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Is banning cell phones for drivers rational?

Deborah Baic/Deborah Baic/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

The world is made up of two kinds of people – those who believe that human beings are fundamentally rational and capable and those who don't.

Those who don't are generally in favour of laws that put limits on freedom. In the case of today's effort to stir the debate pot, they are the ones who want banned completely the use of cell phones when driving.

Those who want to ban cell phones fundamentally believe that you and I are incapable of driving and talking. If they could, they'd ban all forms of audio entertainment in cars and they'd bound and gag all passengers so they would not distract the driver, too.

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In a nutshell, these types do not trust you and I to do the right thing.

Those who want to ban cell phone use in cars are the same people who pushed for air bags in cars on the belief that people are not fundamentally rational and capable. That is, air bags came into being because the nanny, er, "safety" lobby in the United States never trusted the public to go the rational route and buckle up their seatbelts.

Ralph Nader has said he doubted people would use seatbelts regardless of seatbelt laws, so he and the Joan Claybrooks of the world successfully pushed for air bags. They won.

No matter that in the early days of widespread air bag adoption, these "safety" devices killed and maimed a number of people. Why? Air bags must inflate with enough force to protect an unbelted occupant in a fairly substantial crash.

How much force is that? Years ago one engineer told me that protecting a loose vehicle occupant requires something equivalent to a punch from Mike Tyson in his prime. The early bags were not sophisticated in how they inflated and they punched hard and fast. Moreover, most used a "hot" inflator that often burned the person being "protected." Odd to have mandated safety devices that injure, kill and maim those being protected, no?

Air bag technology has since evolved and they have become "smart, but your best protection in a crash remains a seatbelt. Regardless, air bags are an added expense that the research still says offer a very small added piece of crash protection for occupants.

As for cell phones, the debate is on again because yesterday the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, an independent agency responsible for promoting traffic safety and investigating accidents down south, is now calling for a ban on the use of hands-free devices for drivers. Once again, we have a group that fundamentally does not believe that people will act sensibly and rationally when it comes to the use of cell phones while driving.

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Set aside the impossible task of policing a complete cell phone ban. The philosophical issue here is how you view human beings. If you don't trust human beings to be rational and sensible and if you're comfortable with limiting liberties, then you want cell phone use banned for drivers at all times, save emergencies. If you do trust your neighbour, then you'll at least be open to some sort of compromise here.

Trust or distrust? That's the question. Where do you stand?

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About the Author
Senior writer, Globe Drive

In 25 years of covering the auto industry, Jeremy Cato has won more than two-dozen awards, including three times being named automotive journalist of the year. Jeremy was born in Montreal and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. More

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