Will the cell phone be 2012’s most endangered species?

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If 2011 taught us anything, it’s that the nanny state is alive and well. From January through December, and at all levels of government, acts of needless, nonsensical regulatory meddling were constant reminders that individual liberty truly has become an endangered concept in America and the means of exercising individual liberty have become endangered species. One of the most endangered of these species is the cell phone, which appears to be atop the nanny state’s hit list for 2012.

Not surprisingly, California — once the land of opportunity that attracted pioneers and families yearning to be free, but which now serves as the epitome of the nanny state gone wild — is leading the way. The California Highway Patrol (CHP), which operates more as the “CNP” or “California Nanny Patrol,” celebrated New Years by conducting a massive crackdown on cell phone users. According to The Sacramento Bee, officers monitored vehicles in an effort to find people texting or talking on their phones while driving. The newspaper reported that plainclothes “highway patrol” officers in the state capital of Sacramento and in other cities were directed to peer into passing cars to look for signs of “distracted driving” and then issue citations.

These West Coast authorities were careful to tell the public that these actions were undertaken only to help “educate” drivers about the dangers of conversing or texting while driving and improve people’s “driving habits.” All “for their own good,” of course.

Not to be outdone at the federal level, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has endorsed a nationwide ban on cell phone use and texting while driving. Though the agency has no explicit authority yet to issue such a ban, the board is calling “for the 50 states and the District of Columbia to ban the non-emergency use of portable electronic devices (other than those designed to support the driving task) for all drivers.”

The agency also called on states that follow its recommendation to use “high-visibility enforcement to support these bans and [implement] targeted communication campaigns to inform motorists of the new law and heightened enforcement.” California obviously was happy to comply.

The push for cell phone bans has ramped up in recent years, particularly since President Barack Obama took office. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood — a former Republican member of Congress — has repeatedly trumpeted his support for such measures, going so far as to advocate technology that would disable cell phones in vehicles.

To further this nanny-state agenda, LaHood and the NTSB have cited instances in which distracted driving allegedly caused crashes that resulted in deaths or severe injuries. While tragic, these examples are employed to incite an emotional response and drive public opinion toward greater and greater government control.

Actual empirical data, however, show that these bans do little to actually reduce car accidents. In September 2010, a High Loss Data Institute study of four states with bans on cell phone use and texting while driving, including California, concluded that, “If the goal of texting and cell phone bans is the reduction of crash risk, then the bans have so far been ineffective.” In fact, the study surmised that “bans may make texting [while driving] more dangerous rather than eliminating [it].”

Unfortunately, nanny-state enthusiasts like LaHood and the folks at the California Highway Patrol have little interest in factual data and statistics as the basis for government action. They also have little, if any, regard for the principles of limited government or individual liberty. Unfortunately, their efforts to demonize and curtail individuals’ use of cell phones and other personal communication devices are grounded in nothing more than their opinions of what is best for others.

Before a corporation can build or modify a structure or roadway, it is required by the government to submit a time-consuming and costly “environmental impact statement” or “EIS.” It is high time we require that government bureaucrats seeking to limit or deny individual freedom first justify their actions with a “liberty impact statement” or “LIS.”

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.