Wouldn’t that be a silly law to pass? But, if you’re eating a sandwich, you don’t have two hands on the wheel, so it must be dangerous, right? Right. I’m not being sarcastic or snarky. It really is dangerous to eat while you drive. Just as dangerous as talking on your cell phone. But it has nothing to do with your hands.
The real issue here is the conversation, which leads to distraction.
I’ve always been frustrated that this issue is solely focused on cell phones. I understand that this is the thing most people see as a major distraction, but it’s never really been proven that cell phones specifically are any more dangerous than talking to your kids in the back seat or looking up an address on your GPS. Some people get so focused on singing the lyrics or shouting at Rush Limbaugh that radios can be a serious distraction as well.
But not for everyone. Most people can listen to their radio and drive without being distracted. Lots of people can talk to their spouse or kids while driving and not cause an accident. And there are millions of people who talk on their cell phones every day while driving and don’t even come close to a near miss.
The fact of the matter is that once, or maybe twice, you or someone you know saw a car swerve. Then you pull up beside that car and – of course! – they’re on the phone. So, now in your mind, and everyone else who’s witnessed something similar, cell phones are bad while driving. What you don’t realize, or fail to notice is, at any given time on the freeway or city streets, you could be surrounded by cell phone talking drivers who – gasp - aren’t using a hands free device! Andthey aren’t swerving, driving too slow, speeding, or otherwise driving in any manner that would let you know they are talking on their phone. Millions of people do this every day without causing accidents. At least, no more accidents than are caused by a Wendy’s Baconator.
Why am I bringing this up today? Well, our narrow minded illustrious politicians in the Commonwealth of Virginia on their way to passing a cell phone ban that could go into effect on July 1, 2010. The Virginia Senate passed SB517 (and SB10 which is similar if not identical is waiting in the Senate Transportation committee) on Monday, February 8, 2010. Just days after a report from the Highway Loss Data Institute (a division of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) saying that such laws have failed to reduce crashes. Let me quote their press release so there’s no confusion here:
As state legislators across the United States enact laws that ban phoning and/or texting while driving, a new Highway Loss Data Institute study finds no reductions in crashes after hand-held phone bans take effect.
(emphasis provided by me)
Oh, and to make these bills even more useless, the ban is not a primary offense. That means the officer needs some other cause to pull you over. So, why are we wasting time in the Virginia Senate on two bills that will have no effect?
Money. I’ve said it before, but the report from HLDI above just proves it even further. Our politicians are only after our wallets with these bills. SB517 provides fines of $20 for first offenses and $50 for subsequent offenses. That’s not much of a deterrent, so after the first year the fines go up to $100 for a first offense and $200 for subsequent offenses.
There’s another reason our wonderful legislators introduce cell phone ban bills every single year. They are popular with the public. Everyone knows that cell phones cause crashes. So, the legislator is doing something that both Republican and Democrat constituents will like. Such legislation might even get some extra donations in the next election.
If you’re in Virginia, please let your Delegate know what you think. The House of Delegates has not voted on either of these bills yet, but SB517 is quickly coming their way.
These laws are too narrow and useless. We’d be better served (i.e. safer) with an overall distracted driving law that gave each officer discretion to pull over drivers that appear distracted as a primary offense.
Eat a sandwich, get a ticket. As simple as that.
- Useless Laws 101: Money Grubbing States