Bad driving isn’t a civil liberty

I like FlashReport.org, the news and commentary roundup maintained by Jon Fleischman, a vice chairman of the California Republican Party; I don’t always agree, but it’s a well-organized roundup of news and opinion, and I check it most days.

Yet I think he went off the rails today in his diatribe against the law that took effect today requiring drivers to use hands-free devices for their cell phones.

It is particularly disturbing that on the very week of America’s birthday, here in California the liberty of our drivers has now been eroded with the latest edict from our ever-growing Nanny State. Yes, politicians in Sacramento, intent to legislate on every aspect of the lives of their constituents have now banned the use of cell-phones by drivers of automobiles (unless we use the hands-free gizmo we always forget to have with us).
Individual drivers should be deciding whether it is safe to use a phone while driving. This decision should not be made for them by Big Brother.

Um, sorry, no. A nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California report issued in May estimated 300 fewer people will die each year in California traffic accidents as a result of the new law. Other drivers’ “rights” to engage in hazardous activity should end where they threaten the lives of me, my loved ones and everyone else on the road. Balancing individual rights with the common good is what good government and good legislation should be all about.

It’s not just the basis of Fleischman’s argument that bugged me — it’s the petulance.

Anyways, to commemorate the last day before the implementation of Simitian’s bill, I took the photo you see in this post. As you can see from the speedometer, I’m driving on the freeway as I use on hand to operate the camera in my cell phone, taking a photo of my other hand which is both navigating the car, and holding my container of ice cream. Guess what? If I took that photo today, I would be breaking the law. Then again, I am sure that some enterprising “nanny stater” will see this photo and author a bill to ban eating ice cream while driving.

So an elected GOP officer does something he knows to be unsafe, just so he can take a mocking photo and prove a weak point? I’m underwhelmed by the maturity level here.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Gabe

    I wonder if the politicians took into account the very real possibility (almost the fact) that people will be digging around in pockets, dashboards, center consoles etc. looking for their hands free devices while they drive?

    I nearly lost control of my vehicle today trying to pull my “hands free device” out of my back pocket while driving on the freeway , and I refuse to perpetually wear an electronic device that emits low level radiation and sends radio signals through my brain. (BTW I use a non-electronic headset that plugs into my phone via a wire, which I could conceivably wear at all times with the only side effect being that I will look like a total idiot.)

    I do believe that we will see a new phenomenon: car accidents caused by people frantically trying to locate their hands free devices, while moving at high speeds, all while motivated by the fear of remaining in compliance with this somewhat dubious law.

    Whether or not the accidents resulting from this new complication lead to more or less than estimated 300 deaths per year cited above, only time will tell.

    I think it is pre mature to celebrate this new law as the end all, be all regulation that will usher in an era of peace and safety on California’s highways.

  • Josh, I wasn’t trying to be petulant, I was trying to be sarcastic. That said, I will be the first to admit that sometimes, in an effort to make a point, I go too far.

    But I do admit that we (you and I) have a different view of the proper role for government.

    In order to elimate risk, you have to eliminate liberty.


  • Elusis

    The LA Times has a story today showing that hands-on vs. hands-free driving makes no difference in accident rates, it’s the distraction of thinking about something complex while driving that’s the problem. Apparently it wasn’t even talking that was the issue; simply listening to a lab assistant talk about something thought-provoking interfered with attention.

    Which left me wondering: I usually drive while listening to NPR. Sometimes I listen to podcasts. Shouldn’t there be some legislation preventing such things, if complex listening interferes with driving?

    And I agree with Gabe’s point about digging for one’s earpiece – mine always falls to the bottom of my purse, won’t switch on quickly, doesn’t want to settle onto my ear on the first try, etc. etc. I’m not wearing it all the time while driving, because it’s uncomfortable, and it interferes with me hearing things. Like the directionality of sirens. And my NPR station.

  • Shadow Wolf

    Here’s how you solve the problem of not being able to find your earpiece: DON’T ANSWER THE GODDAMN PHONE! If you’re not wearing your earpiece, let it go to voice mail and return the call when you can do so SAFELY.

    Honestly, I swear you cell phone addicts would stop to answer a phone call in the middle of a burning theater.