Virginia legislators want to implement a new public safety policy:
The Virginia House of Delegates approved a bill Wednesday that would prohibit teenagers from using their cellphones while driving, which safety advocates say would reduce accidents.
Under the bill, drivers ages 15, 16 and 17 would not be able to talk, send text messages or snap photos with a phone while on Virginia roads. The ban would also apply to hands-free devices but would allow teens to use a phone during an emergency.
If signed into law, the ban will be a secondary offense. That doesn’t make the logic more palatable. If the teen driver commits a primary offense, then he or she is driving badly. Isn’t that the proof that something is distracting? Where’s the study that demonstrates how often we can expect teen drivers committing the now-secondary offense commit a primary offense at the same time? I don’t see it mentioned here.
Beyond that, the obvious question is, if teens are distracted, wouldn’t adults also be distracted? Does experience somehow change the ability to multi-task? I suspect so, to a limited extent, but I’m guessing. I see no indication that the General Assembly is doing any more investigation than I’m not.
The proposal, sponsored by Sen. James K. “Jay” O’Brien Jr. (R-Fairfax), gained momentum after a spate of fatal accidents involving teenagers on Washington area highways.
Though the accidents were not necessarily caused by teens talking on cellphones, they spurred a regionwide debate about teen driving safety. Maryland passed a series of teen driving bills two years ago. The District requires all drivers to use hands-free devices to talk on the phone. O’Brien resisted efforts in Virginia to make exceptions for teenagers using hands-free devices.
“It doesn’t matter if the phone is in their hands or hands-free,” O’Brien said. “The distraction for the teen is the same. They’re taking their concentration off the road and giving it to a conversation during a period when they have zero driving experience.“
So we’re taking a action to resolve a potentially unrelated problem, and applying untested assumptions to that solution. It’s hard to say this will cause specific harm, but will it help? It doesn’t matter. As long as we assume parents won’t have to bury their child, then it’s good policy. We’re doing something “for the children.” But, again, are adults with experience any better at driving while on the phone?
Really, though, this is just a good way to raise teens who a complacent while legislatures restrict liberty further.
“I think it’s pretty reasonable, because we do have a tendency to talk on our phones a lot, and a lot of accidents happen,” [17-year-old Pape] Diop said. “Even if I’m in the car with an adult, I see it distracts them.”
Teens have a “tendency”. That’s enough. Notice, of course, the anecdotal evidence that it also distracts adults. If this law is justified, wouldn’t it be as wise to ban adults from using cell phones? Then we could prevent a distracted adult from killing a now-undistracted, non-cell phone using teen driver.
This is not an endorsement for the opposite opinion. I’m only suggesting that, if the General Assembly is warranted in taking action, there should be some common sense behind it. Instead, we get a feel-good proposal to take action against a group who can’t vote. We’re supposed to accept it because it’s for their own good. Nope. Good, reasonable public policy requires more than that.