Orin Kerr, at the libertarian legal blog The Volokh Conspiracy, points to a new study claiming that laws prohibiting cell phone use while driving have not succeeded in reducing car crashes.
Kerr seems to suggest that, in light of the study’s data, such laws should be repealed.
It seems to me that the data, if true, are consistent with a number of conclusions, other than the conclusion that it’s perfectly safe to talk on your phone while driving. First, if these laws are ineffective, it may be because of underenforcement by the police. Having a law on the books is one thing, but in order to get people to change their behavior, the law has to be enforced. Maybe the police aren’t enforcing the law, or they are underenforcing the law. For example, Massachusetts police generally don’t stop cars to issue citations for violations of the state seat belt law; such citations are tacked on as add-ons, if a car is stopped for another reason, such as speeding.
Second, talking on a cell phone while driving might be such a ubiquitous phenomenon that, even in areas where police are enforcing the law, they are not making a dent in the number of people actually talking on their phones.
These competing explanations seem much more plausible to me than the conclusion that talking on a cell phone while driving is perfectly safe. Kerr’s conclusion simply flies in the face of the research showing talking on your cell phone while driving is very dangerous and makes drivers much more likely to be involved in a car crash.
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