A bill pending in the Florida Legislature would, among other things, ban the use of cell phones by minors when operating motor vehicles. The bill is: “HB 193 – Use of an Electronic Wireless Communications Device While Driving.” The full text of the proposed bill can be found at:http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Documents/loaddoc.aspx?FileName=_h0193__.xml&DocumentType=Bill&BillNumber=0193&Session=2008
The ostensible purpose of the bill is to reduce car accidents in Florida. Indeed there is evidence that cell phone use among adults is dangerous. A Utah study found that driving while talking on a cell phone is just as dangerous as driving above the legal alcohol limit. The study showed that it was just as likely to lead to an auto accident whether or not it was a hand held or hands free mobile phone being used while driving. A good blog on this subject can be found in the InjuryBoard blog of Steve Lombardi on the dangers of cell phone use while driving.
Mr. Lombardi takes the position that because it is (at least according to this study) as dangerous to talk on the cell phone while driving as it is to be intoxicated while driving that there should be criminal penalties for both. I disagree. Being somewhat of a self professed Libertarian I propose that there be no criminal penalties but that there should be civil penalties of liability for punitive damages for drivers who cause car crashes and hurt others by using a cell phone while driving. In this system our civil liberties are retained to talk to whom when we want to but we are held to a legal standard that makes us accountable if we hurt others when we do so. Our jails are full enough and don’t need to be full of cell phone using drivers but, just as important, these folks should be held accountable and punished financially when they hurt others through this clearly dangerous conduct.