The state’s Senate Transportation Committee this week passed a bill that would prevent drivers with learner’s permits from talking on the cell phone while driving. There is an interesting dichotomy that arises from this proposal: On the one hand, there are adults, clearly passing this bill out of the belief that teens are the worst (i.e. most irresponsible, least attentive, and therefore most dangerous) drivers; on the other, there are the teens themselves, and teen sympathizers such as young college students, who will think that either this measure is unjust, or that applying it only to drivers with learner’s permits is half-hearted.
To them, it seems, this proposal is nothing more than stereotype in print-why not just add in foreigners without insurance, seniors whose vision is intercepted by their steering wheels and women who are applying makeup while driving? Clearly, if the only intent is to prevent fatalities, then we would know well enough that road rules should be tightened up on everyone. After all, WBBH NBC-2 did a study of Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties just two weeks ago that found that, of the nearly 200 fatalities in those three counties, 70 percent were men, more were white than any other race, and the most-affected group was men between the ages of 21 and 40. Doesn’t exactly conjure up the same “stereotypical road fatality” as the bill suggests, does it?
As Mark Twain said (and has probably been quoted on these opinion pages many times over), “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” This means always take with a grain of salt what is given to you as information. For example, the Miami Herald brief in which this bill proposal occurs states, “Studies show the youngest drivers have the highest crash rates, and highway accidents are the leading cause of death of people 15 to 20.” Yet, the Transportation Research Board website recently released a comprehensive analysis of fatal crashes between 1995 and 2004 nationwide involving teens ages 15 to 17. It’s conclusion? Of the 30,917 who died, 36.2 percent, or 11,177, were the drivers themselves, 31.8 percent, or 9,847, were the passengers, 24.2 percent, or 7,477, were occupants of vehicles being driven by someone 18 or older, and 7.5 percent, or 2,323, were non-motorists. This paints a starkly different picture, one that says that while young people die most frequently, most of the time it isn’t their fault.
So while the Senate’s bill to prevent teen cell phone use on the road has good intentions, one must wonder how effective the bill will actually be until it applies to all drivers-if cell phones are even the problem in the first place.