Feb 052009
Authors: Alex Stephens

Sometimes common sense just isn’t enough to stop people from doing stupid, dangerous things. Sometimes, we actually need to institute laws that discourage us from making unwise decisions.

Drinking and driving, speeding, even driving without using a seatbelt are all prohibited by “for your own good” laws, meaning they are in place to stop you from hurting yourself or other people.

Personal right infringements are never welcome, nor were they sought after by the founders of our country that envisioned a very limited government.

They have, however, become necessary because ordinary citizens can’t be trusted to be responsible any longer. Saying you have the right not to wear a seatbelt while driving is like saying you have the right to be stupid — go ahead and break the law, but we’re just trying to look out for you.

A distinction exists between personal safety and public safety.

Choosing not to wear a seat belt only affects you, but using a cell phone while driving affects everyone.

Talking on a phone while driving is one of the most flagrantly irresponsible activities around. After thousands of cell phone related deaths and injuries, a bill has finally been presented to make talking on a cell phone while driving illegal; about time I say.

Whether you’ve been hit, cut off, or just frustrated by drivers on phones you probably understand the necessity of such a law.

Many other states, such as New York, have similar laws prohibiting phone use because it causes otherwise avoidable accidents and fatalities. In crowded urban centers like New York City it makes perfect sense; pedestrians have quite an aversion to being run over.

What’s more is that studies have shown that using a cell phone while driving, regardless of the length of the conversion, causes you to be as distracted as you would be after consuming roughly five servings of alcohol.

Several years ago, AT&T conducted a study that determined that, unlike a conversation with someone in the car with you, phone conversations while driving use different brain processes which severely interfere with abilities to safely concentrate on the road. Texting is obviously much worse, for reasons I shouldn’t need to describe.

Those are scientific reasons that show phoning while driving is stupid, but there are moral ones as well.

A woman recently testified in the Colorado State Transportation Committee at the cell phone bills hearing that her nine-year-old daughter had been struck and killed by a driver using a cell phone. Another woman recounted her story of losing a leg to a young man texting while driving in a parking lot.

Each of those experiences represents only a small fraction of the annual trauma caused. Could you imagine being responsible for killing a child because you were distracted on the phone with a conversation that could easily be held later?

Negligence would be the word to describe this. Operating a machine capable of killing a human being, while distracted in any way, is pure negligence.

People arguing against this measure say that if we ban cell phones, why don’t we ban other activities like eating or putting on makeup? My response is that while they are equally, if not more so distracting, they are far less frequent than phone use and would be more difficult to enforce, which leads to another argument saying that it would impossible to completely enforce. Such is the way with everything though. Just because people get away with fraud, drug deals and prostitution doesn’t mean they should be legalized.

Regardless of the bill becoming law or not, all of us who possess a driver’s license hold an inherent responsibility to drive our cars in the safest way possible. If that means going the speed limit, wearing a seat belt, even pulling off the road to use our phones, then that’s the price we pay to enjoy the freedom of driving.

Jeopardizing other drivers, cyclists and children just isn’t worth it.

Alex Stephens is a senior political science major. His column appears Fridays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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