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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Statewide cell phone ban a silly solution

    Eric Moll columnist
    Eric Moll

    The city of Phoenix recently outlawed text messaging while driving. Other Arizona cities are considering messaging bans of their own, including Scottsdale, Apache Junction and Tucson. And an initiative planned for the 2008 ballot in Arizona will also seek to ban the use of any mobile phone without a hands-free device statewide.

    My home lies in the frozen wastelands of upstate New York, where cell phone use by motorists has been illegal since 2001. The justification for the law is understandable: Talking on a cell phone seriously encumbers your ability to react to changes in the road. According to a Harvard University study, approximately 200 accident deaths are caused by cell phone use every year.

    But before Arizona leaps into a legislative “”solution”” to the problem of chatty motorists, we need to ask a few questions. Will these laws actually save lives, or will they simply allow politicians to take credit for saving lives without actually changing the way people drive? For reference, Vermont also allows cell phone use while driving. Vermont’s motor vehicle death rate per 100,000 people is 11.5; Arizona’s is 20. Why, exactly, are deadly accidents so common in Arizona?

    Here’s my answer: Arizona’s high accident rate is the result of cultural diffusion.

    Cities like Tucson and Phoenix are, largely, recent constructions. Arizona has seen very rapid population growth in recent decades, and now its cities are becoming nebulous urban-suburban metropoles, as the tide of humanity expands to fill every available space. A great many Arizonans come from somewhere else originally – immigrants within our own country. People in Arizona come from states across the union, and they bring with them very different strategies for dealing with the hazards of the road.

    The next time you want to flip off a fellow driver for doing something stupid, understand that you are really taking part in the grand, eternal experiment that is cultural exchange. Your sign language is part of the awkward communication between two disparate driving cultures.

    Unfortunately, cultural diffusion works very much like the diffusion of a gas or liquid – that is to say, via random collision.

    The real problem with a cell phone ban is that it’s an arbitrary half measure that fails to address the real problem, which is lack of communication between drivers. A person can put on makeup whiledriving. A person can eat a burrito. A person can hold a burrito to their ear as if it is a phone and talk to it. So why should we single out talking on the phone to be banned?

    Roads would be markedly safer if every car were fitted with an electronic scrolling marquee.The text of the sign would simply indicate – just like a facebook status update – what the driver is doing at all times. It may be technologically infeasible – and you might consider it an invasion of rights – but I bet it’d make the roads safer. If you’re deciding whether or not to merge into another lane, and the device on the adjacent SUV reads: “”eating a burrito”” or “”threatening to ‘turn this car around’ if unruly children do not quiet down,”” then you may want to avoid that vehicle. They’re multi-tasking, and that’s what’s actually dangerous about talking on a cell phone while driving.

    If you pose some ideological (as opposed to practical) objection to this idea, then answer me this: exactly how far should we go to prevent deadly accidents?

    Every year there are between six and seven million auto accidents in the United States. Financial costs come to around $230 billion, with three million injuries and 40,000 deaths. These costs are not inevitable. We have chosen, as a society, to accept them because we are unwilling to carry out the necessary solutions. An economist at UCLA once suggested that every car be outfitted with a sharpened spear, mounted on the steering column and pointed at the driver’s heart. It would give the term “”defensive driving”” a whole new meaning. And that’s an idea just about as wacky as a statewide cell-phone ban.

    Eric Moll is a sophomore majoring in creative writing and environmental science. He can be reached at

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