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.