Cato Institute has a terrific article, "There's No Way to Enforce a Texting While Driving Ban," explaining the illness and it's a must-read for all Toledoans ... well, everyone else, too.
Forget flu season. Several times per year, America comes down with a national case of TOBAL-itis.
TOBAL is short for "There Oughtta Be a Law." Here's the progression of symptoms: Wrenching anecdotes about the effects of some alleged new trend make national news. A panic takes root in the media. Earnest editorialists scrawl urgent pleas for action. Politicians grandstand. Soon enough, we have our new law or regulation. It doesn't matter if the law is enforceable or may have unintended consequences. Nor does it matter if the law will have any actual effect on the problem it was passed to address. In fact, it doesn't even matter if the problem actually exists. The mere feeling that it exists is sufficient.
And so it goes with the panic over texting while driving.
As author Radley Balko explains, "...we need to get over the idea that we can solve every bad habit with a new law. We can't, and this issue illustrates why."
Because, as he documents, despite the increase in cell phone usage, traffic fatalities and accidents have dropped. Lisa Renee at Glass City Jungle even has a post about Lucas County getting traffic safety grants where the press release from the state touts this fact in Ohio:
In the past three years, Ohio roadway fatalities have decreased to near record lows. There were 1,191 fatalities on Ohio roads in 2008, down from 1,257 in 2007 and 1,239 in 2006.
So why, exactly, do we need a law?
Balko also raises a point I've made in the past about other things that are just as distracting:
There are countless other driver distractions that we'd never think of banning, from having kids in the back seat, to eating or drinking while driving, to fumbling with the radio. Certainly, it's foolish to type out text messages behind the wheel, but what about merely reading from your phone?
Are you more impaired following MapQuest directions from your Palm Pre while driving than reading them from a sheet of paper? What if you're looking at a GPS navigation device that's only slightly larger than your cellphone? What if the GPS system is on your cellphone?
He also wonders how to enforce the law:
Maryland just passed a texting ban, but state officials are flummoxed over how to enforce it. The law bans texting while driving but allows for reading texts, for precisely the reasons just mentioned. But how can a police officer positioned at the side of a highway tell if the driver of the car that just flew by was actually pushing buttons on his cellphone and not merely reading the display screen? Unless a motorist is blatantly typing away at eye level, a car would need to be moving slowly enough for an officer to see inside, focus on the phone, and observe the driver manipulating the buttons. Which is to say the car would probably need to be stopped — at which point it ceases to be a safety hazard.
But let's say you're OK with a ban on reading cellphone messages, too. How would you write that law? Would you prohibit so much as a glance in the general direction of a cellphone while driving? Should we mandate that cellphones be stored out of the driver's sight while the car isn't in park? What about other things that might distract him from the road, like navigation systems? Shiny objects? Pretty girls in the passenger seat? How would you prove a driver was looking at a cellphone and not something near it?
How, indeed? And if the person challenges the citation in court, with no way to prove the crime, the case will be dismissed ... resulting in a waste of everyone's time, money and effort.
Balko hits the nail on the head with his conclusion:
These laws aren't about safety; they're about symbolism.
Here are two things these bans will do: They'll give police officers another reason to pull people over, and they'll bring in revenue for the municipalities that aggressively enforce them. I think both are arguments against a ban. You may disagree, but the one thing these bans aren't likely to do is make the roads much safer. And if they won't accomplish that, there's no reason to enact them.
Which is why Toledo will probably enact the law, despite the logic and reason of not doing so. But then, that would require our city council members to actually think about and consider these points, which I doubt most of them will do. They'll be too busy claiming credit for 'making us safe,' destroying our liberty along the way.