UNWANTED. Banning it makes it harder to do/happen/be found. Sure we can ban drugs and still find them – but would you rather have them all legal and openly sold to schoolkids? Should we remove laws against banning murder “because people still do it”? Where the heck do you get useless quotes like “the seatbelt law hasnt saved one life, or saved a citizen one dollar” – you sound like a bad creationist or climate change nay-sayer šŸ˜‰

You lot need to get off your ‘freedom’ high horse a little. Personal freedom is only good until it intrudes on someone else’s rights. This is a safety issue, same as seat belt and speed limit laws, and that is usually what the majority of people think is a good thing. Democracy is in fiddling with the details šŸ˜‰

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Your point on drugs: removing drug prohibition doesn’t mean openly selling them to school kids anymore than it means selling beer to school kids. seriously… do you even think before you type this drivel?

as for seatbelt laws: um… how exactly is me not wearing a seatbelt in any way intruding on someone else’s safety? oh yeah, its not. more drivel from you! good job!

as for creationism… so long as my tax money isn’t going towards teaching it i couldn’t care less.

and climate change nay-sayers? lol who are these people exactly? everyone agrees the climate is changing… it always has and always will. the debate over it is A) whether or not humans have any significant impact on it. and B) if A is true is there anything we can do about it? – meaning enacting stupid laws in the USA just forces companies (and jobs) out of the USA and into countries that have even less regulation than we already do (China, India) thus making the problem even worse than it currently is while at the same time managing to lose millions of US jobs, Trillions of dollars…. but there is a silver lining as you can bet Gore and his cronies would make a few billion off of it all.

so seriously… quit trying to sound smart on teh intarwebs plz k tnx.

rwahrens (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

” …how exactly is me not wearing a seatbelt in any way intruding on someone else’s safety?”

Not safety – insurance costs. Just like helmet laws, if you are stupid enough not to actually use safety equipment, I couldn’t care less. It’s not MY head that’ll end up going through your windshield, or creamed into the pavement!!

But, your failure to use that equipment may well result in your death or injury, and THAT will cost your insurance company money, which they will then seek to be reimbursed for through higher premiums! Premiums the rest of us will have to pay, thus paying for YOUR stupidity.

Of course, you won’t have to worry – you’ll either be dead, permanently immobilized in a nursing home, or they’ll simply cancel your policy cause you’re too stupid to drive.

interval says:

Re: Re: Re:

I don’t like your tone, “Talmyr”. Its UNWANTED. I’m going to adopt legislation to make it ILLEGAL.

You don’t see a problem with your system?

I think you need to get on the freedom high-horse. Which isn’t a horse at all, its common sense. But OH!- Cradle to Grave Government supervision has worked out GREAT for YOU.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I love when an individual from outside of the US throws “American” out there in the pejorative. It shows how ignorant THAT PERSON is. To stereotype is ignorance at its finest. Attack the individual, not the country of origin, race, sex, height, weight, eye color, hair color, choice of beverage. Learn to withhold casting aspersions about everyone in a country because of some pre-conceived notion you have developed from your experience (or perhaps total lack of experience) with individuals.

Lance (profile) says:

Somehow lost the point

Reading through the comments here, it seems that the point of the original posting has been lost. The point (at least from my perspective) wasn’t about whether there should be bans on texting while driving. The point was about whether the federal government should be using its control of highway funds to force state governments to enact various laws.

This isn’t the first case of this occurring. One of the first times I recall hearing about this kind of extortion…err…request from the federal government was in the early 1980’s. At that time the states had varied laws regarding the legal drinking ages. I’m from the Kansas City area which straddles the Missouri/Kansas border. Back in those days Kansas was an “18 state” meaning that you could buy beer at the age of 18. Missouri allowed you to buy any form of alcohol, only after you reached the age of 21. The federal government decided (most likely with the help of MADD) that the states shouldn’t allow any alcohol in the hands of 18 year olds. When some of the states balked, they were told that if they wanted their highway funds then they would have to submit to the “recommendation” of the federal government.

Personally, I like the fact that the drinking age was raised; and I appreciate the idea of a law that makes people think twice before they attempt to text while they are driving. However, I am a bigger fan of allowing the states to enact the laws that their citizens deem wise and prudent, without the federal government threatening to withhold the money those same citizens have paid in order to have safe and efficient roadways.

rwahrens (profile) says:


But this subject, as I’ve mentioned before, is not JUST about texting, or using a cell phone.

It is about Driving While Distracted. (DWD)

Virtually every state, to my knowledge, has a law that makes it illegal to perform an activity that is a distraction to keeping your attention on the road.

Is it truly more distracting to text or hold a phone conversation than to change a CD or tape cartridge on the player in the dash? Or to search for a radio station in cars without a built in search function? Just how distracting is it to be driving down the road and drop your cigarette into your lap? Or a hot cup of coffee?

How many folks have you observed arguing with their passenger so badly that they were inattentive to the road? How many of you have done the same thing? How about being a referee to your kids’ arguments?

A Washington Post columnist in the 90’s, Bob Levy, had a column where he encouraged readers to write or call in their own experiences with seeing distracted drivers. A woman called in a sighting on I-66, where the woman she observed was driving down that crowded freeway at about 55 mph, steering WITH HER KNEES, eating a bowl of cereal – with milk!

Do we really need laws detailing the specific item or activity that is banned? We’d need THOUSANDS of such laws!

No, what we need is a concerted national program of education to ensure drivers know what is distracting, how dangerous it is, and how to keep from doing it.

We have a tendency in this country to pass laws and then think the problem is solved.

