My band, The Retrofits, returned to Oregon last week from a 17-day, 6800-mile tour through 18 states across the U.S. Before we took off in our 15-passenger van, we set some driving ground rules:
-No cell phone texting (and only use your cell phone sparingly)
-The driver chooses the music
With the exception of my musical tastes -- when driving across West Texas I will only listen to country music -- the band stuck to our rules of the road and we finished the tour with no speeding tickets and no accidents.
Which brings me to the cell phone ban passed by the Oregon House last week: "Cell phone bill singles out teen drivers" (The Oregonian, May 15, 2007).
The Oregon House passed legislation Monday that would create the offense of operating a vehicle while using a "mobile communication device." The maximum fine for talking or texting while driving would be $360. The bill applies only to drivers younger than 18.
I applaud the House for taking up the serious problem of cell phone use while driving. But why single out teenagers? Why not join Washington and California and pass bans on cell phone use and texting for drivers of all ages?
Rep. Greg Macpherson, a co-sponsor of the bill, offered this explanation in The Oregonian:
"It is a hard thing to learn to drive," said Rep. Greg Macpherson, D-Lake Oswego, who co-sponsored the bill. Allowing novices to talk on the phone while handling a vehicle, with all the other distractions out there, he said, "that's too much to ask of them."
That explanation seems to make sense, but couldn't similar arguments be applied to older drivers? After watching my Grandpa try to operate his cell phone, I can hardly see how a 17-year-old driver would be any less dangerous trying to make a call from the road. On two occasions I have been in the car with different Salem lobbyists in their 40s who nearly sailed through red lights while talking on their cell phones.
The true reason for the passage of this bill is far more straightforward. From the Salem Statesman Journal:
"It's a modest proposal, but this is the best we can do," said Rep. Greg Macpherson, D-Lake Oswego.
The backers of this legislation knew that going after 15, 16, and 17-year-old drivers and their cell phones was the only politically viable cell ban this session. They don't dispute that cell phone use and texting by drivers of all ages is dangerous.
Politics is the art of compromise, but this is one compromise the House got wrong. Rep. Brian Clem -- the only House Dem to vote against the bill -- said it best in The Oregonian:
Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, joined House Minority Leader Wayne Scott, R-Canby, and Rep. Tom Butler, R-Ontario, in opposing the bill. Clem said he'd be interested in tackling the broader issue of distracted driving. But he didn't come to the Capitol to "pick on teenagers."
"Because teenagers can't vote doesn't mean we get to go and target them regardless of the logic of the approach," Clem said.
Let's hope this bill dies in the Senate Judiciary Committee this session, and that next session the Legislature addresses the real problem of cell phone use by drivers of all ages.
In the meanwhile, I may have to adhere to my bandmates banning my listening to country music on our next tour. But you can be sure we'll be leaving our cell phones in the back seat.