Home > health/safety, law & justice > Put the Phone Down and Drive

Put the Phone Down and Drive

Friday, October 1, 2010, 18:05 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

We’ve all seen them, drivers cruising down the street, paying only sporadic attention to where they’re going because they’re also reading or writing text messages on their cell phones. I admit to being an occasional offender. But I’m officially a reformed woman, because as of yesterday, texting while driving here in the Bay State will get you fined.

With its new Safe Driving law, which also prohibits talking on a cell phone by minors and public transit operators, Massachusetts joins 27 other states that make it illegal to use a cell phone to text from behind the wheel.

Proponents of the law say it’s all about safety. But are such laws effective? An editorial in today’s Boston Globe mentions a study that sheds doubt. I haven’t read the study, but it seems intuitively obvious that texting (or reading a map, or shaving, or applying make-up, or trying to eat a salad) while driving is indeed dangerous and oughtn’t be done. It is possible that both the study and my intuition are correct: texting while driving causes accidents, but laws against it don’t change drivers’ behavior.

Presuming that is true, the question becomes whether there should be such laws at all. Are texting bans ineffective intrusions on personal liberty, like some people believe seatbelt laws are? I don’t think so. Failing to wear a seatbelt doesn’t cause more accidents, and when an accident occurs, it hurts no one but the individual who wasn’t buckled up. Neither passengers nor other drivers nor pedestrians are harmed. (Yes, personal injury insurance claims would increase and be more costly, causing a hike in premium rates, but I don’t see why insurance policies can’t limit benefits for those who aren’t buckled up.) Texting bans are different because they seek to reduce behavior that actually causes accidents, some of which might injure or kill others. Keeping it legal simply because many people would ignore a law makes no sense, just as the fact that the law might not stop the homicides in Detroit doesn’t warrant legalizing homicide.

In any case, texting while you drive is now prohibited here in Massachusetts. So if you must partake, please pull over, wait for a red light, or do it far away from me.

(Note: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety maintains an updated list of state laws restricting cell phone use while driving.)

P.S. Here I was, thinking my post title was so clever. It turns out that at least one newspaper, the Attleboro Sun Chronicle, thought of it first.

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