Perspectives: Distracted driving, the nanny state at the local level

OPINION – A policeman snapping photos of passing motorists is no big deal, right? Especially if he’s doing it to raise awareness of the dangers of distracted driving.

But the warm fuzzies that we’re supposed to feel from living under the ever-watchful eye of the nanny state just aren’t happening.

In a release posted on the St. George Police Department’s Facebook page Wednesday, photos are given showing people using cell phones while driving. In support of the Heads Up Thumbs Up campaign, the Police Department’s release stated:

The officer is taking photos of people who are driving distracted.  Once a violation is observed the vehicle description is provided to other officers who are positioned to intercept.  The main focus, initially, is to educate the public about the hazards of distracted driving and the laws that relate to the use of electronic devices while driving as well as careless driving.

Instead, this exercise is reinforcing the notion that everywhere we go, everything we do is under official scrutiny. It’s a reminder that even down to the local level, government prefers to treat us as children.

Just so we’re clear, allowing ourselves to become distracted while behind the wheel is never a good idea. It doesn’t matter if that distraction comes from using an electronic device, eating, trying to retrieve a dropped item, putting on mascara, or simply letting our mind wander.

But this particular awareness campaign is falling into the predictable pattern of treating any driver observed using a handheld cellphone as a violator. In reality, it is not universally unsafe to talk or even text while behind the wheel. It depends upon the circumstances in which that phone use takes place.

For instance, if you’re running late for an important meeting and are stuck in standstill traffic, being able to text is a clear advantage. If there are no other vehicles around, you’re probably safe as well. On the other hand, if you’re trying to negotiate Bluff Street or St. George Boulevard during rush hour, it’s not such a good idea.

So who should be the one making the decision of whether the usage of a cellphone is appropriate or safe? It should be the driver’s call.

The problem with blanket legislation banning such activities is that the state ends up substituting its judgment for that of the motorist. This approach creates a police matter where no actual danger existed or harm has occurred.

The reason our roads and traffic systems work at all is based on the presumption that the driver can and should make such decisions. This autonomy is what allows thousands of motorists piloting tons of steel in close proximity to do so safely with minimal lines, signs, or signals. The choices that safely get us where we’re going are primarily our own.

It’s not the result of officials planning and dictating our every move behind the wheel. Why does it work? Lew Rockwell explains:

The reason is that it is not in anyone’s interest to get in a crash. It is in everyone’s interest to get to where you are going in one piece, and to do it efficiently. Roll together tens of thousands of people with the same broad goal, and you get spontaneous cooperation. Something that people normally think could not work does in fact work.

Micromanagers are violently opposed to such ideas. To justify greater government intrusion, they’ll sometimes claim that texting while driving is analogous to driving under the influence. Under certain circumstances, it might be. But this is not a universally true statement. There are times when texting while driving may be appropriate.

The one-size-fits-all approach is based on the presumption that we don’t know what’s good for us, so we should be forced to do what government says is right.

But even banning texting while driving does not necessarily result in fewer crashes. The Highway Loss Data Institute has found that texting bans can actually result in a slightly higher frequency of crashes.

One of the reasons this may be the case is that when such bans are enacted, many motorists do not stop using their cellphones. Instead, they tend to hold them out of sight so as to avoid being stopped and ticketed. By holding their devices where they cannot be observed, they take their eyes completely off the road.

It’s ironic that the police officers that are tasked with enforcing distracted driving laws are themselves surrounded by numerous distractions. Their radios, cell phones, and in-car computers present a very real distraction that can cause tragedy as well. If they can be trained to know when it is appropriate to use electronic devices, why can’t the rest of us?

Bolstering our awareness of the consequences of distracted driving could be a good thing. But instead of relying primarily on education to persuade drivers to use their best judgment, local authorities prefer using the threat of force.

When we trust ourselves to make the right choices but we don’t trust others to do so, what exactly makes us so special?

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Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: bryanh@stgnews.com

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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32 Comments

  • My Evil Twin December 19, 2013 at 11:51 am

    Bryan there are a couple of things that you are missing here. (Well, actually there is a whole lot that you miss, on a regular basis.) But what I am referring to in this instance is that driving is not a right, it is a privilege. Now you don’t have to like that, in fact, I’m pretty sure you won’t like it, but it is a fact, whether you like it or not. The other thing that is a fact, whether you like it or not, is that people drive like total idiots anyway, so when you throw texting in with the mix, it makes for a deadly combination.
    So you are upset about big brother taking your picture while you drive? You know man, that is just too darned bad. Quit driving and start walking.

