The people at the NTSB apparently haven't noticed that the people behind the wheel on our roads are not 5, save for the few who sneak into Mommy's minivan try to take a test drive. Walter Olson writes at Cato that the fine nanny-folk at the NTSB now want to ban phone use -- even hands-free phone use -- while people are driving:
The only exceptions the agency would permit would be "emergency" phone use and "devices designed to assist the driving task," such as GPS devices. NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman said the problem is "cognitive" distractions as well as the "visual" and "manual" kind. The agency cannot adopt such a ban directly, but it's calling on the states to fall into line and to enlist in a campaign of "high-visibility enforcement."
And there's more. NTSB is also, to quote PC World, "encouraging electronics manufacturers -- via recommendations to the CTIA-The Wireless Association and the Consumer Electronics Association -- to develop features that 'disable the functions of portable electronic devices within reach of the driver when a vehicle is in motion.'" In the perfect Nannyland of the future, your phone will turn itself off when the government wants it to -- even if you were in the middle of placing one of those emergency calls ("Honey, get out of the house, the flood waters are rising") that will supposedly still be permitted.
Tech commentators are blasting the agency for jumping the gun on the evidence, to say nothing of ignoring values of personal liberty. A PC Magazine writer points out that while there is a safety case to be made against texting behind the wheel -- a practice that encourages the driver to look away from the road for extended periods -- the NTSB is short of statistics (as opposed to scary anecdotes) to show that phone conversation itself is a dire problem. Ars Technica notes that even the board's own (disputable) statistics link the hazards of "conversation with passengers" to more than twice as many fatal accidents as the hazards of device use -- and no one has yet proposed banning passenger conversations with the driver. (Don't give Washington ideas, though.)
I'm very much against distracted driving, but you can't ban our way to safety. In fact, welcome to the overlegislation of unintended consequences...when your nannystate-equipped car is unable to discern whether you're having an emergency while your car is overturned just off the side of the road or whether you just though it would be a kick to check the basketball scores while hanging upside-down.