An American’s car is his castle, and that castle is under siege.
The assault on American motoring practices began last Saturday when The New York Times published its lede story on the dangers of driving while talking on a cell phone. The Times continued the theme Monday, citing recently released study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that claimed drivers distracted by their cell phones caused 955 fatalities in 2002—still far short of the 100,000 people killed by doctors every year—but still nothing to sneeze at. Pointedly, the study concluded that there was little to no safety improvement between drivers talking with a handset and those using a hands-free device.
This set off another round of calls to ban the use of cell phones while driving. Most of these people, mind you, don’t want to simply ensure both hands are on the wheel by requiring hands-free sets, they want to ban talking on the phone all together.
But as this blog has pointed out before, an American’s car is not only a machine designed to get from point A to point B, but also a personal sanctuary for eating, drinking, enjoying top-notch entertainment systems and yes, talking on cell phones. In short, an American’s car is his home away from home. And if we are going to start regulating when people can and cannot talk in their cars, we better have a good reason to do it.
But we don’t have a good reason to do it.
Whether it is closing a business deal, arranging to meet someone, reporting a drunk driver or simply ordering a pizza, the ability to talk on the phone while driving is a huge benefit to society as a whole. And despite the rapid proliferation of cell phones—and more distracting smart phones—over the past few years, America’s roads today are the safest they have been in decades.
Is talking on a cell phone while driving dangerous? Sure. But so is fiddling with the climate controls, listening to the radio or driving faster than 10 MPH. We could almost eliminate road fatalities entirely—saving 40,000 lives a year— if we simply prohibited the production of cars that could travel at speeds greater than a brisk walk. But that would not be reasonable.
Neither is banning cell phones while driving.
It is time to lift the siege on American drivers and go back to the good old days of last week, when we were all free to do as we pleased in our cars.
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