One of the diseases afflicting modernity is the assumption that every problem has (or should have) a solution, and every ill a cure. The latest item on the endless laundry list kept by the professional busybodies: texting and driving.
An interesting battlefront on the issue of distracted driving involves dueling statistical studies surrounding whether “distracted driving laws” alleviate or exacerbate the likelihood of car accidents. To a Jesuit-trained philosophy student like myself, the results of these projects miss the point; there are higher values to defend than utility or efficiency. Even were it definitively proven that a significant problem with texting and driving exists and that a given piece of legislation would measurably reduce accidents, it does not necessarily follow that passage of such a law is the correct answer.
Statists embrace a “keep up with the Joneses” approach to government regulations; prior to Obamacare, they decried how the United States sat in the minority of industrialized nations lacking universal healthcare. Similarly, they now whine that my adopted South Carolina isn’t progressive enough, in comparison with other states, to have a law banning the usage of electronic devices while driving. To me, the lack of such a law in South Carolina is a feature, not a bug — I left Massachusetts for good reason. This legislative 50-state “arms race” (or was it 57?) is essentially a Cold War waged against the American people.
The purpose of these laws is ostensibly to “save lives,” of course. Here’s a question rarely asked:Is there a point at which “saving lives,” or “doing it for the children,” or whatever other mystical goals Oprah Winfrey’s cause-of-the-month club push, simply ceases to be worth it? Suppose it were possible to construct a society in which lives were saved 100% of the time — many might not want to live there, because it would be a species of prison. Imagine the privacy concerns that will emerge when courts examine phone records (dare I say “metadata”?) during the resultant traffic cases, for example. If we perpetuate a few lives in an unfree society, have we truly done these “undead” any favors?
Quality of life — however marginally more dangerous and short — is what’s really at stake. A recent Harris Interactive poll reveals that more Americans prefer their cell phones and laptops to sex, and “cannot live without” these technologies. Attempts to restrict cell phone usage will be met with a public backlash — especially if police actually attempt to enforce these ordinances. Ultimately, as we saw with the ranchers in Nevada, people are simply tired of being told what to eat, where to smoke, where they can fly a flag, where their cattle can graze, and where they can text. Distracted driving laws only add to the smog of microregulation Americans endure daily.
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