Obama administration to press bans on all cell-phone use while driving?; Update: Poll added

posted at 11:36 am on October 18, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

We must have solved all our other problems if the Obama administration is aiming at cell-phone use while driving.  In his interview with Bloomberg, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says he may push for an all-out ban on the practice, even when conducted by “hands-free” technology, depending on the results of research LaHood is authorizing.  Perhaps he should also research jurisdiction and enforcement as well (via The Week):

LaHood, whose campaign against texting and making calls while driving has led to restrictions in 30 states, says his concerns extend to vehicle information and entertainment systems such as Ford Motor Co.’s Sync and General Motors Co.’s OnStar.

“I don’t want people talking on phones, having them up to their ear or texting while they’re driving,” LaHood said in an interview this week. “We need a lot better research on other distractions,” including Bluetooth-enabled hands-free calls and the in-car systems, he said.

Even without a ban, which would have to be implemented by individual states, LaHood’s escalating campaign may limit the growth of vehicle features such as Sync, being added by automakers to attract younger buyers. His push also may reduce calls made from vehicles and the revenue of mobile-phone companies such as Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc.

LaHood, 64, said even hands-free phone conversations are a “cognitive distraction.” Calling for a ban on hands-free communications is a possible outcome of research under way at the Transportation Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration into all driver distractions, Olivia Alair, a department spokeswoman, said.

Well, there are a lot of cognitive distractions in driving.  Part of becoming a good driver is learning how to manage them.  For instance, the radio can be a distraction, especially satellite radio receivers with more complex dialing processes.  Passengers in the car can be a big distraction, especially children.  Shall the federal government ban them as well?

Nor are the distractions limited to inside the car.  Every Thursday, an anti-war group stages a “honk” protest at a major intersection in my city that noticeably slows traffic, designed to distract drivers by waving signs and requesting that they honk in support, which is doubly distracting.  Unions on picket lines often do the same thing.  Shall we ban them, too?

Of course we don’t want to ban street protests, satellite radio, or children in cars.  We want drivers to act responsibly when piloting their lethal assembly of steel and aluminum around town, and so we pass sensible safety laws to protect all of us, including the drivers, such as speed limits, rights-of-way, signaling requirements, and the like.  Those have to do with interactions with other vehicles and pedestrians around the car.   We presume that the driver will manage his own “cognitive distractions” when we license him.

However, even if we decided to ban cell phones, how exactly would that work?  LaHood is talking about using federal pressure, probably via transportation funding, to get the states to enact and enforce the bans, which amounts to a giant unfunded mandate on state and local law enforcement.  Not only is that inappropriate, it’s completely unrealistic.  How many police officers will even see a cell phone being used while driving?    Even when they do, is it a good use of limited law enforcement resources to go after cell-phone users rather than, say, speeders and those making unsafe lane changes?

Most drivers can handle a hands-free cell phone call without getting unduly distracted from driving.  States can make their own decisions on how to approach the issue; most states now require the hands-free approach, but thus far it doesn’t seem to have increased safety, nor has cell phone use made the roads markedly less safe since their introduction, anecdotal evidence aside.  The Department of Transportation should focus on structural safety in roads and bridges on the federal highway system, and leave the other decisions on law enforcement to the states that will have to fund those efforts.

Update: Take the poll!

Update II: Rob Port notes that this comes as traffic accidents and fatalities are actually declining.


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As others have said, driving is a privilege.

If so lets raise the age that you are allowed to start driving if teenagers are a large part of the problem.

Cell phones are incredibly distracting.

How about drivers who are applying makeup?

How about eating?

Playing with thier GPS? (which you habe to take your eyes off the road!)

Ban them all if safety is your concern. You want to go down that road might as well go all the way. Have speed limiters and GPS tracking installed too while your at it.

I’m tired of this nannystate B.S. Some folks want to throw thier right to choose and live with it with both hands it seems.

