NTSB Right About Cell Phones, Texting While Driving

A distracted driver puts everybody else on the road at risk.

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Take a random poll, and most likely you'll find that the overwhelming majority of other drivers are idiots. Those same drivers are certain that they themselves are safe and courteous operators of ever-larger pieces of machinery.

Both things can't be right, which is why the National Transportation Safety Board has recommended an all-out ban on the use of cellular phones and texting devices while driving. This has caused an uproar, especially in the Capital of Self-Importance, Washington, D.C., where many people are so convinced that they are so necessary to the operations of society that they must be communicating on several levels while driving.

[Check out 2011: The Year in Cartoons.]

It's stunning, what people try to do while driving—texting (seriously? Why not just write your novel while you're making a left turn?), shaving, putting on makeup, talking on the phone (with our without an earpiece), and consuming not-easy-to-eat meals. Perhaps it's because so many Americans spend a great deal of time in their cars commuting. Perhaps they have been so brainwashed with the idea of "multitasking" that they think it's a challenge to conduct as many activities as possible at once. Do that, and you won't do any of them well.

Some drivers have observed that their misbehaving children are more of a distraction than a cell phone call. This claim is suspicious to begin with—and you can't tell the other caller, "Don't make me come back there! I WILL TURN THIS CAR AROUND!" And it's worth asking whether the children in the car are incapable of sitting still for the duration of a car ride because their parents have outfitted them with portable DVD players and other in-car devices that limit their ability to develop attention spans.

[Read Rick Newman: Why Cell Phones Will Never Be Banned in Cars.]

Part of growing up is being in the back seat, asking your parents, "Are we almost there?" and engaging in such time-honored games as counting cows (each kid takes a side of the road and counts cows. Horses count for five, and if you go past a graveyard, you lose all your cows. If you can't count all the cows in a field as you pass, you only get the cows you actually counted. Counts are on the honor system).

Now, these same kids are texting and fighting over the DVD player. No wonder they grow up wanting to use even more electronic devices in the car.

[Vote: Should Drivers Be Banned from Using Cell Phones?]

To some, the NTSB recommendation sounds like Big Brother telling citizens what to do. And that's true, but it wouldn't be necessary if every other member of the family wasn't driving while distracted. When you put other people at risk with your behavior, you lost your claim to self-policing.

When I was learning to drive, my father, before we even started the car, looked at me and said, "The most important thing when you are driving is to assume everyone else on the road is an idiot," (except that my father used a more colorful word). It was good advice. And I know somewhere else, some parent was telling his or her daughter or son the same thing—and that to them, I was one of those other idiot drivers. When people text and chatter on a cell phone while driving, you don't even have to assume.

  • See a slide show of the 10 worst states for teen drivers.
  • Read Robert Schlesinger on texting while driving.
  • Read Rep. Carolyn McCarthy on the need for safe driving legislation.