What's Next on the Road of Bans

I’ve Done It. I admit it.

I have committed the sins of all sins—I’ve texted while driving. I’m not particularly proud of it and I’ll admit it is a distraction. I don’t think anyone can argue otherwise but so is eating while driving, changing the radio station while driving and trying to get the kid in the backseat to stop crying while driving. The list is endless.

The only difference between those accepted norms and texting is that texting is new. It’s now part of our culture and it needs to be studied. By and large, studies have found (shockingly) that it’s a distraction and in some cases a big distraction.

Before texting, making cell phone calls was the main target. Many states and some municipalities put restrictions in place on how you could use your cell phone when in the car. You could talk on the cell phone but only if you used a hands-free device. If you got an ear bud or Bluetooth you were safe again.

The only problem was the next round of studies that showed using a hands-free device wasn’t any safer than not using one. But, of course, it was too late by then. The laws had been passed to protect us all from ourselves.

It’s not that I believe texting while driving is a good idea. I won’t do it at all with my son in the car but I just don’t believe we need another law telling us how to live our lives. If I’ve looked down at my phone to read an e-mail while sitting at a stoplight, I don’t believe I’ve really put myself or anyone else on the road in danger. It’s no different than looking down to find a Kleenex. We do it because we’ve decided it’s safe. Banning texting altogether takes away our ability to use plain old common sense.

I know what you’re thinking. But before you throw seat belts back in my face, think about this: seat belts have been tested and studied for more than forty years. The evidence is overwhelming. It’s a fact. They save lives. It’s not the same as singling out one distraction over another.

Regardless, banning texting is the latest fad law but it must make you wonder what’s next. The car is a distracting place. Between navigation systems, outdoor billboards designed to grab our attention and the kids devising new ways to get in trouble, there’s plenty more to look at.

Colin Benedict is WISC-TV’s news director. Before that he was the station’s political reporter. He’s lived in the Madison area since 1995. E-mail him at cbenedict@wisctv.com.cbenedict@wisctv.com

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