Proposed Cell-Phone Ban Irks Libertarian Groups

July 7, 2008 - 8:03 PM

( - A day after a pair of Democratic congressmen introduced a bill to ban cell-phone use while driving, critics condemned the legislation as one more government roadblock to individual freedoms.

"There's absolutely no role for the federal government in this debate," said Adam Thierer, director of telecommunications studies at the Cato Institute. "In this case, we're basically saying the feds can be traffic cops."

The Libertarian Party also bristled at the bill.

As evidence, it pointed to a report issued by the University of North Carolina's Highway Safety Research Center that revealed 1.5 percent of accidents are caused by cell-phone distractions - far below the number of crashes from adjusting a radio or CD player (11.4 percent) or talking with passengers (10.9 percent).

"When will politicians start legislating against the carnage caused by DW-AM and DW-FM - driving while listening to AM or FM radio?" Steve Dasbach, the Libertarian Party's national director, said in a statement.

Added Thierer: "It begs the question, should we ban CDs in trucks?"

Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) and Sen. John Corzine (D-N.J.) presented different statistics when they announced their legislation Wednesday, which would force states to outlaw hand-held cell-phone use while driving, or risk losing federal highway funds.

While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration doesn't have exact figures on cell-phone-related crashes, the congressmen said mobile phones "certainly are a factor" in the 20-30 percent of accidents caused by distractions.

Furthermore, they said recent polls by a New York university found overwhelming majorities - as many as 87 percent of registered voters - favored such cell-phone regulations.

The Ackerman-Corzine bill - dubbed CRASH (Call Responsibility and Stay Healthy Act) - would allow drivers to use cell phones that are hands-free, voice-activated devices.

"This misuse of cellular telephones has become the latest terror on our roads and highways," Ackerman said in a statement.

But opponents of the bill say it's obsolete. After all, they contend, 40 states are already mulling similar cell-phone restrictions - why make it a federal mandate and step on states' rights?

"Congress might as well just abolish state and local governments and set up traffic standards for the entire nation," Thierer said in a statement.

"But state and local bans on cell phones aren't needed either. There are far more distracting activities inside a car - such as tinkering with your car stereo or arguing with a passenger - that we currently do not prohibit."