In a move well outside its charter, the National Transportatation Safety Board on December 13 called for the 50 states to ban the use of texting and other electronic communications in moving vehicles.
NTSB couches its outrageous power grab in terms few would dispute, that “No call, no text, no update, is worth a human life.”
But the bargain the texter faces is not to trade his life for a single call, text, or update, but rather an increased risk that he will be insufficiently attentive to the driving task while engaged with the portable device.
According to the NTSB’s press release itself, there are more cell phones in use in the U.S. than there are people. So (taking the NTSB’s causality statistics arguendo) if there are 3,100 deaths per year due to cell phone use while driving, then less than 1 in 100,000 cell phones “causes” a traffic death every year.
More precisely, suppose, given the statistics here:
that roughly 20% of drivers are regular texters. That would mean that of the 930 billion vehicle miles driven by Americans every year,
about 180 billion miles are driven by regular texters.
Over the course of 180 billion miles, 3,100 deaths yield one death for every 58 million miles.
Yes, talking on the phone is risky, as is texting, updating Facebook, or changing radio stations.
But every time we allow the government to restrict our ability to take risks, we take one more incremental step toward a soft, pillowy totalitarian world in which we exist endlessly and live not at all.
NTSB and Electronic Devices: Regulation by Anecdote
But the National Transportation Safety Board’s recommendation is a classic example of regulatory overreach based on anecdote. The NTSB wants to use one tired driver’s indefensible and extreme texting (which led to horrific results) as an excuse to ban all use of portable electronic devices while driving – including hands-free phone conversations. Before states act on this recommendation, they should carefully examine systematic evidence – not just anecdotes — to determine whether different uses of handheld devices pose different risks. They should also consider whether bans on some uses would expose drivers to risks greater than the risk the ban would prevent.