Do we really need to completely ban cell phones?

Published 7:09 pm Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I’m not sure if anything will come of it, but there was a rather interesting news story that broke Tuesday afternoon.

Federal accident investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board called for a nationwide ban on the use of cell phones and text messaging devices while driving. The new recommendation, if adopted by states, would outlaw non-emergency phone calls and texting by operators of every vehicle on the road, but it would not apply to hand-free devices or passengers in the vehicles.

I don’t think it’s likely that Georgia would ever approve such a law, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of the “bluer” states agree with the NTSB’s recommendation. It just seems to me that this is one of those ideas that sounds good in theory but will simply not work when executed.

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If you’re going to fine someone for using their cell phone while driving, then what’s to stop the government from fining them for any other distractive behaviors? I’ve seen just as many people weaving on the road because they are trying to eat a burger, or put on makeup, or carrying on a conversation with people in the back of their car.

Then there’s the question of how troopers would enforce such a law. It seems to me that all the driver would have to do is say, “It was an emergency,” or pass the phone off to someone else in the car. I suppose that the trooper could then call up the phone’s log and see who was called, but that seems like it’s skirting the line of a person’s privacy. I would like to think that our law enforcement officials have bigger fish to fry than making sure that someone wasn’t calling their friend to ask about a lunch date.

Look, I’m all for laws that make sure that people stay safe on the road. I think people should be fined if they’re speeding, or driving without headlights at night, or even caught texting-while-driving, which is now illegal in Georgia. I just don’t see how completely banning all cell phone use would necessarily make things safer. I’ve never understood what makes “hands-free” devices so great, either; don’t you still have to look down to see what number is calling, or to press a button to take the incoming call? I would think that moment of distraction would be more than enough to cause an accident.

While I’m sure cell phones have caused fatal accidents, I also wonder how many lives have been saved because someone was able to use a cell phone to call 911. While the law states that “emergency” calls would be exempt, I am sure most drivers would just as soon leave the cell phone at home so as not to deal with the hassle of potentially being stopped by a trooper. I would hate to think that someone might not be able to reach an ambulance after a crash, because nobody had a cell phone.

I worry that states that try to completely illegalize cell phones will be starting off on a slippery slope. I hope that this is one call that isn’t made.

Justin Schuver is the managing editor of The Post-Searchlight. His column will appear regularly each Wednesday. To reach him, email