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Texting While Driving

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Texting While Driving

It's not politically correct, but laws to ban texting while driving just don't work.

It’s almost spring, and with the sap rising in our blood, the Idaho Legislature is brimming with ideas that illustrate just how stupid government can be. Okay, that’s a little harsh, but I must admit, I don’t understand how conservatives want government to be so small it can fit right inside your uterus. As they steadily march in the direction of 1699 I find myself holding my breath, waiting for the bill to be introduced that removes from women the right to vote.

But that’s not what I want to write about. Instead, I’d like to take aim at a bill sponsored by Senator Jim Hammond of Coeur d’Alene that has already passed the Senate, and will likely pass in the House as well— Senate Bill 1274, which will ban texting while driving... except maybe, of course, for Idaho’s first responders, who are so responsible and careful that it’s not dangerous at all for them to text while they’re driving.

Okay, let me be fair here—this is not a stupid bill. It seems pretty obvious that sending or reading text messages while also operating a vehicle on Idaho roads is a bad idea. A really bad idea. But this bill is an ignorant bill, because it ignores the facts about bills in other states that ban texting while driving. Despite what your common sense might tell you, these laws not only do not work, they actually increase the amount of accidents on the road.

This surprising finding was first published in the Highway Loss Data Institute Bulletin for September 2010, in a report titled “Texting Laws and Collision Claim Frequencies.” In a press release issued along with the report, Adrian Lund, president of the Highway Loss Data Institute and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety announced, “Texting bans haven’t reduced crashes at all. In a perverse twist, crashes increased in three of the four states we studied after bans were enacted.”

Crashes increased. Well, that’s certainly what we need in Idaho.

Now before you say, “WTF? That can’t be right!” let me share with you the speculation behind the numbers. It’s believed the increase in accidents is due to the fact that people simply don’t follow the new law. Instead, they move their phone out of sight and continue to send and receive text messages. And their eyes follow the phone.

So if texting bans don’t work, and, in fact, even increase the number of accidents on the road, why do so many, particularly police departments, push so hard for them? Obviously there are many supporters who just don’t realize the bans actually increase the danger on the roads. And obviously, law enforcement is anxious for any law that gives them a primary reason to pull someone over, potentially allowing them to ticket you for some other infraction, even if your “text messaging” was a figment of their imagination.

Personally, I think the police on Idaho’s roads already abuse their power over drivers, and I do not support giving them even more power that they don’t need. If a driver is driving erratically, the police don’t require an additional reason to pull them over—erratic driving is reason enough in and of itself. A law to ban texting while driving is a Minority Report-style law against “future crime.” 

This is actually an uncomfortable position for me to take, because I do believe that it’s dangerous for people to text while they drive. I know several people who do so, and who drive badly as a result of it. And I would support such a law if it actually worked. But it won’t, so legislation to ban texting is simply not the answer—education is. When people are educated about the dangers, behavior changes. Slowly, but it does change.

Now if the Legislature is just looking for new laws to pass (which, after all, is pretty much their only purpose apart from determining how our tax dollars will be spent) I have one for them to consider: let’s make it a crime for the police to lie to you. I would enjoy that discussion.

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Landon Otis

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Homepage, Headlines, driving, Idaho Legislature, texting while driving, Politically Incorrect, texting, laws, Idaho Senate Bill 1274, Highway Loss Data Institute

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