Enjoy the death panels.

gdonovan on October 19, 2010 at 6:15 AM

Hey, doesn’t the Federal Government have its puppeteer hand up the figurative bottoms of General Motors & Chrysler? Why don’t GM & Chrysler just lead the way by swearing off any hands-free tech in its vehicles? I’m sure an appreciative American public will reward them by eschewing Ford vehicles, causing it to follow suit and reverse course on providing new, exciting conveniences.

This is a great opportunity for Barack Obama to prove he truly does have faith in the free market. (Snicker)

L.N. Smithee on October 19, 2010 at 6:36 AM

This all boils down to opportunism, MAKING every gesture in life subject to a tax or fine, “spreading the wealth” via trickle up poverty.

The more illegal motions possible, the more fines levied, the further intrusion of government authoritarians in your personal life that no longer is private, facilitating their ease to jail you.

maverick muse on October 19, 2010 at 7:17 AM

HAHAH you let them ban “texting” now they banning hands free cell phones, next they will ban radio’s, or riding with more than 1 person in the car. Also ban all vanity mirrors those could distract!

The better solution to this, if you can write a book, text, talk on your phone while changing radio stations…. and stay on the road and drive straight? then you should be able to do what you want. If you swerve off the road… then make that penalty harsher (o yeah reckless driving is already a law) That punishes those who can not handle driving and those who can. I can do what ever and stay on the road fine, these laws do nothing but inconvenience me and take away my personal freedom. Next they will say I can not carry my Gun in my car :)

Donut on October 19, 2010 at 8:33 AM

Also- What is up with a lot of you on this board? You are acting like talking on a phone causes you to drive bad or kill someone… that’s the same as saying “if you own a gun, you are going to kill someone” . I have talked on my phone (non hands free) for 10 years now, never once have i had an accident, never once have i even ran off the road. Its called PERSONAL responsibility.

ALso – Why do you think teenagers have more wrecks? O yeah cause they are new drivers. If you up the age from 16 to 18, all you did was put a bunch of 18 year olds, who never driven before; and who have to drive further now to college and most likely bigger cities. This will just make 18 year olds have more crashes. If you up the age to 25, you will just make 25 year olds have more crashes. If you put somebody on a job, their first few weeks , even months, are full of screw ups and getting uses to their jobs. Putting drivers on the road do the same thing. Anecdotal story time – my friend who did not drive until he was 19 years old, had a crash his first time driving cause he was so nervous – at the same time, I drove from a small town in Louisiana, all the way to LOS angeles(sp) CA and drove in 16 lane traffic down Hollywood BLV , never had a wreck, talked on my damn phone the whole time!

Donut on October 19, 2010 at 8:52 AM

Donut on October 19, 2010 at 8:52 AM

Donut – this entire thread is filled with people who relish the idea of taking away freedom from others – and losing their own personal freedoms. It really is incredible how many people simply fail to consider that 95% of the negatives with cell phones in cars – will simply vanish with technological advances.

Remember when the idea of hands free was the solution – now some even say that is no solution. So what, I can’t talk and drive?

People just love to push themselves onto others.

jake-the-goose on October 19, 2010 at 9:16 AM

ALso – Why do you think teenagers have more wrecks? O yeah cause they are new drivers. If you up the age from 16 to 18, all you did was put a bunch of 18 year olds, who never driven before; and who have to drive further now to college and most likely bigger cities. This will just make 18 year olds have more crashes. If you up the age to 25, you will just make 25 year olds have more crashes.

Not exactly true. A 16-year old is severely lack in the maturity department as compared to a 20 or 25 year old.

But as I wrote earlier, I’m not in favor of up’ing the age limit, but I find it fascinating that people who are so gung ho on banning cell phones to “save lives” are quite willing to allow for young drivers who are a greater threat to their lives and property.

But that’s because it’s very convienient to have teenagers drive themselves to school and soccer practice and free us adults to do other things. So we’re all quite willing to sacrifice a few extra lives each year for that.

