In the race between a fast-spreading and potentially hazardous technology and government attempts to regulate it, the regulators come in a distant second.
A government study showed that one in six drivers sends text messages while driving, while nearly half of drivers younger than 25 do. For a while it looked like technology might solve the problem that it created, but studies showed that hands-free devices were almost as dangerous as handheld devices.
Faced with this blunt fact of human nature, the National Transportation Safety Board recently recommended a total ban on driver use of all portable electronic devices.
The event behind the board’s decision to recommend a complete ban was an August 2010 chain collision that killed the 19-year-old driver of a pickup truck and a 15-year-old passenger and injured 38 others in the two school buses that plowed into him.
That accident also showed the limits of legislation. Missouri, where the crash occurred, already had a law banning drivers younger than 21 from texting while driving. The pickup driver had sent or received 11 text messages in the 11 minutes leading up to the crash.
Drivers, especially the younger ones, are coming to think of these devices as a right and would find any attempts at effective enforcement overly intrusive. And once again, the regulators come in second.
In a perfect world, tobacco use would have been banned long ago. And similarly, the use of electronic communications devices while driving would have been banned as well. But we suspect at this point that most Americans — especially those who have grown up with such devices — are more apt to take the position of “forget the NTSB!”