LaHood looking for ways to disable cell phones in cars

posted at 3:35 pm on November 16, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

Remember, in Hopenchange, everything not expressly permitted will be outlawed.  In an attempt to deal with the supposed epidemic of distracted drivers, especially younger drivers, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that the Obama administration will review its options in blocking cell phone use in cars:

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said using a cell phone while driving is so dangerous that devices may soon be installed in cars to forcibly stop drivers — and potentially anyone else in the vehicle — from using them.

“There’s a lot of technology out there now that can disable phones and we’re looking at that,” said LaHood on MSNBC. LaHood said the cellphone scramblers were one way, and also stressed the importance of “personal responsibility.”

The statement came during an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, when Joe Scarborough argued that the government should mandate the installation of scrambler transmitters in new automobiles.  LaHood liked the idea:

“I think it will be done,” said LaHood. “I think the technology is there and I think you’re going to see the technology become adaptable in automobiles to disable these cell phones. We need to do a lot more if were going to save lives.”

This is frightfully dense in a number of different ways.  Let’s count them up, shall we?

  • The scrambler would also affect the passengers in a car that want to use their cell phones, which doesn’t do anything to improve public safety.
  • The presence of multitudinous scramblers in autos driving in a city will likely render cell phones used by pedestrians useless as well, or at least unreliable.
  • Adding more required equipment to cars will make them more expensive, and increase the value of used cars without the scramblers.
  • People who want to make calls from their cars or allow their passengers to do so will likely hold onto current vehicles longer.
  • Anything installed in a car can be disabled by the owner, especially electronics.  Will car owners have to submit to random searches, or annual verification of scrambler functionality?  Will the federal government make that yet another unfunded mandate on the states?
  • People also get distracted by eating, reading printed material, and applying make-up.  Shall we ban drive-through restaurants, newspapers, and cosmetics, too?

And those are just the practical considerations.  There are other problems with this as well, chief among them that it appears to be a solution in search of a problem.  A study released today by the CDC shows that auto-related deaths of younger drivers have dropped 36% annually over a five-year period despite increased use of cell phones:

Motor-vehicle accidents — not drugs or diseases — are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States. Despite alcohol, distraction and lack of experience contributing to the causes of accidents for this age group, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently reported a decline in fatal crashes among these youngest drivers.

As part of its study, the CDC analyzed data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA’s) Fatality Analysis Report System (FARS). Reviewing fatality data for 2004 through 2008, the CDC examined reports of the 9,494 fatal crashes involving drivers aged 16 and 17 to identify trends as well as assess risks. Of the more than 11,000 people who died in these crashes, over 37 percent were drivers aged 16 or 17. The data also revealed that fatal traffic crashes had declined by about 36 percent annually for drivers in this age group.

The CDC thinks the decline in teen traffic statistics can be attributed to several factors. Decreases in travel as a result of rising gasoline prices and adverse economic conditions are two of those major factors. In troubled economic times, youth have limited funds and cut back on travel and/or delay obtaining their driver’s licenses.

While the information seems to indicate that teen drivers are now safer drivers, distracted and impaired driving still remain major safety and public health issues associated with our nation’s younger drivers. Newswires regularly report cases of teen crashes linked to texting or cell-phone use, and recent studies reveal that teens are texting more than ever before. With more than 20 percent of traffic accidents linked to distracted driving, youth texting habits are more concerning.

Allow me to translate that last paragraph.  Despite the anecdotal data we read in the newspapers, we are unable to draw a statistical relationship between cell phone use and vehicular deaths — but we want to talk about it anyway.

Finally, we come to the most basic point, which is that traffic law enforcement is not a federal jurisdiction.  It’s a state and local jurisdiction.   If a state wants to force car buyers to pay for scrambling equipment, they have the authority to do so, as Californians well know from their mandated smog-reduction equipment.  The Obama administration wants to dictate choices to Americans, and this is just another nanny-state intrusion into the lives of citizens from Washington.

Drivers have plenty of distractions.  Part of learning to drive responsibly is to manage them, and local and state law enforcement can handle the failures as they arise.   The only way to eliminate distracted driving is to eliminate driving itself.


