Those Stupid Americans!

cash_gobble I’m not saying class is everything, or that there is zero popular power in the United States. Nonetheless, it remains a point of interest how well socialized our opinion makers are in the habit of blaming everybody (and hence nobody) for arrangements that are clearly related to the inequality of wealth and power.

This a priori socialization of blame is particularly strong on the topic of cars-first transportation. Are automobiles deadly, dirty, wasteful, expensive, maybe even downright stupid? Well, what can we do? “Americans are having a love affair with this car.” Such is the routine quasi-official (non-)diagnosis, even among the purported critics.

Consider this week’s NTSB call for a nationwide ban on all cell phone use by operators of moving automobiles. DbC has pointed out how pathetic this ban is likely to be, if and when it gets implemented.

Why, pray tell, is this the case? DbC, of course, suggests it has something to do with the interests and efforts of both automobile manufacturers and cellular phone marketers. We might also point out that, even before the NTSB’s recommendation and even without anything resembling a proper explanation of the facts, something like half the U.S. population supported a total cell phone ban.

How delightful, then, that we have journalists like Rick Newman of U.S. News and World Report to put it all in perspective for us. “[N]obody,” Newman reports, “needs to worry about federal agents policing their iPhone or Blackberry.” Why not? Simple, pristine popular demand, of course:

But Americans tolerate all kinds of danger, death and even mayhem in the name of personal freedom. We insist on it, in fact, and policymakers listen.

See how it works? First you lump everybody together. Then you say we’re all the same and simply insist on killing ourselves. In the process, contradictions and capitalist interests magically cease to appear.

Journalism 101.



Lash Them with Noodles!: NTSB Remains Silent on Puniness of Cell Phone Laws

grim-reaper-driving Today, the National Transportation Danger Safety Board, reacting with all the usual alacrity in response to definitive, alarming, life-and-death six-year-old research results, called upon all 50 states and the (federally disenfranchised) District of Columbia to “ban” all use of personal electronic devices by automobile drivers. Distracted driving, as that 2006 research showed, is at least as dangerous as drunk driving. The NHTSA reckons that distraction is now a factor in 10 percent of all car crashes, including the ones that harvested 33,885 lives in 2010.

Better late than never certainly applies here. (Unless, of course, you happen to be amongst those closely connected to the 15,000 people killed by distracted drivers between the time the above-mentioned research was published and now.)

But what, pray tell, does this idea of “banning” cell phone use by car-drivers actually mean? What are the penalties imposed by the existing bans, all of which gut themselves by indulging the sponsored fiction that “hands-free” devices lower the risk of PED distraction? Let’s look at that well-known pace-setter in government regulation, California:

Fines and “points.” The fine for a first offense, including penalty assessments, is $76. A second offense is $190. However, although a violation of the handheld cell phone ban is a reportable offense and will appear on your driving record, it will not count as a point. (California uses a “point system” for moving violations. If you accumulate too many points, your insurance rates increase and you may lose your privilege to drive.)

Here in Oregon, where DbC is produced, things are far harsher: The offense here is a Class D Traffic Violation, i.e. of the same seriousness as the lowest possible speeding tickets (i.e., the ones that never get written), the ones given for driving 0-10 mph above the limit. Hence, to get a single point on one’s Oregon DMV record for breaking the cell phone “ban” here, one would have to get not just ticketed for it, but convicted of it twice within 12 months.

Meanwhile, drunk driving arrests (not convictions) here bring an automatic 30-day driver’s license suspension. Convictions for first DUIIs bring further license suspensions of from 3 months to one year. DUII is also way above a Traffic Violation, statutorily speaking.  For first-timers, DUII is a Class A Misdemeanor — i.e., a criminal matter, meaning arrest, handcuffs, booking, and at least a short stay in jail. The fines at this level are ten times higher than for a Class D Traffic Violation.

Notice that, in today’s call for a “ban” on all cell phone use by drivers, the NTSB said nothing about the above double standard. So, wrist-slaps are almost certainly what it’s proposing as the backing for its requested toughening of the law.  Quite a bold move, no?  Strike that pose!

Meanwhile, we DbCers might also note another screaming double standard in this story. In her clarion call for extending the lash of the wet noodle, NTSB Chair Deborah A.P. Hersman implored us to remember the context:

“No call, no text, no update, is worth a human life.”

True enough, and hear, hear.   Why, then, is any automotive sale, any capitalist’s dividend boost worth the same? Why, one might ask an agency allegedly devoted to travel safety, are we still pressing on with cars-first transportation?  There are, after all, other ways to live.