Monday, February 1, 2010
In June of 2008, I issued my "final" warning that the hands-free (i.e., don't drive while talking on the cell phone) law would lead to more traffic stops. Well, that ended up being true. Police officers are handing out lots tickets. What I didn't predict was that traffic accidents would be reduced as the result of it. And, well, to the extent it has been studied, there is no evidence that the law has had any such effect. Maybe that's because there is no evidence that the use of cell phones while driving has led to more serious traffic accidents. To find proof of this, look no further than the number of traffic fatalities in the United States over the last 15 years. This is the same 15 years during which the use of cell phones in moving vehicles went from near zero to nearly everyone. There has been no increase in traffic fatalities per capita. So, who are the gainers from the law? Well, as predicted, Blue Tooth, motorola, and the cell phone industry who saw no decline in sales of phones but a sharp increase in sales of ear-phone type accessories. I, for one, must have purchased about 20 such gizmos in the last few years, and I still can't find one that is altogether convenient. The Government also gains by imposing fines for now unlawful activity. And, let's not forget about the cell phone etiquette police. These are the same folks who wish that talking on a cell phone in a public place at the top of your lungs because the connection is weak (and/or because you are so self-absorbed and inconsiderate that you can't imagine that those around are extremely annoyed) ought to be illegal. Okay, I admit it, I'm one of them. Now the act of driving with a cell phone pressed to your ear, which I admit I did plenty of before it became unlawful, is all the more irritating. When you see someone doing it you can't help be hit with thoughts like, "this person is oblivious to what is going on around them" and a new one, "this person is disregarding the law (at my personal expense!)". These, of course, are the emotional responses to the conduct, but the statistics do not prove that it is anything more than bad manners.