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In Pennsylvania there is already a law on the books that states it is illegal to drive while distracted. I bet every other state has a similar law. This isn’t needed. Also, how will this scrambler effect things like radios, pacemakers, CB radios?
This is more about, again, just getting people to submit. We are wards of the state and nothing more.

JellyToast on November 16, 2010 at 6:58 PM

YEa thats a great idea!
So when I go and kidnap a woman to torture, I wont have to worry about her cell.
THANKS !

The LAW of unintended consequences.

I dont see what the problem is, this is darwin in action!
ONLY dumb ones are doing it, they are getting pinched out of the gene pool, Improving the species 1 txt msg at a time.

Its the way of the world.

ColdWarrior57 on November 16, 2010 at 7:04 PM

Great idea there Roy-o! And when you convince Bambi and Nanzi to make it the centerpiece of the 2012 campaign, you are going to be seen as a true genius!

Trust me* on this.

* I would never lie to a Democrat – they need a change of pace.

drunyan8315 on November 16, 2010 at 7:14 PM

2012 DEMOCRAT PARTY SLOGAN (to be yelled proudly):

WE CAN’T HEAR YOU NOW!!!

landlines on November 16, 2010 at 7:19 PM

Mr. PPF can drive with one leg; knee on the steering wheel. Drives me nuts! This feels like a challenge!!! LOL!

ProudPalinFan on November 16, 2010 at 7:26 PM

Adding more required equipment to cars will make them more expensive, and increase the value of used cars without the scramblers.

You don’t understand, Ed. This is the beginning of SkyNet.

John Connor, where are you? We need you NOW!

TugboatPhil on November 16, 2010 at 7:28 PM

Proving yet again that today’s Democrats are like yesterday’s Totalitarians. Didn’t someone try and tempt Jesus with the power to control the world?

http://www.bluecollarphilosophy.com/2009/05/satanic-temptation-of-totalitarian.html

Looks like that certain someone has succeeded in tempting the Democrats.

Blue Collar Todd on November 16, 2010 at 7:51 PM

BTW:

Cell phone jamming is very illegal in the US…in theaters, in hospitals, even in state prisons!!!

So why should we allow the Feds to disable potentially-vital communications to/from our cars??

…And has Government Motors forgotten about the ONSTAR system they are building into their products???

I smell another TSA-size government SNAFU in the works!

landlines on November 16, 2010 at 7:55 PM

Not until they outlaw dogs and other pets running around free inside a car, sticking their noses outside drivers’ side windows, distracting the driver. I want a law requiring all pets to have to wear a seat belt inside a car.

PatMac on November 16, 2010 at 8:02 PM

Old Ray was a Republican once. Now he’s a tool, even by Illinois standards.

BTW, he was in Chicago this last week doing some dirty dealing for the O’Hare expansion. Just typing that sentence makes me want to wash my hands. What a tool.

JAW on November 16, 2010 at 8:47 PM

The original study that “proved” cell phones were dangerous in cars was sponsored by Motorola and Microsoft. (Blue Tooth)

The study looked at a bunch of accidents and found a huge number of then the cell phone was used within 15 min. of the accidents.

The study DID NOT take into account if that “within 15 min. of the accident” was before the accident or AFTER the accident.

Oddly enough “Blue Tooth” “hands free” stuff hit the market at about the same time as this study.

DSchoen on November 16, 2010 at 9:06 PM

JellyToast on November 16, 2010 at 6:58 PM

Don’t know what a “scrambler” will effect, but if you put a 50 to 100 watt liner on your CB radio, drive down a street “key down on the mic” and cause lawn sprinklers, out door lighting, automatic garage door openers, car alarms and other things to go whacky.

Somehow I think you already knew that.

DSchoen on November 16, 2010 at 9:15 PM

They have their jammers, I have my aluminum foil. But this is irrelevant to the larger issue.

Why should anyone but government employees be driving cars?

HelenW on November 16, 2010 at 9:59 PM

YEa thats a great idea!
So when I go and kidnap a woman to torture, I wont have to worry about her cell.
THANKS !

As a woman, that was my first thought.

