The federal government is considering measures to pressure states to ban hands-free cell phone use by drivers. This is an over reaction to the problem of distracted driving. Bloomberg reports that officials of the U.S. Department of Transportation are working on a plan to ban all cell phone use by drivers of cars, including hands-free technology.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says he believes motorists are distracted by any use of mobile phones while driving, including hands-free calls, as his department begins research that may lead him to push for a ban.
Distracted driving is a problem, yet it is not the role of the federal government to force states to implement unreasonable and over broad laws. States should pass reasonable measures if they want to reduce distracted driving. It seems to be over the pale for the federal government to ban hands-free conversations. Federalism dictates that States should be the final decision makers on this issue and sanity dictates that any new laws should be fair to drivers.
LaHood, whose campaign against texting and making calls while driving has led to restrictions in 30 states, says his concerns extend to vehicle information and entertainment systems such as Ford Motor Co.’s Sync and General Motors Co.’s OnStar. “I don’t want people talking on phones, having them up to their ear or texting while they’re driving,” LaHood said in an interview this week. “We need a lot better research on other distractions,” including Bluetooth-enabled hands-free calls and the in-car systems, he said.
The Ford Sync and Government Motors OnStar are hands free communications tools added to motor vehicles that make cars and light trucks safer. GM’s OnStar technology provides communications technology that provides emergency assistance and makes cell phone calls safe while driving. According to GM’s web site:
OnStar is the in-vehicle safety and security system created to help protect you and your family on the road. OnStar’s innovative three-button system* offers:
- 24-hour access to expertly trained, caring Advisors
- A connection to emergency assistance
- Access to OnStar Hands-Free Calling
Ford Sync technology is similar. The Ford technology makes hands-free calling easy. Both the Ford and GM technology will reduce distracted driving, yet the Department of Transportation has directly attacked this technology as something that may increase distracted driving. It makes no sense for the federal government to punish companies installing technology that will reduced hand held cell phone calls.
A measure to ban hands-free technology is unnecessary and another example of our federal government going too far. The way the federal government will try to ban this technology will be through the same means the federal government forced states to implement mandatory seat belt laws and drunk driving standards. What will happen is the Department of Transportation will urge lawmakers to condition federal monies for state highway programs on banning cell phones in cars.
Clearly, banning the use of a radio to listen to talk radio or music would lessen distractions while driving, yet no sane federal bureaucrat would make that silly suggestion. If using hands-free technology is distracting, then talking to people in the car is a distraction — is Secretary Lahood going to study talking to friends in the car while driving? There is not much of a difference between me talking to friends in the car and me talking to friends via a hands-free cell phone.
The bottom line is that any proposed state restrictions should be reasonable. Banning hands-free technology is not reasonable and should be rejected by the States.