Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Emotion rules the day with 'texting-while-driving' law

Earlier this month, I wrote an email to all members of Toledo City Council asking them to address the issues raised in this Cato Institute article about texting-while-driving laws.

From 12 members of council, only three bothered to respond.

One was District 2 Councilman D. Michael Collins, the sponsor of the ordinance, whose primary reason for the law appeared to be based upon a poll. He wrote:

I would like to share with you that on November 2, 2009 UPI reported that a poll was conducted by the New Your Times and CBS with 97% of the respondents backing a prohibition for sending text messages while driving.The poll report went on to say that 50% of the pollsters defined texing while driving as equally as dangerous as driving while intoxicated.

Yes, texting while driving CAN be very dangerous - so can changing the radio station or holding your dog in your lap while trying to drive. But a poll should not be a reason to put onto the books a law that cannot be enforced. And Collins never answered any of the questions raised by the article about enforcement.

Additionally, he seemed to have a very flawed view of what laws are supposed to do.

In my opinion, our Democracy and freedoms are in fact law based, and the laws are created to insure and protect the citizens from harm and injury.

We're a Republic, not a democracy - for a reason. But laws are not created to insure and protect us from harm and injury. Laws are supposed to exist to guarantee our rights and freedoms. They protect our right to life by penalizing those who would take it. They protect our right to property by penalizing those who would steal it or damage it.

No amount of laws can ever keep us from injury, and they shouldn't try. But if this is what a councilman believes laws are for, what other onerous, duplicate and freedom-destroying ordinances will he introduce and support in the future?

District 6 Councilwoman Lindsay Webb wrote to say she was voting no on the ordinance. She did not address any of the issues I asked about, but she did give her reasoning in that she believed the state should handle the issue. While I didn't like her lack of response to the issues surrounding the proposed law (whether it be a local one or a state one), I appreciated her response, her reasoning and her vote yesterday which was, indeed, no.

District 5 Councilman Tom Waniewski was the last of the three members of council to respond. He wrote:

I've had some discussion with D. Michael Collins, who is sponsoring this.
It is my understanding the ordinance will not be acted on until our last council meeting in November. As you may have read some time ago, I was not in favor of such legislation because current "Reckless Operation" laws exist in the city. After receiving much email on the matter, and with the amount of texting that I personally do while driving, I am convinced there is some merit in the approach, but I'm not sure if this is the way. For example, would adding, "including text messaging...." to the existing reckless operation laws suffice. Or a resolution strongly urging the police department to enforce reckless driving laws, (including putting lipstick on while driving) be the best approach. I did learn the following:

- in the past 12 months for violations of TMC 331.23 "Failure to Control; weaving; full time attention"
1334 tickets were issued under this section of which 241 specified subsection (c)- full time attention.

I don't have the numbers at my finger tips for reckless operation but it was about twice that number for the past 12 months.

Based upon this, I expected Waniewski to offer some amendments. I don't know whether or not he did, but his vote was 'yes' on the existing ordinance.

This morning, he was interviewed on WSPD and he said three things impacted his decision:

1) the number of accidents cited under reckless operation and 'full-time attention.'
2) taking a 'proactive approach' - if we make it illegal, some people won't do it and that may help the problem.
3) the number of communications (email, phone calls, letters) in favor of the law.

He also said he tried to look at the facts and not the emotional aspects of the issue. But if that's the case, he could have addressed my questions about the factual problem of enforcement.

As for the increase in the number of citations that *might* be related to texting, all I can do is ask: isn't that an indication that the existing laws are sufficient to the cause? If more people are texting and driving while distracted, and the police are issuing more citations as a result, isn't that proof that the current law is addressing the problem?

As for the 'proactive approach,' I wonder about what other laws he'd support 'if they save just one life...' which is the emotional appeal that so many make when they want onerous, unnecessary laws on the books.

But the one thing that disappoints me most is Waniewski's third point - not because he responded to the public position, but because the public position was so ignorant of the facts - thinking that a ban on texting while driving was enforceable in the first place - and the majority of freedom-loving, limited government individuals who obviously didn't take the time to express their opinion on the issue.

Those of us who did look at the facts and logic of the issue came to the conclusion that this law was not needed. But we did not 'overwhelm' the members of city council with our opinion so they acted based (at least partly) upon the feedback they did get.

So the ordinance passed by a 10-2 vote with District 1 Councilman Michael Ashford casting the other no vote, and it will go into effect on January 1, 2010. And I'm sure on that day, everyone in the city will suddenly change their habits and we'll all be safe from harm forever, thanks to D. Michael Collins, Tom Waniewski and eight other members of council.

2 comments:

Chuck Greer said...

Maggie-You are spot on. I know I'm only relating part of the story as I don't listen full-time, but I seem to remember that Brian Wilson had some biting commentary on WSPD early on about Mr. Collins and then they seem to have buried the hatchet during the mayoral race, which is great. However, without putting words in Brian's mouth, I think Mr. Wilson's earlier comments were 'more correct'; Mr. Collins might feel fuzzy and warm about this passing. I do not. I wonder now, too, as to his "constitutional degree (?)" from college. As has been said in several venues, we have OVER 12% jobless rates in this area, and the number one issue for these critters is THIS!!! Shameful. How 'bout passing no more laws until we enforce the ones we have? How 'bout making it easier for people to come and go, do business, and pay less taxes?? Mike Bell, please try to give this ship just a degree or two change in course, forget about a complete come about!!!

Tim Higgins said...

And so City Council once more steps into a legislative Twilight Zone to pass a law that is not needed.

The reasoning given is that a poll shows this to be an issue (thanks for using logic instead of sticking a finger in the air), that this will improve driving safety (against something yet to be proven an issue), and that it will facilitate access to private cell phone records (so that the city can spend hundreds of dollars to get a small fine).

The other reasoning given, much like that for the bicycle passing legislation recently passed, is that this law will be educational. On that I agree. I find the lunacy of Council wasting its time on this nonsense instead of economic growth or budget deficit educational indeed.

I hope that other voters become educated as well, and remember the knowledge gained leading up to the next council election.

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