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?
- St. George to fight distracted driving after local tragedy; STGnews Videocast
- City launches massive campaign against distracted driving
- Community Action Team public meeting on distracted driving, child safety
- Distracted driver runs light, causes accident
- Southern Utah Driving 101: How to safely navigate roundabouts; STGnews Videocast
- Distracted driver triggers three-car accident, two sent to hospital
- Health Department cautions: Avoid drowsy driving
- Perspectives: The questions we should be asking ourselves as government spies on us
- Analysis of CISPA: Will the government hire Facebook to spy on you?
- Perspectives: MATRIX and Fusion Centers, government’s gatherers and hunters of your information
- Surveillance cameras are nothing new
- The era of wholesale surveillance (OPINION)
- High tech video surveillance in place at local schools
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.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.