PackerBronco on October 19, 2010 at 9:53 AM

This has been an interesting thread. Are you a liberal or a conservative? What’s the difference? Do you have a core belief and how does that affect your answer here?

I think the core beliefs of liberals is that other people are idiots and their behavior must be controlled for their own good, for their safety, because they are too stupid to do what is obviously good for them. It is amazing to me how many people are ready to give up their freedoms for an imagined safety.

As a conservative I want people to be free to make their own choices and suffer their own consequences. And I think that most people want happiness and safety if they knew how to go about it. I see the problem as lack of education, knowledge, experience. The question becomes how to minimize my suffering when someone else makes a dumbass decision.

Really you have two choices, try to control them, and their are lots of extremes that that can go to, genocide works well and has been tried many times. Or education, knowledge, and age appropriate choices, then accept that life is not fair.

This thread is more about how you would control other people period than anything about driving.

Bad drivers can always find another distraction, if it isn’t cell phones it will be something else. How much time and effort to we really spend on making good drivers? There has been little conversation focused on that, it has mostly been arguing about the appropriate level of freedoms to take away. Shame on you!

odannyboy on October 19, 2010 at 10:08 AM

odannyboy on October 19, 2010 at 10:08 AM

You have made me a fan – I will look for (and read) your comments in the future.

Well said sir.

jake-the-goose on October 19, 2010 at 10:28 AM

Instead I think you’re making a value judgement. You’re saying that “I don’t think it’s a useful thing to talk on the cell phone whil driving, and since it makes driving xxx& more dangerous, I’m going to ban it.”

PackerBronco on October 18, 2010 at 10:26 P

I am going by personal experience….I tried years ago to talk on a cell phone while driving, and I couldn’t believe how hard it was….I knew I was endangering not only myself but other people…I had to hang up immediately…It is not the same as drinking coffee or other such activities….The couple from Australia is right…

theaddora on October 19, 2010 at 11:08 AM

This whole thing comes down to common sense versus stoopitidy. A few selfish idjits that have endangered or even taken lives are causing the rest of us to lose our freedoms. There aren’t many calls that we need to make while driving, but I’ve managed to dial my phone at a long red light and have a quick conversation (I’m lost/late…be there soon).

I’ve seen too many morons in heavy, fast-moving rush hour traffic try to drive with a cell phone in one hand, coffee in the other hand, and a cigarette in the other. If common sense were more common, the nanny staters wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.

Laura in Maryland on October 19, 2010 at 11:29 AM

gdonovan on October 19, 2010 at 6:15 AM

Others may have mentioned this as well, but gdonovan’s point is excellent: that using GPS devices is just as distracting as talking on a cell phone. I would call it much more distracting, frankly. I’ve only used a GPS device as a front-seat passenger, and would not try it while driving (at least not until I was extremely proficient, which I’m not).

Very, very interesting that there’s no push to criminalize GPS use while driving. What, oh what could be the reason? Anybody else listen to Rush Limbaugh yesterday?

J.E. Dyer on October 19, 2010 at 12:09 PM

Others may have mentioned this as well, but gdonovan’s point is excellent: that using GPS devices is just as distracting as talking on a cell phone. I would call it much more distracting, frankly. I’ve only used a GPS device as a front-seat passenger, and would not try it while driving (at least not until I was extremely proficient, which I’m not).

Very, very interesting that there’s no push to criminalize GPS use while driving. What, oh what could be the reason? Anybody else listen to Rush Limbaugh yesterday?

J.E. Dyer on October 19, 2010 at 12:09 PM

No. It. Isn’t. You sit it there and it occassionally talks directions at you. It is not a human being you’re having a distracting 30 minute conversation with. You glance at it, you get your turn directions, and you look back at the road.

jimmy the notable on October 19, 2010 at 3:23 PM

No. It. Isn’t. You sit it there and it occassionally talks directions at you. It is not a human being you’re having a distracting 30 minute conversation with. You glance at it, you get your turn directions, and you look back at the road.

