Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ohio House promotes nanny state with new texting ban

I received two press releases yesterday regarding House Bill 99, the cell phone texting ban, which would "prohibit driving a vehicle while using an electronic communications device to write, send or read a text-based communications."

It was sponsored by Rex Damschroder (R-Fremont) who said upon passage:

“Texting while driving is a danger that has affected many within our communities,” Damschroder said. “We took an important step today toward addressing this issue and making our roads and highways safer.”

In a release from Terry Boose (R-Norwalk Township) was this comment:

“Texting while driving is a distraction that has resulted in many unfortunate automobile accidents that have led to the loss of lives,” said Boose. “House Bill 99 will make our roads safer by banning texting while driving.”

What I don't understand is why Republicans - supposedly the party of limited government and personal responsibility - are rejoicing over the passage of an unneeded law and the expansion of government.

First, there are already laws on the books regarding distracted driving. It's "Operation in willful or wanton disregard of the safety of persons or property" (ORC 4511.20). Texting while driving is certainly covered under that description - but so is shaving while driving, putting on makeup while driving, reading a newspaper while driving, etc., etc., etc. There is no need for another law when one already exists.

Additionally, as my post from October of 2009 (when Toledo was considering such a ban) details:

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?

Why indeed?

Secondly, they're not going to stop people from texting and driving - they'll only give police another excuse to pull people over. Also from the October 2009 column, quoting the same author:

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.


This law is all about emotion, as documented in my November 2009 post on the issue.

'Polls show people want such a ban...'

'Polls show people think texting while driving is as dangerous as drinking while driving...'

Yes, because we all know how accurate polls are and they certainly reflect a well-thought, reasoned argument in favor of a further limitation on our liberties. Why - if the people 'believe' it's needed, it must be! Let's create a law because people believe something that may or may not be true. This is such a terrific method of determining public policy, I can't believe we don't do it all the time!

But there is also a failure to understand the reason we have laws. As District 2 Councilman D. Michael Collins explained to me, "...laws are created to insure and protect the citizens from harm and injury."

And this is the same 'logic' promoted by the two Republicans - that such a law will "...make our roads safer."

As I wrote then,

"...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?"

I can understand why Councilman Collins would think otherwise, but not our Republican representatives in the Ohio House. They're supposed to be upholding our Republican Party principles and adhering to the Constitution - not promoting the idea that they're 'keeping us safe' merely by passing a law.

In explaining his vote in favor of Toledo's texting ban, Republican District 5 Councilman Tom Waniewski said one of the things impacting his 'yes' vote was that council would be 'taking a 'proactive approach' - if we make it illegal, some people won't do it and that may help the problem.'

Perhaps that's what our state legislators thought as well. But if that's the case, I wonder what other laws they'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.

So now we have a law that cannot be enforced and will not keep us any safer on the roads and highways than we were before. As the author Balko said in the article quoted above, it's 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. I'm not going to defend the act of clumsily thumbing out an E-mail while guiding a 2-ton, gasoline-loaded missile down the highway at 70 miles per hour. That's foolish. Nor will I argue there's some right to drive while iPhone-ing tucked into a constitutional penumbra. I will argue that we need to get over the idea that we can solve every bad habit with a new law.

Thank you Republican House members for reacting rather than thinking and for giving us more of a nanny state with a false sense of security than we had before you saved us from ourselves.


The Frizzy Hooker said...

I agree. I don't understand the need for more laws when we already have a law that covers the offense. And polls - I am not clear on why politicians are letting polls guide this process.

The Frizzy Hooker said...

I agree

Google Analytics Alternative