Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, has been strangely absent from the news as of late. His agency just kicked off a series of videos showing the potentially tragic results of distracted driving, called (appropriately) “Faces of Distracted Driving”. As you’d expect, such a campaign would merit an appearance on cable news, and LaHood recently appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”. That’s where things started to get weird, as LaHood was quoted as saying, “There’s a lot of technology out there now that can disable phones and we’re looking at that. I think the technology is there and I think you’re going to see the technology become adaptable in automobiles to disable these cell phones. We need to do a lot more if were going to save lives.”
There’s only one problem with LaHood’s plan: cell phone jammers exist today, but they’re more than slightly illegal. To make things more complicated, such devices are regulated by the FCC and not the DOT. I could be wrong on this one, but I’d assume the devices would also require some sort of licensing, since they’d effectively be broadcasting on a portion of the radio spectrum.
I’m all for making the roads safer and reducing distracted driving, but what happens when someone is the victim of a crime because they couldn’t call the police from the (relative) security of their automobile? How many accidents will go unreported, because drivers are too lazy to stop and call police from outside their cars? What about the millions of cars on the road today that aren’t equipped with cell phone jammers? It would take decades for such a mandate to have a noticeable effect on distracted driving, and by then I’m sure new car owners will have found a way around any cell phone jamming system the manufacturers add.
How about enforcing the laws already on the books? How about a $500 ticket for the first offense, followed by $1,000 and a three month license suspension for the second offense? How about tying federal highway funding to state enforcement of distracted driving laws, just like the Feds used to do to ensure states enforced the 55 mile per hour speed limit? If you really want to have an effect on distracted driving, mandating technology that would be expensive and troublesome to implement isn’t the way to go about it.