My buddy has one, he is always fiddling with it. Zooming in, checking for attractions, etc.

I do not agree with you since I have seen him in action. When we go someplace I take over the device so he isn’t distracted.

gdonovan on October 19, 2010 at 4:23 PM

States rights.

I see no reason for the Feds to stick an oar in here, leave it up to the individual states as intended.

gdonovan on October 19, 2010 at 6:10 AM

And so many here are just not getting it.
If the state gave you a driver’s license, then they consider you to be competent & ‘safe’ enough to operate a vehicle.
The banning of devices that make driving ‘less safe’ is an endless slippery slope.
And those of you advocating eliminating what you consider to be ‘unsafe’ behavior are extremely willing to just give the feds all the power they can possibly usurp with your blessing bcs it makes the road more ‘safe’.
PackerBronco has made an excellent point concerning teenage drivers. That’s why insuring one is expensive.
They are a huge risk factor to the rest of us wishing to travel safely.
So where do the rules end folks?
Bottom line is, if you are an unsafe driver, it will be immediately obvious to everyone on the road, including the COPS who are out there patrolling.
And so if they see you swerving all over the road, then you deserve a ticket etc bcs it didn’t matter WHAT you were doing. All that matters was that you were swerving all over the road.
We can arrest or ticket people bcs their behavior might cause unsafe conditions or an accident.
The punishment comes when they have shown through deeds they are incompetent.
What is so hard to understand about that?
If a cop sees you talking on your cel phone & he deems it to be unsafe at that moment, then he can make the judgement whether he gives you a ticket or not.
Let’s not try & legislate everything to death here.
I am extremely amazed at how readily ‘conservatives’ wish to give up their freedoms.
You live in a free society, you’re gonna take some risk.
It’s a risk to be free.
Imgaine that.
If you want someone to protect you constantly from unsafe things, then another country might be more to your liking.
But it is NOT the federal govt’s enumerated power to do anything about this.
Let the states & their citizens hash it out.
Here in ND we were ‘allowed’ to vote on the seat belt law several times until they finally just forced it on us bcs the Feds weren’t going to give them their highway $$ if they didn’t institute it.
MT finally caved in,too on the speed limit thing.
If the people don’t vote for it, leave it & deal with it appropriately.

Badger40 on October 19, 2010 at 4:23 PM

I’ve seen too many morons in heavy, fast-moving rush hour traffic try to drive with a cell phone in one hand, coffee in the other hand, and a cigarette in the other. If common sense were more common, the nanny staters wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.

Laura in Maryland on October 19, 2010 at 11:29 AM

WHOA!!! 3 HANDS??!?! Better not let the nanny staters find out about this… they’ll figure out how to gain another leg to stand on!!

;)

Shepherd Lover on October 19, 2010 at 4:29 PM

Again it is about basic principles. Are you going to lump all people together and say they are all the same and therefore treat them all the same … a liberal propsition

OR

We are all different. If we are all different no one solution is going to work. Take people with Attention Disorders it doesn’t take a lot to distract them and they are off on another tack … should they be on a cell phone while driving, probably not. How do you get them to give up the phone, pass a law that affects everyone? Or work with that individual and get that one individual to know who they are, what their limits are, what they can do and can’t do.

All situations are not the same either. Sorry, but 90% of the time I can have a conversation on the cell phone and drive a car. I really like driving cars, I have practiced it, studied it, done it on the race track. After all that it becomes easier. And like any other task that has been practiced it takes less and less of my attention to do well. Because it takes less of MY attention to drive well, I have a little attention to spend on other things like a conversation. But them there is that other 10% where I need to focus, so I hang up.

