Thursday, December 15, 2011

Now I'm an anti-car-fatality bigot

Just kidding. After a week of more-than-expected heat over our column on Tim Tebow, Ben and I have finally produced another column for Scripps Howard News Service. It's about the National Transportation Safety Board's recommendation to ban cell phone use by drivers. Ben thinks it's nanny-statism run amok. I differ:
Sometimes the "live free or die" crowd takes its motto a little too seriously. When it comes to driving and cellphone use, though, that motto accurately sums up the choices.

Should drivers be free to kill two people and injure 38 others? That's what happened in Missouri in August 2010, when a pickup truck rear-ended a big rig, which slammed into a school bus, which rammed another school bus. The NTSB's investigation showed the pickup driver had sent 11 messages in the 11 minutes leading to the accident -- the last message coming "moments" before the tragedy.

Should a tractor-trailer driver be free to kill 11 other people? That happened the same year in Kentucky, where a cell phone-using driver crossed the center lane and slammed into a 15-passenger van.

Should bus drivers be free to be careless with their passengers? In 2004, such a driver was too busy talking on his phone to avoid slamming into the underside of a Virginia stone bridge -- injuring 11 of the 27 high school students on board.

Anti-nanny-state conservatives will argue such tragedies don't justify federal intrusion into state laws. But the NTSB's recommendation is just that -- right now, there is no federal requirement that states ban drivers from cellphone use. And many federal, state and even local roads are built using federal tax dollars. The emergency personnel and police that respond to disastrous events are paid for from your pocket. The NTSB isn't overstepping its proper bounds, nor are governments that adopt its recommendations.

Distracted drivers are deadly menaces that consume public resources.

There are reasons to worry about a rampant nanny state run amok. The NTSB's recommendation isn't even close to the top of the list. In this case, Americans don't have to choose: Live free. Don't die.

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