Cell Phone Ban: Well-intentioned, But Misguided

April 23, 2009

When I read about Colorado’s proposed ban on talking on cell phones while driving, HB09-1094, I was firmly against it. Such a ban is one more step government is taking into controlling our personal choices. As is commonly mentioned, there are numerous other actions that can distract a driver that are not subject to a ban. But, cell-phones are singled out. Flipping through a book of 200 CDs while driving is probably just as distracting and dangerous (although, maybe I was the only one who did that) and shuffling an I-pod is just as bad.

That was all before I almost got hit by a car being driven by a young woman who was talking on her cell phone. I was crossing the park street coming in off of 13th and I saw the car barreling down. I figured she’d look up and stop, but she barely slowed down. When she noticed me, she removed her other hand from the steering wheel and gave me the courtesy wave. So, she was zooming into the park with no hands on the wheel.

After recovering from my momentary change of heart, I’ve realized the ban is not just misguided, but would also be insufficient, discriminatory, and a financial drain. The ban would only affect people under 18 years old and would still allow hands-free communication- speaker phones, mics, headsets, etc.

The problem with cell phones does not come from holding the phone. People frequently drive with one-hand on the wheel. The problem comes from talking to someone who is not present and the driver’s focus shifting from the car to the person on the other line of the phone. I’m not sure why, but talking on a phone seems to be more distracting than talking to another person in the car. We would never consider banning talking, right? I hope not, but banning cell phones brings us to the edge of that slippery slope.

The ban also disproportionately affects young adults. HB09-1094 would impose an outright ban on people under the age of 18 while people over 18 could use hands-free devices while driving. This is one more example of the discrimination against youth. If people over 18 stop getting into accidents while talking on their cell phones, then such a discrepancy may be reasonable.

At least the ban also prohibits sending text messages while driving.

Finally, the ban includes a $50 fine for infractions. Is that really worth the costs of enforcement? The overall goal is certainly public safety. But, will the ban really be enforced? The costs for the resources to enforce the ban are likely to exceed the revenue generated from $50 fines. But, the fiscal note for the bill does not make any reference to the costs of state patrol officers and local law enforcement, so my cost predictions are purely speculative.

As well-intentioned as the ban may be, the government is rarely successful at controlling personal behavior and really shouldn’t even be in that line of work.

The bill has passed the Colorado House and now moves to the Senate.