The Nanny State Wants Your Cell Phones

On December 13, the National Transportation Safety Board announced that they would be recommending a complete and total ban on the use of cell phones and text-messaging devices while driving. Previously, the NTSB had recommended such bans only for novice drivers, school bus drivers, and some commercial truckers.

This is a remarkably heavy-handed response. Every American is concerned about automobile safety, but the response to the problem should be commensurate. There are alternatives involving the use of technology and information that exist. An absolute ban on all cell phone use isn’t just a wrong-headed intrusion on our freedom -- as it implies that adults can’t be careful to make responsible decisions regarding cell phone use and driving -- it will be costly to many Americans and dangerous for some.

The cell phone is perhaps one of the most remarkable innovations of the 20th century, its very ubiquity a sign of its utility. Restricting access to cell phones illustrates the far-reaching ability of the nanny state to dictate to ordinary Americans how they will live out their lives without regard to their input or concerns.

While the NTSB categorizes cell phone use as an example of “distracted driving,” it only seeks to ban one aspect of it -- using cell phones. Complicated navigation and infotainment systems that often require DVDs and separate manuals to operate are not included. Fast food and Starbucks trips aren’t affected. Drivers learning to use manual transmissions or those who apply make-up while driving aren’t impacted. Only users of cell phones.

Thanks to the decisions of the NTSB, state regulators and even insurance companies will have ammunition to insist on new riders that restrict coverage for consumers who either have cell phones or who use them while driving. Like policies that used to restrict “radar detector” owners by either allowing insurance companies to drop owners with detectors altogether or raising their rates by as much as $250 a year, the NTSB rule will empower insurance companies and regulators to engage in a financial assault on families.

Many states and localities will use the NTSB action as a pretext for adopting new and higher fines and more aggressive enforcement of existing cell phone bans. For instance: while the state fine for first time illegal cell phone use in California is $50, after related court costs are included the actual cost to the driver is nearly $250. Thanks to the NTSB, drivers should expect more of this all over the country.

In addition to being costly for American drivers, this measure will prove dangerous. If fully enforced, people who need cell phone access for their own safety could be limited. Remember: not only does the NTSB recommend against holding cell phones and talking in the car, they seek to ban any use in the car with Bluetooth built-in or aftermarket. In fact, Department of Transportation’s Secretary Ray LaHood has said: “There’s a lot of technology out there that can disable phones and we’re considering that.”

This means that instead of you having the ability to gauge when and whether it is safe or prudent to use your cell phone, the ban will decide for you. While many times it is safe to pull over and stop to make a cell phone call, it is precisely during the period when that isn’t true that you need your cell phone more than ever.