    • Daniel December 19, 2013 at 2:22 pm

      If you are so concerned about people be distracted while driving that is makes it unsafe for you to drive, maybe you are the one that needs to consider to start walking everywhere. Your psychotic need to have the state protect you in everything you and/or anyone else does should not be forced on everyone else.

      • Chris December 19, 2013 at 3:49 pm

        When the majority feels the need to be protected from dangerous behavior, they have every right to force it on everyone else. That’s the obligation we all have living in a society. No one here is proposing that the state protect us in “everything you and/or anyone else does.” Also, you clearly don’t understand what “psychotic” means. Pick up a book sometime and put down your cellphone for a few minutes.

      • Ken December 19, 2013 at 6:17 pm

        Yeah Daniel we don’t need the stinking government, I’m all for just putting a bullet in the head of all idiots putting mine and my families life in danger. I love that idea! You should run for political office dude!!

  • Pheo December 19, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    “This exercise is reinforcing the notion that everywhere we go, everything we do is under official scrutiny.” Excuse me, but what is the point of laws if there is no official scrutiny to enforce them? If it was legal to text and drive, then maybe you’d have a point about government overreach with the photos. Having the police enforce the laws of the road is in no way similar to other violations of our privacy, like government surveillance of our phones calls and internet activity.

    And trust me, your libertarian fetish blinds you to the fact that people can’t be trusted to text safely while they drive. What’s next? Should we trust people to know when it is okay to drive drunk? How dare the police officially scrutinize drunk drivers!

    This column is just dumb, even by your standards.

  • Maudie December 19, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    I’m glad they are doing SOMETHING about it!! A woman dropped her kids off at school yesterday, I was right behind her dropping mine off, she reached behind her and pulled her phone out of her bag and started texting immediately, and swerved all down Sunset in front of me and she DID have a child in the backseat. I was furious because so many people CANNOT do two things at once. She was endangering me and her young child so I’m GLAD the cops are taking photos!!!!

    • Sandy826 December 19, 2013 at 11:03 pm

      It’s been proven scientifically that the human brain doesn’t multi task at all. Some people are just good at fast switching of attention between two or more things and think they are multi tasking. Actually if they are doing two tasks each is receiving only 50% of the person’s attention, Three tasks = 33.3% and so on. So if one is driving, talking to a child in the back seat, listening to the radio, and texting on their phone. Their driving is getting 25% of their attention. Reckless driving definition.

  • Allie December 19, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    What I don’t understand is how texting is more efficient than speaking to someone directly on the phone? My auto has bluetooth, and when a call comes to the phone, I press a button on my radio (like changing stations), and speak to that person directly, with only one had being removed from the steering wheel, but keeping my eyes on the road. Seems to me most people who text are not aware that this is not “progress”. A person I know was struck by someone who was texting while driving. That driver has no auto insurance or drivers license and does not own anything of value. The driver is complaining that the court appearances and lawyers are inconvenient and costing a fortune and the driver doesn’t feel they should be prosecuted. Tell that to the victim who spent 2 months in the hospital and 6 months in therapy. The victim will be in pain for the rest of their life, because of the driver’s stupidity. Drivers who injure others while texting and driving should have a hand cut off so they cannot use it to text.

    • Sandy826 December 19, 2013 at 11:05 pm

      The definition of a Sociopath is having no conscience and no remorse. We’re seeing at lot of that recently, not just drivers.

  • bUB December 19, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    the author sounds like a little baby who just got his candy taken away.

  • getitright December 19, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    Does anyone know if Bryan gets down off his high horse and actually reads these comments? Course he probably is too busy putting up aluminum foil around his house so the government can’t read his thoughts…. and for the record captain paranoia, you can text at a red light or when stopped in traffic. Hence the “when operating a motor vehicle” verbiage in the code.

    • Chris December 19, 2013 at 3:27 pm

      Actually, Bryan is quite good at reading and responding to the comments. I suspect we will see him wading in soon. As much as I disagree with him, I am impressed with his diligence in carrying on a respectful dialogue.

