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Texting while driving? Bad idea.  Driving and talking on the phone? Let's exercise some personal judgment.
Texting while driving? Bad idea. Driving and talking on the phone? Let's exercise some personal judgment.

Keep your driving laws off my cell phone!

The readers who think that I'm so liberal on all issues that I make Karl Marx look like a Republican may be surprised to hear this, but I'm wholeheartedly opposed to legislation that would make it illegal to use a cell phone while driving.

Yes, texting while driving is a bad idea -- and I've done it plenty -- but the act of talking on a phone and driving a car simultaneously should not be made a crime.

Can it be a little distracting? Yes. But here's what else is distracting while driving:

  • Talking to or being talked to be a passenger
  • Listening to music or talk radio
  • Drinking a soda or a cup of coffee
  • Shifting a stick shift
  • Looking at billboards
  • Using a GPS
  • Fiddling with the air conditioner

I've done all of the above, and I'm proud to report that I've never caused an accident.

You know what else I've tried? Using a Bluetooth headset or speakerphone to carry on a conversation, and I can report that it's far more distracting that holding a phone up to your left ear. There's something about shouting into thin air that's unnatural and weird, and I can unequivocally admit that I drive worse when yapping hands-free.

Frankly, driving solo is the only time these days that I have the peace, quiet and freedom to carry on a long overdue personal and private conversation. My short commute has become my personal sanctum, especially considering I don't even really have cell phone coverage in my own home. Honestly, I frequently leave the radio off in the car, preferring peace and quiet and a short call to play catch up over the blaring background noise.

Talking and driving is about personal responsibility. If I was a crappy driver when using my phone, I wouldn't do it. But if a law if going to prohibit me from exercising my own judgment, then it had better look at all the other distractions present to drivers.

And now, the government is "tackling" the issue with a two-day summit held by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

"This is not dissimilar to solving the problem of drunk driving," LaHood told NPR today. "Public awareness is not at the level that it should be. Hopefully, our summit begins that process."

I'm not an expert, but I'd say that neither talking on the phone nor texting is anything like drunk driving.

That said, I'm fine with drawing the line at texting. We're all guilty of texting way too much, in all the wrong places. I may be especially guilty, since long-time readers know my hatred of voicemail. I wholeheartedly endorse pulling over, and I understand why 18 states and the District of Columbia passed laws against texting while driving.

What I don't support is the law that six states plus D.C. have implemented against talking on the phone without a hands-free device. I'm glad that Wisconsin isn't among the states banning it -- yet.

"Drivers always think they are not the problem," said Bill Horrey, a research scientist with the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, also on NPR.

"Research here and other places shows that people are very poorly calibrated to their own level of performance, and historically, drivers have always exhibited overconfidence in their skills," Horrey said.

I disagree. Unfortunately, some distractions are just part of the deal when it comes to operating a motor vehicle, and some of us are perfectly well equipped to handle it.

Talkbacks

Dusty_Bottoms | Oct. 9, 2009 at 10:00 a.m. (report)

The problem is it doesn't take long for someone talking on a cell phone (or texting, or scrolling through a contacts list to find a number, etc.) to get into, or cause, an accident. A split second. Nobody who does it expects it to cause a problem. You look down at your phone for one second, and that's when a kid runs out into traffic in front of your car. One's right to talk on a cell phone while driving ends where someone else's right to not get killed or maimed by a person operating a ton-plus moving object begins. Yes, we are overrun by legislation, and much of it is relatively worthless. But the laws that exist to prevent a very real risk of causing serious damage or death to another person are pretty worthwhile, I'd say. This law would not bother me in the least. (And I'm one of those driving cell phone talkers myself, I hate to admit, though I do try to avoid it as much as possible.)

Look on the bright side. A ban on cell phones while driving would pave the way for a big CB radio comeback. That's a big 10-4, good buddy!

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yvonne8753 | Oct. 8, 2009 at 3:47 p.m. (report)

I was almost hit twice last night walking home from work by drivers talking on cell phones. I am quite sure they also think they are careful drivers and can talk and drive at the same time. I disagree.

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sas_tarr | Oct. 7, 2009 at 10:15 a.m. (report)

I think that making accidents should be punished by raised insurance premiums or even criminal, anything else (including phone talking, or some alcohol in your blood) should be totally legal and should not be punished. Exception of this rule may be when there's a clear and present hazard as in inability to drive straight or failure to stop at lights or something like that.

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josebartz | Oct. 4, 2009 at 10:09 p.m. (report)

I drive a truck M-F, roughly 8am-5pm. I am elevated 4-5 feet above drivers of cars/suvs/minivans and bikes, so I see everything. I see roughly 9 out of every 10 drivers on a cell phone. It's ridiculous! Looking down to dial, text, etc. People sitting at a green light because they're looking at their phone, swerving in and out of their lanes, or just not paying attention at all. There are some people that can handle a TALKING conversation on a cell while driving, but they are few and far between. Texting should be banned in vehicles. It's as bad as drinking and driving.

As for bikes on the road. Yes, you can ride on any road, except an interstate (minimum speed 45 mph, and no non-motorized vehicles allowed.) Too many bikes doing the "Idaho Stop", where if you're at a red light and see no oncoming traffic, you run the red light. Bikes must obey all laws of a car. You cannot run a red light, stop sign, you MUST use hand signals.

People must begin again to respect others and drive like the DOT instructed us when we took our "Temps Test" and Road Test. People, for the most part, don't respect the road and other drivers around them. Use your directionals, keep near the speed limit, no U-turns at intersections, no changing lanes in intersections. You are responsible for anything you hit. If you hit me, I will sue you for EVERTHING you own, and then some.

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zach01 | Oct. 1, 2009 at 12:10 p.m. (report)

Maybe the also add legislation to prohibit dbags from talking on Bluetooth's while they're in public as well. Or make it legal to punch them in the mouth, either way.

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