Text Messages Banned for Howard County Employees

Howard County is trying to do its part to prevent auto accidents in Maryland: an executive order has been issued prohibiting Howard County employees from sending or reading texts or e-mails while driving.

“The research and statistics are there: distracted driving causes accidents,” County Executive Ken Ulman said in a statement. His order cites the statistic that driver inattention causes approximately 80% of car accidents in Maryland. Ulman announced the order Thursday while attending a meeting of the Maryland Highway Safety Foundation.

Maryland does not have a ban against text messaging or emailing while driving. Why? Opponents of such a bill argue that it would lead to a ban on all distractions – not only car radios and GPS devices, but speedometers, dashboard lights, anything and everything that can divert attention and cause car accidents. Opponents of the text messaging ban also argue that there is no telling how many accidents are actually caused by texting while driving and the law is impossible to enforce.

Those are three arguments. The first tries to lump car stereos in with speedometers, taking a drink of coffee and looking at a clock. Good argument tactic, but silly. Texting is harder than changing the radio or checking out the time, and it is going to cause more accidents than those tasks. The relative degrees of risk and common sense are what prevent this slippery slope.

The second argument is also specious. Clearly, we don’t need auto accident statistics to know that it is incredibly dangerous to take your attention away from driving to type a full word or sentence on your phone.

The final argument is that it is unenforceable. Making such conduct against the law sends a message. Moreover, if we start taking all of the unenforceable laws we have in Maryland off the books, we are not going to have many laws left. Enforceability should not be a basis for regulating what is appropriate conduct.

If Maryland passed such a law, would it save a single child’s life? The answer is almost certainly yes. What kind of freedom would we have to give up for that life? The inalienable right to text message?

So far, Maryland has not joined Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, Washington and Washington, D.C. in banning text messaging while driving. But hopefully, Maryland will next year.