  • Ron December 19, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    I agree with My Evil Twin that driving is a privilege and not a right, but we treat it as a right by passing out licenses to all those who can pass an open book test and seldom taking anyone’s license away for even the most egregious offenses. If driving were truly a privilege restricted only to those who had proven themselves deserving of it, perhaps we could do with fewer laws and less scrutiny. But that would mean raising the driving age, requiring a minimum I.Q. and a squeaky clean background check, imposing an extensive and closely-scrutinized probationary period, making all applicants pass a meaningful practical and written examination, and revoking the privilege for any instance demonstrating a lack of responsibility behind the wheel. (And just for the record, under that system I would probably never have been granted a license or would have lost it years ago!)

  • JoeAK49 December 19, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    Bryan, when you are behind the wheel the drivers responsibility is for the safe operation of that vehicle…Period. No texting, no cell phone use, no eating, no putting on make-up, etc.There are no circumstances when it is approriate to do anything else. Late for an important meeting…You should have left with plenty of time to be on time. If you are going to late anyway then just pull over to a safe location and either call or text. I realize your stance is an opinion but, what you are expressing here is most likely rationalizing your own poor behavior behind the wheel. I just hope that no one reading this article will use this as their own justification to be a distracted driver.

    • Chris December 19, 2013 at 3:37 pm

      “rationalizing your own poor behavior behind the wheel” I think you have hit the nail on the head. Previous columns by Bryan railed against speed limits, believe it or not. Since he spends at least two hours each weekday commuting from Cedar City, I suspect he has gotten many speeding tickets and has become belligerent about traffic laws in general. He previously referred to the insurance industry as “insurance Nazis”. Sounds like his rates are high from his irresponsible driving habits. He is way out there on this column presuming that the general public can be trusted to be safe and responsible without any threat from law enforcement. Anyone who hadn’t spent their entire adult life inside a radio studio could tell you that is a laughable concept.

      • Joyce Kuzmanic Joyce Kuzmanic December 19, 2013 at 7:07 pm

        Chris, your information about Mr. Hyde’s commute is inaccurate. We will leave it to him to reply, though. 🙂
        Joyce
        EIC

  • Joanna December 19, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    Oh my heavens, where do I begin. The first couple articles I saw by this author made me think he was maybe just a college student who was trying to be needlessly provocative, but according to the bio, this is a grown man with children. (This man has CHILDREN?!? God help those poor darlings.) It’s gotten to the point where I just like reading what he writes to see how far he’s descended into mental illness. Exhibit A: “”In reality, it is not universally unsafe to talk or even text while behind the wheel.” Yes folks, he really did write that. Sigh.

  • My Evil Twin December 19, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    While I think that Bryan is way off base here, I do believe he has a right to express his own opinion. Even though I think he is full of er uh baloney, he does have the right. But, it is my opinion, that he is sounding more and more like a crack pot as time goes on.

  • Roy J December 19, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    This issue is open for debate. Some of our states ban operating electronic devices outright, some ban texting, some ban both or one for new drivers, some still ban nothing at all. The laws on the subject are not being signed in spuriously as some may believe, but are generally the product of petitions by citizens for texting or against. In the state of Texas the governor vetoed the law that would have banned texting and driving, citing the similar encroachments to personal freedoms that Bryan cites. Individual Texas municipalities then signed citywide bans, based on the authority vested in them by their voting public. I am reasonably certain that Utah may enact similar bans or lift them if the public petitions the state (I am not sure about this in the case of our municipalities). As to whether or not a ban like this makes us more or less of a police state, I am inclined to believe that police are trained already to watch for violations against current laws and therefore were already trained to look for specific violations, like speeding and running stoplights. So if by adding a new law to the books to cover a relatively new hazard we are becoming more of a nanny state, well okay, but not in an insidious, rights grabbing way. I did look for an online petition in Utah asking to repeal the ban on texting, and I did not find one. If you have a link, it would be nice if you’d post it.

  • jam December 19, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    How is anything a crime until you harm something or someone.

    • Cedar City Resident December 19, 2013 at 8:13 pm

      It’s called “reckless endangerment” and it’s a well established principal.

    • mark boggs December 19, 2013 at 9:00 pm

      So if you walk into a store and just start firing rounds at people, so long as you miss everybody, no crime has been committed? I’m not sure that’s how it works.

  • haley warner December 19, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    If we aren’t safe taking a walk down the SIDEWALK because of texting drivers, then I believe government needs to step in and help change behaviors. My dad was killed and my mom nearly died because of someone texting who crashed a car up on to the SIDEWALK. If this happened to one of your kids or your wife, I promise you would think differently. You would be thanking the officers who are out there trying to make the streets SAFE for us and for our community.

    • Simone March 20, 2014 at 11:16 pm

      I’m sorry to hear about your loss, Haley. Those of is who think about people other then ourselves while driving cry when we see or hear people like Bryan Hyde talk about how those of us who care about others come down on those who don’t by enacting laws that punish those who don’t.

  • Ken December 19, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    Someone needs their meds adjusted… We should have target shooting in residential areas, … (ed.) them government people want to regulate everything…I should be able to shot anywhere I so desire.. The author has the right to his opinion but let me be the first to say no brain no headache!!!!
    Ed. ellipsis (ed.)

  • McMurphy December 19, 2013 at 8:07 pm

    A few years ago the U of Utah did some research on the use of cell phones while driving and concluded that using a cell phone while driving was about as dangerous as driving drunk. Texting would be more distracting

  • Sandy826 December 19, 2013 at 11:18 pm

    Since driving is not one of our “freedoms” but rather a contract we enter into and renew every time we re-up on our driver’s license; and since it is the duty and job of the police force to protect pubic safety; and since a distracted driver obviously threatens public safety by leaving accidents, injuries, property damage, and deaths in their wake: I see no reason why anyone should feel put upon by the texting while driving crack down. It’s not a matter of I am a safe driver while texting and you are a distracted driver in the same circumstance. That’s just foolhardy thinking. It’s the same as the drunk that insists that even though he can’t seem to get the bar door open, he’s “fine to drive.” You can, until you prove you can’t by causing dystruction to innocent people. It is the job of the police force to stop distracted drivers before they kill someone, maybe even themselves.

  • mary December 20, 2013 at 9:13 am

    So if talking to someone else in the car with you is just as distracting and all that bull pucky, wouldnt it be just as distracting for a police officer talking to dispatch or another officer on the radios? I often hear them say “call me on my cellphone”. Is it just us puny regular folk that cant talk to anyone without being distracted?

  • Leslee Henson December 21, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    I think we all need to give the St George police department a big round of applause for trying to make our city a safer place to live.

    I am absolutely sure Bryan, that if your spouse was killed by a distracted driver like mine was and you were severely injured, like I was, you would change your tune!

    The procedure that the St George Police are putting in place has proven to reduce traffic accidents significantly in the cities it has been done in.

    Just a word of warning Bryan, I hope you remember to “smile” next time you get in your car and pick up your phone. You might get lucky enough to get your picture taken.

    • Bryan Hyde Bryan Hyde December 22, 2013 at 8:03 pm

      Sorry for your loss, Leslee, but there are sufficient laws to hold people accountable for any behavior that harms another person or their property. These laws are protective of our rights.
      .
      I draw the line at preventive laws that seek to create violators out of individuals who have done no harm. It seems to be a waste of police resources that could be better spent addressing crimes that have actually resulted in a victim. Your personal efforts to educate others are far more powerful than police intimidation.
      .
      Perhaps you can appreciate the irony of the huge electronic billboard at St. George Blvd and Bluff Street that promotes this distracted driving campaign by distracting drivers with flashing lights and messages.

  • Terry Bird December 30, 2013 at 9:32 pm

    I hope with your immature attitude about distracted driving, you lose a family member or dear friend – AND THEN – let’s see how you respond to efforts to curb distracted driving!
    This effort has been going on for years now, and the death toll keeps going up and up. It is obvious that current efforts have failed to change bad driving habits and something new is needed.
    I have had a CDL with HazMat endorsement for the past 35 years – and was in the Million Mile Club with the National Trucking Association for 7 years running. The past 34 years were spent with Albertson’s for 9 years and the Boeing Company for the past 24.
    I hope you have the chance to run across an accident where people are spread across the highway with the internal organs are scattered all around them. Think of your wife and children when you make stupid remarks like you just did – Coffins filled with your family and friends is not a sight that you can just wipe from your mind – neither is the jail time for those stupid enough to text, phone, eat, or anything else that takes your eyes and mind off of the task of driving. Oh – I also taught Driver Training in Washington state for 2+ years – and have over 450 student that are now on the road with 100% commitments to NEVER DO ANYTHING THAT STUPID!!!!
    T.

    • Bryan Hyde Bryan Hyde December 31, 2013 at 7:23 am

      Let me guess, recent Dale Carnegie graduate?

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