Just because I can doesn’t mean everyone can, just because you can’t doesn’t mean everyone shouldn’t. Apply basic principles.

odannyboy on October 19, 2010 at 4:31 PM

No. It. Isn’t. You sit it there and it occassionally talks directions at you. It is not a human being you’re having a distracting 30 minute conversation with. You glance at it, you get your turn directions, and you look back at the road.
jimmy the notable on October 19, 2010 at 3:23 PM

Sounds like driving with my wife.

I’m kidding, I’m kidding …

PackerBronco on October 19, 2010 at 4:54 PM

I have practiced it, studied it, done it on the race track. After all that it becomes easier. And like any other task that has been practiced it takes less and less of my attention to do well.
odannyboy on October 19, 2010 at 4:31 PM

I’m with you.
For instance, on the rural backroads, I can drive the road home for 20miles with my eyes closed, or my lights off on a moonless night when I had a short in them once.
Very challenging, but I got ‘er done.

Badger40 on October 19, 2010 at 5:42 PM

Lets not see a different way to look at this, if they up the driving age to 18. If you do that, that means kids are going into college just getting drivers licenses …. which also means that in highschool, no guys will have dates, all the pretty high school girls going out with the college men who can drive. Who wants to go on a date with a guy and his mom? How can teens loose their virginity in the back seat of cars, then go get the abortions the democrats so love? I say they change the law so 20 year olds can have sex with 16 year olds legally, to adjust for the influx of 18 year old virgin guys…

Donut on October 19, 2010 at 6:24 PM

HAHAH you let them ban “texting” now they banning hands free cell phones, next they will ban radio’s, or riding with more than 1 person in the car. Also ban all vanity mirrors those could distract!

Donut on October 19, 2010 at 8:33 AM

I text about 5 times a month. I am a complete rookie texting, and require looking/finding keys etc. For me, texting would be VERY DANGEROUS. Thankfully, I’ve never tried texting and driving… That said, I’ve programmed my GPS while flying down the road at 70mph. I consider it distracting but “safe enough”.

Is it perception or is it stats? When I see someone flying down the road with there eyes glued to their phone in what appears to be texting vs dialing, I steer clear of that driver. I can see why they want to ban texting, I’m almost on board with this one… just not yet.

bbordwell on October 19, 2010 at 6:49 PM

Passengers in the car can be a big distraction, especially children. Shall the federal government ban them as well?

China did wonders with that “one-child” policy. You never know …

manwithblackhat on October 19, 2010 at 6:53 PM

Believe it or not … I’m all for this.

As a motorcyclist – I was always taught to make eye contact with other drivers to determine their level of awareness.

I can tell you that it’s rare now that I don’t see a driver on the road without a cell phone to his or her ear. And it’s everywhere – while changing lanes in heavy traffic – merging onto the freeway …

I’ve had drivers force me to take evasive action when they they tried to change lanes on top of me. It’s a seriously hazardous situation out there.

HondaV65 on October 19, 2010 at 9:42 PM

QUIZ FOR DEMOCRATS:

1. Which one is already illegal everywhere:

A. Texting while driving

B. Writing checks when you don’t have any money

2. HOW DO YOU PLEAD???

landlines on October 19, 2010 at 9:54 PM

I’ve got an idea

Send lahood to northern Pakistan

Problem solved

I hate somebody shooting their pie hole off at me and that sure was what was going on

another effin bureaucrat who would be of no use in the private sector

castrate him

Sonosam on October 19, 2010 at 11:47 PM

I could not function without my cell phone. I get calls from kids asking to be picked up, husband needing something while I am out, a number of things. They need to back off my cell phone.

TXMomof3 on October 20, 2010 at 6:26 AM

L.N. Smithee on October 19, 2010 at 6:36 AM

I’m waiting for the government to mandate GM to make Onstar inactive while the vehicle is moving. If you want to use it you have to stop. Now, since I’ve thought of it, you can bet the rent some faceless unaccountable bureaucrat has too.

abcurtis on October 20, 2010 at 10:21 AM

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