Saturday, May 18, 2013
You can't legislate good driving or common sense, according to Rep. Wayne Parry, an Arundel Republican on the Legislature's Transportation Committee.
That's why he joined with nine colleagues to kill a bill that would have made it illegal to talk on a cellphone while operating a motor vehicle.
Parry said enacting the law would open a Pandora's box of regulation, but that box already has been opened for a long time.
Common sense would have told people that it is a bad idea to drink and drive, yet millions of Americans have done just that and thousands have been killed every year as a result.
It wasn't common sense that dramatically reduced the number of drunken driving deaths; it was tough state laws that raised the drinking age, lowered the legal blood-alcohol limit and enforced harsh penalties on people who broke the law.
Common sense would have told us that wearing a safety belt is a good idea. But people still chose by the millions to ignore that, and were killed and injured unnecessarily when they were ejected from vehicles when they crashed.
It took a massive public education effort and digging into that Pandora's box of regulation to make failing to buckle up an infraction. As that is enforced, more people are doing what common sense should have told them was in their best interest.
Now common sense and research tell us that using a cellphone is a distraction for drivers. The devices take drivers' eyes off the road and, worse, takes their minds off what they are doing just when they should be the most focused.
Parry was not the only lawmaker to defy common sense. Rep. Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, said "I don't think that there is anything inherently dangerous in talking on a cellphone when you're driving."
The National Transportation Safety Board sees things differently and has been calling for a complete ban on electronic communication devices by drivers since 2011, after finding that drivers on cell phones are responsible for about 3,000 deaths every year. The NTSB found that the activity is inherently dangerous, and that talking on a hands-free device is just as bad as holding a handset.
Others opposed the bill for other bad reasons. Some argued that it has too many exemptions, or that it wasn't strong enough because it permits hands-free devices.
No law is perfect, but legislators are supposed to try to make bills better, not throw them out because they don't solve every problem all at once.
Someday in the future, when we look back at driving while talking on a cellphone the same way we view driving drunk and not wearing a safety belt today, we will wonder why our lawmakers didn't have more common sense.