Texting While Driving – the Legal Issue

Inattentive DrivingOne of the municipalities here in my home state of Missouri just passed a law that would incarcerate people for up to 90 days if they are found guilty of texting and driving. Such texting laws have sprung up over the last few years in many states. I find this to be an example of legislation with the right idea but poor implementation. The problems are that the law covers a specific act and also doesn’t take into account various mitigating circumstances.

The entire state of Missouri bans texting while driving for everyone under the age of 21 although not for anyone older.

Here are my issues. The act covers specifically texting while driving but not anything else that could easily be a distraction. Eating, drinking, swatting unruly kids in the back seat, putting on your makeup, or jamming out on air guitar when Don’t Stop Believing plays on the radio (guilty). The other problem that my friend Lisa pointed out with a Facebook post was the idea of texting while the car is stopped in a traffic jam or at a long light.

This leads me into a Libertarian rant on the objective of a law and the actual legislation that is passed in an attempt to bring that law to the people. This is where everything often falls apart.

In this case what we want to stop is people not paying attention while the car is in motion, what is often called Inattentive Driving. Our legislatures, elected by us, often pass laws that do little to stop the underlying problem and end up causing more harm than good. I’m not opposed to laws against texting while driving; I just find it to be an exercise in futility. People will be inattentive in ways not covered by the law. It seems fairly simple to me that if you want to pass a law wherein people can be punished for driving in an inattentive fashion that going after the activity piecemeal is a bad strategy. Why not just make a law against inattentive driving?

An officer sees you driving inattentively for whatever reason and tickets you. You can take the case to court and argue with a judge or pay the fine because you were actually in violation. This is an example of a simple law with each case adjudicated by the individuals involved. Naturally we must take precautions against overly eager police officers but that is the case with the texting law. It’s certainly possible to cite a driver for the violation even if the driver isn’t actually driving at that moment, stopped at a light for example. Or to charge a texting driver while ignoring someone else being even more inattentive for a non-texting reason.

I find that more general laws are often more effective and more fairly applied. Laws that target very specific actions tend to be easily circumvented.

It won’t be long before people are driving fully automated cars and they should certainly be allowed to text, watch TV, take a nap, or just about anything else while the car is in motion.

One of the ways to lead a productive life is to determine the nature of the obstacle that confronts you before beginning to try to find a solution. If you do not understand the problem your attempts at a resolution are often doomed to failure.

In this case, the problem is Inattentive Driving, not Texting. Make a law that addresses the problem.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

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  1. Pingback: Personal Responsibility – The Libertarian Ideal | tomliberman

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