Ban on cell phones violate freedom

I love driving. Sure, I’ve been known to yell foul words at other drivers and get frustrated in never-ending traffic jams. But generally, driving relaxes me. It’s my time each day to crank up the radio, let the wind blow through my hair, and collect my thoughts.

While I’m driving, I do many other things. I change the music in my CD player; I dig around in my purse; I eat fast food and drink pop. And I often talk on my cell phone as I cruise around on the Twin Cities’ most well-traveled highways. I consider it a personal freedom to be able to do all these things and more while I am driving my own car. But if I were a citizen of New York, I would no longer be allowed this freedom.

The state’s Gov. George Pataki signed a law Thursday that banned hand-held cell phone use in vehicles unless the call is for police or medical attention.

Please don’t tell me that in this country where freedom is sacred and a source of nationalistic arrogance, there are now 18.9 million people in New York who can’t make the personal choice to talk on their personal hand-held cell phones in their personal cars as they drive to and from work, home, school, or any other personal place. See a theme here? Personal freedom.

What’s next? Drivers can’t get food from the McDonald’s drive-thru without stopping in the parking lot to eat? Are they going to ban CD players and tape decks? How about banning passengers who often distract drivers? Or maybe parents shouldn’t be allowed to drive with small children who might start crying or throw something that would distract the driver.

Where does it stop? It doesn’t. Once you pass this type of law, it’s a slippery slope. By passing such legislation, legislators are opening the flood gates for revocations of all kinds of personal rights. Already 41 other states – including Minnesota – have considered laws of this kind but have discarded them. Now that New York has passed this ban, many of those states will likely revisit the issue. So all of you hand-held cell phone talkers might be silenced in a matter of years if the Legislature chooses to follow in New York’s footsteps.

There is not even conclusive evidence that cell phones lead to accidents. Although there have been several highly publicized car crashes, such as the recent accident involving supermodel Niki Taylor, AAA recently looked at 32,303 traffic accidents in the past four years and found only 42 that could be linked to cell-phone use. There are other studies that challenge this finding, but either way, there is no conclusive proof that cell phones cause traffic accidents. The handful of car accidents that result from cell-phone usage does not justify suspending the rights and privileges of millions of people who use cell phones responsibly while driving.

As I said, I often talk on my cell phone as I drive. But I also pay attention to the road. If the phone is ringing and I cannot get to it unless I take my eyes off the road, I wait and call the person back. Should I also have my rights revoked?

There have already been too many personal liberties in this country taken away or marginalized by lawmakers. For instance, most people would consider sex and love-making the most personal of interactions with another person. Yet in almost every state in the country, laws restrict when, where, how and with whom citizens perform that most personal act. In most states, it’s only legal to have sex if you are married to the other person, the lights are out, the blinds are drawn and it is in the missionary position. I’m not kidding. Doesn’t that seem like an affront to your personal liberty and ability to make your own choices?

The New York hand-held cell phone ban is simply another shot at personal liberties in this country. Unless these laws are squashed in the beginning, there is a slippery slope other states will begin to slide down, and soon none of us will be allowed to use cell phones in our cars. A law I would support would ban those people who lean down to pick up something off the passenger-side floor or reach back to grab something in the back seat while they are driving. During the course of their vehicular gymnastics, their cars are careening all over the road. These are the people who drive me nuts.

Erin Ghere’s column appears weekly. She welcomes comments at [email protected] Send letters to the editor to [email protected].