Banning cell phones in cars: The government's 'draconian' plan

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says drivers shouldn't even use hands-free cell phones. Would it be unfair to force drivers to hang up?

Researchers have found hands-free cell phone users aren't focused on the road.
(Image credit: Corbis)

The Obama administration might call for an outright ban on cell phone use by drivers, setting up a potential showdown between safety and personal freedom advocates. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says he wants people at the wheel paying attention to the road, not talking on the phone or texting — both which have been shown to increase accident risk. Washington could pressure states to go along by withholding federal highway funds from those who don't comply. But critics say cell phones are no worse than other common distractions, such as radios. Would banning cell phones — including hands-free models — for vehicle operators make U.S. highways safer?

No, this "draconian" plan would do more harm than good: "America's Nanny-in-Chief is at it again," says Bob Barr at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. LaHood's "crusade" against texting while driving was bad enough, but this "draconian" ban is ridiculous. It won't make roads safer — cell phone bans in three states didn't reduce accidents — it's just the latest "intrusion by the federal government" into a matter better left up to the states.

into an issue that should solely be left to states to decide.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.

SUBSCRIBE & SAVE
https://cdn.mos.cms.futurecdn.net/flexiimages/jacafc5zvs1692883516.jpg

Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Actually, the research is on LaHood's side: Sorry, but talking on the phone is distracting, says Eric Jaffe at The Infrastructurist. Researchers have found drivers chatting on the phone — hands-free or hand-held — "missed twice as many traffic lights as those who weren't." And listening to the radio or books on tape didn't have the same effect. Statistics suggest the battle against texting while driving is saving lives, so LaHood is just trying to "strike while the iron is hot."

"Will LaHood ban all use of cell phones while driving?"

Right or wrong, this would be tough to enforce: "Don't adopt the 'You can pry my iPhone from my cold dead hands' attitude just yet," says Jeff Glucker at Autoblog. LaHood hasn't said he will do this — he just wants information on whether it would make the roads safer. But if he does decide to push for a ban he "has quite an uphill battle on his hands," because "the practice is so deeply ingrained" it will be hard to get drivers to hang up their phones for good.

"Report: LaHood mulling nationwide ban on all in-car mobile phone use?"

To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us