Dylan Scott is a GOVERNING staff writer.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Following a call by the National Transportation Safety Board this week for a nationwide ban on nearly all cell phone use by drivers, newspapers reacted on their editorial pages with a mix of support and caution.
"There are few things more frustrating than seeing another driver looking down at his cell phone instead of watching the road," the Lufkin (Texas) News wrote. "And yet most of us who own smart phones, we would venture to guess, do exactly that. Many of us do it on a regular basis, but just because we have been accident-free so far doesn't mean we will always be so lucky."
In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a law this summer that would have banned texting while driving, saying it was an example of the government trying to "micromanage the behavior of adults," according to the News. While the newspaper said it's sympathetic to that point of view, banning texting while driving "just makes sense -- in the same way that banning smoking in public areas does." The editorial board encouraged state legislators to revisit the ban and, in the meantime, for local authorities to use what power they have to implement the policy on a smaller scale.
The Oregonian in its Dec. 14 editorial said the NTSB's proposal is "forward-thinking, but asks too much too soon." The newspaper argued the board ignored the problem of enforcing such a policy and the possibility that some forms of cell phone use, particularly hands-free devices, may not pose as large a risk to public safety. Waiting until 2013 for the state legislature to address the issue makes more sense, its editorial argued, because it allows more time for research to be released and conversations to run their course.
The Kansas City Star shared a similar sentiment in its editorial. While most would agree that texting or surfing the Internet is dangerous, the ban on regular or hands-free cell phone use specifically "would generate strong resistance from the public and be difficult to enforce," the newspaper asserted. There is some political difficulty, according to the Star, in asking for such restrictions when the NTSB found that overall fatalities in traffic accidents declined. So while a ban on texting makes sense, policymakers should be cautious about enacting too broad of legislation, the Star concluded.
"Hang up and drive," was the headline of the Dec. 15 editorial in the Virginian Pilot. While a ban on hands-free driving is "the least clear cut," the newspaper acknowledged, as some research suggests it is as distracting as talking to a passenger, bans on texting and driving or handheld use should be more obvious. The NTSB recommendation "is one that states should swiftly take up," the Pilot said.
"It's impossible, of course, to remove all potential distractions from a vehicle. But it's reasonable to remove the most obvious, proven risks," the editorial read. "Most Americans have talked about -- and acknowledged -- this distraction. It's time for lawmakers to do their part. And for drivers to defer their conversations for a safer place."
Newsday in New York opened with a blunt assessment of the issue: "Texting while driving kills." The newspaper stated that, although federal legislation has been proposed, the states remain the best place to address the problem. But while many states have put a law into effect that bans the practice, "it hasn't really helped," the newspaper said on Dec. 13.
So, an example might be found in Somerset, N.J., Newsday concluded, where drivers who have been caught texting while driving are offered a choice: they can pay a $100 fine or watch a video that shows the potentially gruesome results of distracted driving.
"Laws and logic haven't worked," the newspaper asserted. "Perhaps fear and gore can."