Not in this case.

Ryan (profile) says:

the problm

part of the problem is the lack of tactile feedback on the new phones.

Before, with my old old phone, there was just a numberpad and it had proper indentations on keys to tell my fingers where they were at. It was easy to quickly thumbout a message without having to look.

Now, with full keyboards and touchscreen interfaces like the iPhone, you can’t text without looking or using both thumbs.

vdeogmer (profile) says:

Re: the problm

Thank you for bringing up full keyboards and touchscreens, I was at a loss reading all the other comments, wondering who these people are who send SMS messages frequently enough to do it while driving without having the positions of the numbers on their phones well enough memorized to spell most any word without even needing to look at their screen.

Texting is really a simple process, that can be done safely so long as you have a decent entry device for writing with one hand, like a numpad.

Ken says:

Txting while driving

You know. Sorry you don’t know that I thought of Vioce to Text about 4 months ago. While driving, I wanted to text my wife with a big explination about something important but it was to detailed and long to txt. I thought to myself, “why can’t they come up with a way that my Razor could take what I’m saying into my hands-free and convert it to txt and send it as a txt message. That would solve a lot.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think it’s on a par as driving and drinking alcohol:

Won’t necessarily get into an accident? Check.

Does significantly raise your chance of getting into an accident? Check.

Everyone thinks they’re “okay to drive” while doing it? Check.

Something that can wait until later? Check.

If you’re against laws which penalize driving while texting/using phones even without an accident, then you might as well campaign against drunk driving laws. They’re about the same.

Brian says:

They can stop with all the individual laws and just make one, or enforce the existing law about negligent driving.

Were you driving without your full attention on the job of driving? Yes? Here, sign the ticket, pay the $$$ fine and watch your insurance rates go through the roof.

We love to point out that corporations won’t change to have the consumers best interest at heart until it’s too expensive for them not to, we’re the same way behind the wheel and the solution is the same.

Anony1 says:

Easy answer Mike. A “ban” emposes fines and penalties. Since people are apparently too self absorbed and recklessly stupid not to do something that causes accidents at 20 x the “normal rate”, they like cattle, need to be shocked into compliance. The fact is, as advanced as humans are on some levels, IMHO, we are also biological animals and prone to not caring until it stings. You yourself brought up how financial decisions are not based on logic, which makes the whole “science” of traditional (as opposed to developing theories) economics a joke. That’s the blunt truth, and I don’t like it, but there it is.

Anony1 says:

Easy answer Mike. A “ban” emposes fines and penalties. Since people are apparently too self absorbed and recklessly stupid not to do something that causes accidents at 20 x the “normal rate”, they like cattle, need to be shocked into compliance. The fact is, as advanced as humans are on some levels, IMHO, we are also biological animals and prone to not caring until it stings. You yourself brought up how financial decisions are not based on logic, which makes the whole “science” of traditional (as opposed to developing theories) economics a joke. That’s the blunt truth, and I don’t like it, but there it is.

John85851 (profile) says:

Two points

First, I think that legislators have pretty much used up all the “good laws”, so now they have to come up with something so they can hold onto their job. The only things left are “driving while texting” and trying to legislate violent video games.

Second, and I think this was mentioned in another article about this issue, “driving while texting” is too specific. Will they ban “driving while holo-phoning” when that becomes a reality? How about banning “driving while watching TV”?
I agree that a “driving while distracted” law could be too vague, but that’s part of the point: it’s so we don’t have to name every single specific technology.

But, like some other posters say, it’s probably easier for police to pull people over if they “driving while texting”? On the other hand, why aren’t police pulling people over for driving all over the road or driving 15 mph below the speed limit? Are they afraid the people will be sober and attentive, so the police can’t charge them with anything, can’t give them a ticket, and make no money for the state?

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s illegal to drive without a seatbelt in many places, too. If you’re doing something suspicious, like swerving around or running a red light, and when the cops pull you over you’re holding a cell phone with a half written text message (or not wearing a seat belt) then you get in extra trouble. Like not wearing a seat belt, they won’t know unless you get pulled over for something else. Besides, just saying that there is a law against this will wake a lot of people up to the dangers. Commercials, pamphlets and lessons on it in driver’s ed are one thing, but when there is a law against it, a lot of people realize that the dangers are actually real.

Jmotley (profile) says:

texting while driving

I agree with this law. There should be a ban.
2 reason;

1) If there is no law in place for this offence then there is no penility. No fine, nothing. With this law people will have to own up and take responiblity for their own actions. Take the ticket, court date, points on the license.

2) Revenue, States will make some serious money on this. That could help out a lot of things. Why shouldn’t someone get money off of someones stupidity?

Anony1 says:

@rwahrens: Just another FYI for you. You seem to have this
funny notion about ad hominem attacks so let me clue you in on logic 101. In debate, an attack on the character of the person, or the person, as opposed to logically showing a flaw in their argument, is considered ad hominem. It is considered to be a flawed tactic because it doesn’t dispute the facts of the argument. That is true, but as you can read above, I agree with your statement, I just think you are pompous, and as such, an A$$. So commenting on your percieved character flaws isn’t an ad hominem attack, or debating tactic. It’s an insult, based on my opinion of you.
You may not agree with my opinion of yourself, but that doesn’t mean it’s an ad hominem attack. The difference being I’m not using it to suppliment an attack against your views. I’m sorry you’re still stuck in a highschool debate environment, but in the real world, you need to learn basic definitions. Insulting people may or may not reflect negatively on me, but it doesn’t mean I’m wrong. LOL…..

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