Aug 272009
Authors: David Riegner Iowa State Daily Iowa State U.

U-WIRE — Our fast-paced society appeared seemingly overnight. In a span of only a few years, the world imploded: suddenly anyone and anything was attainable on little more than a whim.

This explosive, or implosive, societal change wasn’t without its fair share of growing pains: Internet stalkers, phishing scams, Nigerian princes, Y2K, I Love You e-mails, poorly planned software “updates” and literally countless other problems that appeared over time. Once again, we, as a society, are navigating a technological obstacle course of our own creation.

We’ve created a monster, but a ban on texting while driving isn’t the answer.

My beef with an outright ban on drive-texting is not with the ban itself. Simply put, it’s a stellar idea. It will remove a dangerous condition from our roadways and certainly make them safer and more pleasant for everyone. My problem lies solely with the backhanded, sneaky and overbearing way in which the federal government is forcing its hand.

If you’re unfamiliar with the basics of the Constitution, then you may not yet see the issue at hand. A brief, over-simplified, lesson in constitutional law: if the Constitution doesn’t expressly say the federal government can do something, then it can’t.

Our founding fathers realized that the Constitution could not possibly cover all future situations so they added the 10th Amendment. This amendment states that any power not specifically given to the federal government is left to each state’s government to decide individually.

This simple and elegant system has been abused, re-interpreted and mangled beyond all recognition. The federal government forgets the 10th Amendment with amazing frequency. Sometimes, an issue that could easily be left for the states to decide is iron-fisted in Congress instead.

No example is as poignant or easy for citizens to understand as the “federal” drinking age. Contrary to popular belief, there is no federally mandated drinking age. Under the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, the federal government has the power to withhold 10 percent of a state’s highway funds should it fail to set its legal drinking age at 21. Technically, states still have a choice, but from a practical standpoint they do not.

We’re standing by idly as our federal government mires itself in yet another constitutionally questionable situation where a state’s rights are ignored. The texting ban is currently framed in exactly the same way as the drinking age. States failing to pass a ban on texting within a time limit would face a 25 percent reduction in annual federal highway funds.

This is my issue with the texting ban: when laws are structured to intentionally use tax dollars as leverage, the states lose their individuality.

The federal government has taken 50 hostages, and with budgets already teetering on the brink, they know state governments will knuckle under and give in to demands to avoid complete meltdowns.

A ban on texting will undoubtedly make roads safer, but that does not mean that the federal government needs to put sanctions on its own states to achieve this goal.

Each state has unique circumstances that will help makes roads safer. For instance, a texting ban may make congested roads in New Jersey safer, but perhaps South Dakota would be better-served enforcing speed limits and adding more streetlights and guardrails.

Why should South Dakota be penalized for prioritizing different ideas than New Jersey? In a country as vast as the U. S. it’s naive to think that an overarching law can solve all problems in all locations.

Banning texting is a good idea, but that doesn’t mean we should support this bill. Sometimes you can do the right thing the wrong way. Sometimes being safe isn’t as important as being free. Sometimes what is right doesn’t need to be mandated. Sometimes states should be permitted to progress on their own terms.

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