Should Talking While Driving Be Illegal?

The National Transportation Safety Board wants to ban use of all hands-free devices while driving.
Do you really want to share the road with this guy? (Photo: Getty Images)
Dec 19, 2011· 1 MIN READ
Originally from Baltimore, Oliver lives and writes on a quiet, tree-lined street in Brooklyn.

In a famous parable from the Bible a crowd gathers to stone to death a woman guilty of adultery. "He that is without sin, cast the first stone," says Jesus, quickly dispersing the crowd and saving the woman's life.

Now, I'm no Tim Tebow—I'm not even religious—but this is more or less how I feel about texting and driving. As hot under the collar as I might get about the guy idly texting in front of me at the traffic light, I've been that guy myself, and not just once.

Lucky for me, someone else has cast the first stone. On Tuesday the National Transportation Safety Board voted unanimously to recommend that all states impose total bans on all hands-free devices while driving, with the sole exception of emergencies. Their proposal cited the many studies that demonstrate the comparable safety risks of hands-free cellphones and hand-held devices.

There are several states, including California, that have already enforced bans on hand-held cellphones, but this would be the first law that would ban the use of hands-free devices. The proposal, however, is already raising more questions than it answers.

"It would be almost impossible to determine if someone was talking on a phone or exercising their vocal cords," said Capt. Donald Melanson of the West Hartford, CT police department to the AP. "That would be much more difficult to enforce, almost to the point where it would be impossible."

The problem is similar to the ambiguity surrounding the early days of drinking and driving laws. Everyone knows when you're inebriated, but what about the rest of the time? In order to enforce such a draconian law, officers may soon have to turn to technology (much as they did with breathalyzer tests) to determine whether cell phone signals and bluetooth waves are being emitted from vehicles. It's an unsavory thought at best.

But according to Joe Schwieterman, who studies how people use technology while driving, we may never have to live to see people getting pulled over for chatting with both hands on the wheel. As long as the fines aren't prohibitive, said the DePaul University professor to the AP, laws like this, even if passed, can end up being nothing more than blurry line in the sand.

"It's a little like speeding laws where it will become just culturally acceptable to violate," he said.