In the midst of the occupy movement, a crumbling infrastructure, a lopsided
income tax system, and a crippled educational system, be prepared for a fight
that comes much closer to home, an initiative bent on taking one of our most
basic and necessary rights away from us: the ability to talk and drive. I do it.
You do it. But now, the National Transportation Safety Board has called for a
nation-wide ban on the use of personal electronic devices while driving,
including cell phones, and this push is finding support amongst law enforcement
and insurance companies.

               I’m no libertarian, for the most part, and I’m all in favor of government
regulations. Where would we be without the FDA? Hell, I even find some redeeming
factors in there being a National Transportation Safety Board, but this is too
much. The government, funded but not regulated by US citizens, is a referee, not
our overbearing parent. Not too long ago, California passed a law that forced
Californians to switch to hands free devices or risk being fined. More recently,
texting and driving bans began to sweep the country. Now, we face an all out ban
on making and receiving calls in the one place where we really don’t have
anything better to do., especially if you’ve ever been stuck in LA traffic.

               NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman asserted that  “No call, no text, no update is
worth a human life.” The same could be said about a doughnut or cigarette break,
but the bottom line is that it isn’t hers to decide for us. Inevitably, the
conversation then becomes:

“Well Michael, is your life worth a text or call?” 

“Probably not (Deborah), but it’s a risk I’m willing to
take to keep you from hovering over my personal freedom like a hungry bird
eyeing a tasty, vulnerable worm.” 

“Perhaps you won’t be getting yourself into a
fatal talking-and-driving accident, but what about another, more distractable
driver who crashes into your car while on the phone with his parents or
girlfriend? Is that worth your ability to use your phone while you drive?” 

“For the sake of this conversation, yes, absolutely.”

               First of all, anyone who is so distracted by talking into an earpiece that he or
she crashes into my car doesn’t have a problem with talking and driving, they
have a problem with driving. Seriously, if your ability to operate a car is so
critically hindered by using a hands-free device, that would indicate that your
capacity to safely operate a vehicle is already on the verge of deficiency.
Additionally, if you are genuinely concerned for drivers’ safety, then I would
deeply question how forcing them to refuse to pick up calls from their mothers
or significant others is not further endangering their lives. Therein, the
problem is not cell phones (they are considerably easier to operate than a motor
vehicle), it is the questionable standards under which people are granted
driver’s licenses. I, and you also, I’m sure, know or been driven by various
people who should not, absolutely, under any circumstances, be allowed to have a
driver’s license. And yet, they do. Talking and driving does not cause people to
pummel through a farmer’s market, pushing the gas instead of the break, an easy
mistake to make (if you’re senile), people who are granted the ability to drive
by DMV test administrators who base their approvals on how good of a day they
are having do.

               In what world is banning the use of electronic devices safer? Technology has
made cars safer, that’s been a one way road. If the exchange for airbags and
safety standards is talking on a earpiece then it seems like safety still comes
out on top. Is Deborah Hersman suggesting that operating a power window is
somehow less distracting than cranking one open? Is tuning a digital radio less
distracting than trying to operate a record player? Is talking to an earpiece
less distracting than having a passenger in your car? Academic studies suggest
that upwards of 70% of communication is nonverbal, so how can we be less
distracted by having 70% less to look at while we’re having a conversation?

Last I checked, the DMV falls under the category of Transportation Safety. Why
not address the problem at it’s heart? I understand, responsible, effective
change is a bureaucratic nightmare, but is it that hard to give DMV instructors
the ability to deny applicants the right to drive and text based on their
capacity as drivers. DMV Instructor: “So listen [16 year old new driver or
easily distractable senior], your ability to drive a car is proficient at best,
and since you only missed the maximum number of allotted points on your test, I
am going to give you a driver’s license. However, I fear that even the teensiest
distraction will cause you to become a danger to yourself and others, so I am
putting a stamp on your license that restricts you from talking and driving. Try
again next year.”

               So let’s face the real problem, Deborah Hersman. Let’s admit that putting a
band-aid on our civil rights is easier than retraining DMV employees or updating
driver’s license requirements. Once you do that, we can have a whole different
conversation, but until then, keep your band-aids to yourself.

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