As predicted, the Wichita Falls city council on February 21 passed an ordinance making it illegal to use your cell phone while driving. Many people on social media have trumpeted this as a win for the safety of the citizens. Sorry to tell you, but it’s probably unenforceable and does little to enhance anyone’s safety.

Why is it unenforceable? We have a daytime population in this city that far exceeds our actual population of roughly 105,000; thousands of commuters every day, many of whom do not live here, but work or conduct some sort of commerce here. Our police department is already shorthanded, our courts already backlogged and now we’re going to police cell phone users in cars? People will simply not hold the phone where it can be seen. The city council has done little more with this than satisfy a certain segment of the population’s desire to kill a perceived evil. Someone will make a tidy some printing all of the signage that will be needed to warn the non-Wichita Falls citizen about this new law. Assuming we actually do post signs, that is. You’ll be no safer on March 21st when this ordinance takes affect than you are at this moment.

That said, yes, we need order in our society. I don’t think too many people will argue with that. Traffic signs, traffic lights and traffic rules certainly lend to that order. But we live in a society that loves to call upon government to step in and stop things that we feel are social ills or misdeeds. It’s a slippery slope. When do you stop begging for nanny state government? Deciding to not talk on your phone while driving is a wise practice, but it’s one that must be rooted in good decision making on the part of the individual; you cannot legislate responsible behavior.

The big issue has been texting and driving. Again, I don’t think most people will argue the notion that this is a very dangerous combination. I don’t know anyone who can text and not look at the phone. But talking and texting are clearly two totally different issues.  According to an article on this website:

With a packed house during Tuesday’s meeting, city councilors cited that in 2016, of the 2,474 accidents investigated by Wichita Falls police in the city, 27 involved people who admitted that cell phones and/or texting were a contributing factor in causing the accidents. In 2015, there were 26 cell phone related accidents.

According to this information, about 1.1 percent of all the accidents investigated by the WFPD last year involved the use of a cell phone by one or more of those drivers involved. You got that?  1.1 percent. And I’m willing to bet that at least 2/3 of those involved texting not talking on the cell phone. It is an apples vs. oranges comparison. So we’re going to make criminals out of anyone who dare touch their phone while driving? Basically, 1.1 percent now dictates how the other 98.9 percent ought to be treated? Yes, you’ve seen this before.

I can talk on my phone and maintain eye contact with the road ahead and my surroundings. I can talk to someone in the car with me and maintain eye contact with the road and my surroundings. We live in a world where many of us spend a good deal of time behind the wheel and at least occasionally a conversation while on the move will be necessary. You can keep your eyes on the road and talk, but texting is a completely different issue and it should have been sorted out that way.

What we have here, simply put is more nanny state government. The popular move for many years now has been to jump on the ‘ban wagon’. Cigarette smoking leads to cancer so let’s ban it. Can smoking harm your health, even kill you? No doubt about that. If someone wishes to smoke cigarettes nonetheless, it’s really none of your business or mine. They’ve been warned. If they wish to roll the dice, let them. But the ‘ban wagon’ caught up with cigarette smokers and led to bans in cities all across America. The genesis of these bans was not really the medical or scientific data correlating smoking with cancer deaths, but rather the emotionally charged, knee-jerk decision making that comes with the ‘ban wagon’. “Everyone else is banning it, so why shouldn’t we?”  This so-called cell phone ban is exactly that; a decision rooted more in emotion and groupthink than any data that may support it.

It feels good to say ‘we banned a bad behavior’. Your conscience is temporarily assuaged by the action of enacting what you perceive to be control over a behavior you feel is detrimental to society. But it all goes back to the notion that you cannot and will not legislate good behavior. Behaviors are taught, learned and adaptive. You don’t brush your teeth every day because congress passed a law. You do so because you’ve been taught that it’s good hygiene and more socially acceptable than spewing your onion breath at other people. You don’t hold the door open for a lady because the city council passed an ordinance saying you must, you do so because you were taught from a young age that it is polite and socially correct to do so. Good behaviors and sound social practices are not legislated, but it’s become the popular thing of late to try and do just that.

So now that our city council has slayed that dragon, what distracted driving beast comes next? Using the GPS in your car? You’d better have it built in, since your phone (the only GPS I have, by the way) is now verboten. But how long before touching the screen in the car is deemed ‘distracting’? It seems that now your iPhone or iPod music or mp3 player are now also off limits. After all, they are handheld devices. Smoking in your car? Trust me, the Texas legislature will extinguish that one in due time.  Will they come for the ladies makeup kits in car? Many years ago, there were people who wanted to ban CB radios in trucks because they felt it contributed to wrecks involving semis. What about conversations with others in the car? You get the idea.

With all due respect to Mayor Santellana and the council, this is an exercise in futility. The list of ‘distracting’ activities that one can engage in behind the wheel is almost endless. It comes down to personal responsibility. I do not need nor do I want the city council, the county commissioners, the state legislature or the federal government trying to ‘protect’ me from everything. Government should focus on things like infrastructure and creating a climate that is conducive to job growth and business expansion. I’m perfectly capable of managing myself and my behaviors. And if my behavior puts someone else in harm’s way, a judge or jury will decide my fate as they would anyone else’s. This ordinance does nothing to change that either.

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