Nanny-state politicians and bureaucrats are constantly telling Americans not to text while driving. Some state legislatures have gone so far as to enact laws cracking down on texting behind the wheel, even though there are already distracted driving laws on the books. The issue has become a crusade, if not an obsession, to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
Several groups supporting such bans have launched ad campaigns, usually citing tragic accidents involving a child or teenager as an example of the dire need for new and stronger anti-texting laws. Many politicians, not wanting to appear to be against public sentiment, react by enacting more unnecessary laws.
But do laws that ban texting while driving really prevent accidents? According to recent studies in the U.S. and other countries, the answer is no.
A credible report recently published by the Swedish National Road and Transport Institute (VTI) found such laws are not effective, largely because drivers simply ignore them. Katja Kircher, a VTI spokesperson, notes they have “seen no effect on crash risks” from texting while driving.
According to The Local, a Swedish news site, VTI released the report after the Swedish parliament began considering a ban on texting and talking on a cell phone while driving without a hands-free device. If the parliamentarians of a socialist nanny state such as Sweden are having second thoughts about enacting a law banning any type of behavior — something such countries normally do without a second thought — that should raise a red flag.
In fact, studies of American drivers have shown that bans on texting while driving, which typically target teen drivers, have had little effect on drivers’ conduct. USA Today reported earlier this month on a new survey by Harris Interactive showing that “just 43% of drivers ages 16 and 17 say they have never texted while driving — the same percentage as in the insurer’s first survey in 2010.” Meanwhile, a 2010 study by the Highway Data Loss Institute found that anti-texting laws do little to reduce car crashes.
Of course, these facts have not stopped politicians from posturing over the issue, and nanny state advocates continue to lobby for more and stricter laws.
No one denies that distracted driving is a danger to the driver, his passengers and people in nearby vehicles, whether a driver is eating behind the wheel, dealing with their kids in traffic or texting. The real question is: Do Americans need more laws on the books or should we just enforce the ones already in place?
Unfortunately, politicians looking to score points with voters back home, and bureaucrats with nothing better to do than look for ever more ways to control the citizenry, will no doubt continue to push these and other nanny-statist laws down our throats. As a modern-day Admiral David Farragut might say: “Damn the facts, full speed ahead!”
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He provides regular commentary to Daily Caller readers.