YehuditTX on November 16, 2010 at 10:32 PM

Cell phone jamming is very illegal in the US…in theaters, in hospitals, even in state prisons!!!
landlines on November 16, 2010 at 7:55 PM

Yeah, and that’s one place it can do some good.

Feedie on November 16, 2010 at 10:37 PM

Good heavens these people are dense! They just had their a$$es handed to them in the past election, precisely for infringing on liberty and they just keep on keepin’ on. Saw on Fox today that this is all about 5500 deaths nationwide per year attributed to “distracted driving”. Now, for the moment accepting the false premise that all of these were due to cell phone use (they weren’t — I remember PSA’s about how somebody didn’t like the radio station and so he ran over a kid) and acknowledging that every death is a tragedy, this is a relatively small problem. That translates to an average of 110 traffic deaths per year per state. In a population of over 300 million people, that is 1.8*10^-5 or one in 54,000. I’m pretty sure that there are other, more tractable problems to be approached that would save more lives.

So what is the reason for such a heavy-handed approach here? Why is this such a big deal to them?

AZfederalist on November 16, 2010 at 11:58 PM

Scenario: woman speeding to get away from stalker/attacker/criminal, tries to use her cellphone to call police, call blocked, stalker catches up to her a mile or two down the road. Are police, governmental officials, technology creator liable in her death?

Mae on November 17, 2010 at 12:34 AM

I hope they try to do it. It would create a great aftermarket for removing the devices. It reminds me of reprogramming electronic fuel injectors to get maximum power at the expense of a little more emissions.

iconoclast on November 17, 2010 at 12:40 AM

So what is the reason for such a heavy-handed approach here? Why is this such a big deal to them?
AZfederalist on November 16, 2010 at 11:58 PM

They are batsh1t crazy and need to be stopped. This one seems too nuts to get off the ground and the cell-phone oligarchs will howl — unless they can profit from jamming the inconvenient communications of the rabble (us).

That said, there is nothing more annoying than a close call caused by some cell-phone dingbat, not to mention the tragedies in the news.

Feedie on November 17, 2010 at 1:04 AM

I’ve now taken to calling him Ray TheHood.

pdigaudio on November 17, 2010 at 1:21 AM

“There’s a lot of technology out there now that can disable phones and we’re looking at that,” said LaHood on MSNBC. LaHood said the cellphone scramblers were one way, and also stressed the importance of “personal responsibility.”

How the hell can they put the words, Personal Responsibility, and government mandated cellphone scramblers in the same sentence…

Donut on November 17, 2010 at 1:58 AM

Dear cancer

please infect lahoods brain and make him suffer greatly

no need yo kill him, permanent paralysis will suffice

Sonosam on November 17, 2010 at 2:18 AM

A communications disruption can mean only one thing…..

Viper1 on November 17, 2010 at 6:28 AM

Let me get this straight – if some creep is following me down a dark street, I have to pull over, turn off the car before I can call for help? Right. I hope I remembered to lock and load.

Sloan Morganstern on November 17, 2010 at 7:13 AM

Doesn’t the govt own GM which has OnStar available in all models? You can make calls from this device and not use a cell phone. Are they going to disable this feature as well and if they do, will the monthly charge be reduced? This could affect GMs bottom line and their ability to pay back the loan the American people so generously gave them. OK, I’m kidding about the last part.

Kissmygrits on November 17, 2010 at 8:47 AM

If only there was a way to stop the thoughtless pigs who use them in elevators !!

LODGE4 on November 17, 2010 at 9:49 AM

Whatever happened to that research into remotely killing an engine during high speed pursuits?? Have they given up on that idea??

Bob in VA on November 16, 2010 at 3:41 PM

OnStar does that all the time now.

stvnscott on November 17, 2010 at 10:46 AM

Here’s yet another backfire of this well-intentioned idea. If I see an aggressive or obviously drunk driver, I wouldn’t be able to #77 the state police and tell them where the jerk is. Even in states with primary enforcement of cellphone laws, this usage is legal and even encouraged. Thanks to that scrambler, though, forget me… even my passenger couldn’t make the call. Said jerk might get someone killed down the road.

