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"Losing my faith in humanity ... one neocon at a time."

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Challenging the Cell Phone Ban

posted by Jazz at 12/30/2004 07:51:00 AM

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You might not know it, but New York State passed a law in 2001 (the first in the nation) banning the use of hand held cell phones while driving your car. You can still use headset or "hands free" phones - just not the kind you have to hold to your ear. At the time I was all in favor of that law. Cell phones are annoying enough as it is when you are out in public. Having people crashing into you because they're trying to dial up their Aunt Emma while doing forty miles per hour is even worse.

Now, however, a woman in Buffalo is challenging the state law. She was given a ticket for talking on her cell phone while driving and faces a $100 fine if convicted. She's not arguing the fact that she did it... she's challenging the validity of the law.

A Buffalo-area woman is taking on the state law that prohibits motorists from talking on cell phones while driving.

Thirty-five-year-old Tracy Diina of North Tonawanda was ticketed for talking on her cell phone while driving in the suburban Buffalo village of Kenmore last fall.

She's challenging the state law, which her attorney calls "creeping totalitarianism."

Attorney James Ostrowski has filed a brief in which he notes drivers aren't punishing for other actions behind the wheel, such as drinking hot coffee or using an electric razor.

Ostrowski argues the cell-phone ban violates due process because it isn't a valid exercise of the state's police power and doesn't promote a legitimate government purpose.

I'm simply not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, I still find many cell phone users annoying, and I think that a lot of my support for this law came from that bias. But the woman in this case makes a very valid point. Ostensibly this law was put in place to make drivers more safe and to force them to keep their attention on the road. But we have no restrictions on so many other things. I constantly see people balancing hot mugs of coffee, applying makeup, and even watching movies on their car's DVD player while driving. Surely these are all as hazardous as placing a phone call.

How far do we take these regulations? Singling out one activity as being "dangerous" while ignoring others certainly sounds like shaky legal ground. But do we really want a legal system where everyone has to have both hands on the wheel at ten and two o'clock, staring straight forward? At what point do we draw the line in having the government "protect us from ourselves"?