Since I announced that I was filing a bill this coming legislative session to ban cell phone use on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway (hands-free allowed), my conservative credentials have been challenged by more than a few irate citizens who have called to denounce my support of the government interference in private lives.
I am no fan of big government and still consider myself conservative, but there is a place that government regulation does actually belong, and that is in protecting lives and public safety.
Overboards, or cars tumbling into the water of the 24 mile bridge has increased 1500% in the last five years, a staggering figure that most would agree is quite statistically significant. The primary causes for the increase cited by officials of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway were distracted drivers using cell phones and larger vehicles.
The problem of distracted drivers came as no surprise to me. I think we all have personal anecdotal evidence of witnessing erratic driving, be it in a parking lot or on the highway, in which the driver was, of course, talking on a cell phone.
Actually, I believe that cell phone use should be banned statewide (hands-free allowed), but in my years in the legislature I probably voted for such a bill nearly a dozen times in the House of Representatives and it always seems to get beaten back by the telecommunication industry and misguided libertarians. This is hard to believe as studies have shown that distracted drivers are more dangerous than drunk drivers.
I believe that the vast majority of citizens realize that cell phone use is making our roadways more hazardous and support a cell phone ban. But they are the silent majority who are often drowned out by special interests and vocal citizens who believe that distracted driving is a fundamental constitutional right.
Hands free systems are becoming more user friendly and now included in most vehicles. The systems take some time to set up, but many prefer not to bother with the small set up hassle and continue to drive distracted. Drivers need to realize that their primary duty behind the wheel is not to multi-task, but to operate the vehicle safely, for the benefit of themselves, their passengers and fellow motorists and don’t forget pedestrians.
Several years ago, I supported mandatory helmet use for motorcycles, which passed the legislature and heard many of the same arguments about government interfering in private lives. As with cell phone use, both the statistics and logic converged to conclude that wearing helmets is much safer.
With cell phone use, there is even a more compelling case for regulation, because distracted drivers are endangering other lives and not just their own.
When it comes to public safety, I think that lives should always trump politics and hopefully this summer, Louisiana legislature can make travel on the world’s longest bridge a bit safer.