The answer to the problem isn’t to make phones useless. The answer is to skew the balance of that economic decision of cost vs. benefit to the point that >98% of people would never ever take the chance. I don’t know what those numbers would be, but I can tell you from what I see daily in NJ that $100 fines and zero points aren’t even close to getting the job done.

flutejpl on November 17, 2010 at 11:06 AM

So why should we allow the Feds to disable potentially-vital communications to/from our cars??

Because we have neither a say or a vote in the matter. this will be decided by an unaccountable administrator or czar.

Btw, isnt this manufacturing a crisis in need of a solution?
I will have to admit, i was taken a little aback the other day when a young lady passed me on the interstate with a cellphone in each hand.

abcurtis on November 17, 2010 at 11:26 AM

Are they going to disable this feature as well and if they do, will the monthly charge be reduced?

According to LaHood, Onstar is on the disable list.

abcurtis on November 17, 2010 at 11:28 AM

My guess is our government masters will be exempt from this.

abcurtis on November 17, 2010 at 11:28 AM

This isn’t really about safety. It’s about control. If they were really concerned about safety, they would reduce the speed limit again. That would save far more lives. Not that I’m in favor of that, but you get my meaning…

stvnscott on November 17, 2010 at 11:38 AM

LaHood is straight out of “1984″ with his suggestions. Big brother is watching us on the telescreens, and we as Americans need to prepare for the 10-minute Hate.

Lahood wants the government to track our cars, our mileage.
Lahood wants to disable our cell phones.
Lahood wants to control our lives, and Obama loves it.

Mark7788 on November 17, 2010 at 12:27 PM

Adding more required equipment to cars will make them more expensive, and increase the value of used cars without the scramblers.

After cash for clunkers, increasing the value of used cars is a feature, not a bug.

gryphon202 on November 17, 2010 at 12:33 PM

ThisTSA groping isn’t really about safety. It’s about control. If they were really concerned about safety, they the TSA would reduce the speed limit again adopt Israeli security procedures. That would save far more lives. Not that I’m in favor of that, but you get my meaning…

stvnscott on November 17, 2010 at 11:38 AM

Slightly off-topic, but the template fits most conservative vs. liberal issues.

gryphon202 on November 17, 2010 at 12:35 PM

BIG run a muck GOVERNMENT. I predict it won’t end well.

Vote them all out, repeat until gone.

tarpon on November 17, 2010 at 2:07 PM

It’s very sad that a government would need to take the steps of dampening cell phone signals in cars because people are too selfish to do the right thing.

The Thin Man Returns on November 16, 2010 at 4:57 PM

My best friend was killed in a drunk driving accident the day after Thanksgiving 2001.
2 of my students were killed in one in 2006.
So I know about drunk driving.
So you are here to legislate selfishness, is that it?
You are the kind of people that are responsible for the attempted murder of this Republic.
Life is dangerous. The govt can’t save you.
End of story.

In Pennsylvania there is already a law on the books that states it is illegal to drive while distracted. I bet every other state has a similar law. This isn’t needed. Also, how will this scrambler effect things like radios, pacemakers, CB radios?
This is more about, again, just getting people to submit. We are wards of the state and nothing more.

JellyToast on November 16, 2010 at 6:58 PM

I say this all the time to these people who want to advocate more loss of their personal liberties.
If you are doing something that distracts you & it causes you to swerve or cause an accident, then there are already punishments for that.
It’s like hate crimes. A crime is a crime. All crimes are pretty hateful. Sentencing is what separates more destructive actions from lesser ones.
And like someone already said: STATE ISSUE here.
NOT a federal issue.
States need to tell the feds to STFU, pull the 10th on them, quit sending them all that $$ & let the beast STARVE from lack of attention.
Come on state AG’s, legislators-grow a PAIR.

Badger40 on November 17, 2010 at 2:30 PM

Let me offer a modest proposal for amending any such proposed legislation.

Add a proviso that any negative effect experienced by individuals subject to this legislation will also be imposed personally upon the Transportation Secretary at the time that incident occurs.

VekTor on November 17, 2010 at 4:21 PM

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