ELIZANDRO: Hang up and drive? Not so fast…



John Elizandro

With my dad living in New York City, I find myself spending a significant amount of time on one of America’s least beautiful highways: the New Jersey Turnpike. From the soupy swamp of the Meadowlands to the omnipresent stench that seems to arrive somewhere north of New Brunswick, there is little to love about this stretch of road in a state not exactly known for its natural scenic beauty.

However, what’s most annoying about driving through New Jersey is that any phone conversation I’m having must come to a stop as soon as I cross the Delaware River. In the state of New Jersey, as well as New York, California and several other states, talking on a cell phone while driving is against the law.

On the surface, this seems like a reasonable enough law. Obviously people talking on their cell phones will have at least some of their attention focused not on the road but on their conversation. There is little doubt these distractions do, on occasion, cause accidents.

       But these bans make little sense. Cell phones have been around in great numbers for only about 10 or 12 years, yet traffic fatality rates haven’t skyrocketed since then. States that do have cell phone bans don’t necessarily have much lower accident rates than those that do not.

There is mixed evidence on the effectiveness of these cell phone bans in reducing traffic accidents. According to one study, cell phone use falls immediately after the ban is enacted, but soon begins to rise again as drivers start to ignore the laws.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ll occasionally violate the ban in New Jersey when necessary. In fact the ban probably makes it even more dangerous. While I’m on the phone, I spend more time constantly scanning the horizon looking for police cars than I do paying attention to what’s going on immediately around me.

In another study, conducted in the state of Washington, experts found that less than 1 percent of car accidents were caused by cell phones distracting the driver. And cell phones aren’t the only distractions for drivers. Why stop with phones? Radios, GPS devices and even other passengers could conceivably contribute to causing an accident. No more talking while driving. Apple has recently patented a device that only allows a passenger to operate an in-car navigation system or cell phone. The thought of Steve Jobs deciding when I am and am not allowed to use my GPS is concerning enough, but invariably drivers will be even more distracted as they try to outwit the device and override the safety features.

Bans on smoking in restaurants and other public places have also become fashionable. I’ve never been a smoker, and I don’t particularly enjoy sitting in a smoke-filled room, but if a business owner decides that he wants to allow his customers to smoke, who am I to tell him he cannot? I am, however, free to take my money to a restaurant that does not permit smoking.

The real issue is less about driving or cell phones or smoking than it is about the role we want the government to play in our lives.

Cell phone use laws and smoking bans aren’t the only examples of the government taking on the role of “nanny state.” Recently, New York City banned all trans-fats served in restaurants. Do we really want the city council deciding which kinds of food we’re allowed to eat?

Next thing you know, the government will pass a law mandating that we finish our dinner before we can have dessert. Thanks, but I already have a mother. And believe me, she doesn’t need any help whatsoever telling me what to eat or how to drive.  (Sorry, Mom!)


John Elizandro is a sophomore business major from Radnor, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected].