Cell phones entered our life a short time ago, yet they have already transformed it strongly and irrevocably. People have taken to this means of communication using it in all places imaginable: in their offices, homes, at picnics, outings, in their backyards, and in their cars. The latter use continues to alarm regulators with the negative impact it has on people’s ability to control their actions while driving. While a number of laws and regulations have been proposed to overcome the harmful habit, it seems futile to pursue this practice with yet another law. Elimination of cell phone usage while driving can turn into a costly, difficult, and ultimately ineffective undertaking.
Indeed, to have policemen stop everyone using cell phones without a handset or using any type of phone connection is too difficult an undertaking. Policemen on the roads have more serious obligations; they are placed there to watch the violations that can directly lead to accidents on the road. In this light, it is really questionable whether policemen should be made to supervise the use of cell phones or special modes of their application, such as the use of handsets. During the discussion of a Californian bill penalising talking on the cell phone without a hands-free set with a $50 fine, “Assemblyman John Benoit opposed the bill, questioning whether drivers who used handsfree devices were less distracted than those who hold their phones to their ears” (“Calif. May Limit Drivers’ Cell Phone Use”). It really seems a waste of time and effort to have well-trained police professionals to attend to such minor matters that have not yet been proved to make a difference in driving.
The enforcement difficulty concerning the regulation is another reason why it is not needed. An editorial in Las Vegas Review-Journal states that the proposal of Clark County Commissioner Erin Kenny is difficult to enforce because it “would ban hand-held cell phones used by drivers operating in unincorporated Clark County … but not in the city limits of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson or Boulder City” (“An enforcement nightmare”).
Adoption of regional measures would further confuse drivers as to whether they can use cell phones in this particular state and county. Chasing people with cell phones can become another policeman’s nightmare, and the presence of a law code that is not enforced strictly enough can undermine people’s trust in the force of laws.
Besides, it has not been convincingly proved that the legislation will indeed prevent a serious problem. Before the law is passed, the intuitive feeling of policy-makers should be substantiated by facts and scholarly studies that clearly demonstrate the link between use of cell phones and accidents on the road. Several incidents do not warrant the adoption of a bill that will ban the use of cell phones.
The arguments in favour of new tougher legislation are often emotional, but lose their appeal if placed in context. Thus, William C. Dwyer (2001) in response to the above-mentioned editorial argues that “one more death or accident as a result of the use of the cell phone is too many as well”. The assumption here is that even a single human life is more valuable than anything else. However, a brief examination of existing laws shows that people are often willing to exchange quantity of life for quality, that is, pass laws that will improve the everyday lives of all at the expense of a few sacrifices. An example can be laws allowing gun ownership. By the way, on the road, deaths could be avoided at all perhaps if the speeding limit were reduced to 20 miles per hour. However, people want to get to places quickly, and therefore accidents are tolerated. The same is true for cell phones: people want to live in a world where connection is fast and convenient and have to accept risks associated with it.
Besides, the very arguments citing danger appear unreliable because of the already mentioned lack of reliable and convincing evidence. Thus, the author of the Californian bill, Democratic Assemblyman Joe Simitian, supported his bill with the claim that “a study by the California Highway Patrol found that cell phones were responsible for more distracted-driving accidents than eating, smoking, kids, pets and personal hygiene combined” (“Calif. May Limit Drivers’ Cell Phone Use”). There is also a question: and how much is that? Besides, should there be laws adopted also against the presence of kids in the car, or those banning pets or eating? Besides, isn’t cell phone use just another sign of reckless driving? In short, until there is reliable proof that cell phones lead to deaths that could otherwise have been avoided, there is no evident need for new laws.
The call to get off the road to use cell phones in order to be responsible drivers proclaimed in Dwyer (2001) sounds strange given the stress of today’s daily life. Millions of Americans spend a great part of their day on the road, often stuck in endless jams, and requiring them to find their way through crowded streets to a place where they can use their phones with maximum safety sounds really inhuman. It is easy to imagine someone stuck in a string of hundreds of cars, picking a cell phone to tell the family that one will not arrive home for dinner in time. Should the law banning cell phone use on the roads be passed, this action would result in a penalty. In fact, the law would increase the stressfulness of everyday life and indirectly even contribute to bad driving.
The laws prohibiting use of cell phones on the road or requiring drivers to use only hands- free sets will most likely lead to additional headache for policemen, more stress for drivers, and little real effect. These regulations are out of tune with the general spirit of legislation that often makes concessions trading quantity of life for quality. Legislation should fit the advances of modern technology, allowing people to reap full benefits of it and enrich human life rather than restrict it, especially when the harm has not been proved.
“Calif. May Limit Drivers’ Cell Phone Use.” Yahoo!News 30 May 2006. 19 Jun. 06 <http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20030530/ap_on_hi_te/cell_phone_ban_2>.
Dwyer, William C. “LETTER: Cell-phone users on local highways are endangering lives.” Las Vegas Review-Journal 28 October 2001.
“EDITORIAL: An enforcement nightmare: Nor is there evidence that cell phone ban would do any good.” Las Vegas Review-Journal 16 October 2001. 19 Jun. 06 <http://www.reviewjournal.com/lvrj_home/2001/Oct-16-Tue-2001/opinion/17213938.html>.
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