Update on “Regulatory Overkill on Highways?”

According to recent news, most drivers who took part in a survey on driving distractions, consider that using a handheld cell phone on the highway is a safety hazard.

Here comes the twist, though: a significant percentage of the drivers surveyed also admit to using their handheld cell phones on occasion when driving, knowing it is dangerous.

Furthermore, among the individuals surveyed, many pointed out other hazardous sources of distraction as well, the kind that are broadly mentioned in my previous post.

Granted, some distractions such as sneezing and then reaching for a box of tissue paper are part of driving. Other distractions, however, such as fiddling around with climate, radio or GPS controls are avoidable and should be avoided when driving circumstances so dictate. In fact, it would be practically impossible for regulators to ban all sources of avoidable distractions and for law enforcement officers to catch offenders. One can only hope that 1) motor vehicle manufacturers will continue to improve the layout of dashboards and what not, in order to minimize or even eliminate distractions drivers experience when operating the various accessories of a motor vehicle, and 2) drivers develop and maintain a good sense of timing for the use of these devices.

So, how do regulators do their balancing act when banning specific sources of distraction for people driving a motor vehicle on a highway? By relying on accident statistics, one would think. But, how comprehensive are those statistics? Even detailed studies can miss the broader perspective of an issue and, consequently, the nature of the social evil prohibitions are meant to prevent. Administrative convenience or political expediency have the potential of further blinding regulatory authorities.

Obviously, as in many other areas of public safety, relying on individual common sense is not enough.  On the other hand, banning numerous and detailed actions hazardous to  highway safety, is likely to impede the development of common sense and voluntary compliance, except for that part of common sense that is acquired, and continues to be acquired as a result of driver education.

Making driving a motor vehicle on highways a life-long learning process, right from the beginning, is more likely to enhance highway safety. It is an empowering experience for drivers. Slapping fines and license suspensions on drivers who breach the rules is not enough. It creates a negative token economy that falls short of actually ‘educating’ drivers about the social consequences of their own follies.

speeding-ticket  In addition to proper signage and road-marking, a number of roadside electronic devices are used by an increasingly number of countries to foster voluntary compliance with highway safety legislation, such as devices flashing present speed at individual drivers entering a limited speed zone.  In fact, according to yet more recent news dealing with technological correctness, the variety of electronic devices aimed at enhancing voluntary compliance on highways seems boundless. As a result of new highway safety technology, drivers may experience a loss of privacy in their motor vehicles, as they did with Google Street View before licence plates were blurred. Virtual highway patrolling is in the offing.  Some drivers may wish they could stop progress and stick with the road-side ticketing enforcement methods. We’ve come full circle, or have we?

Whichever, it is common knowledge among legislators and regulators alike that the strong arm of law enforcement, namely highway patrol vehicles, is not the only way to maintain and enhance highway safety. For drivers, however, real highway patrol vehicles remain mostly a welcome sight for several health, safety and security reasons, as well as reasons of traffic flow efficiency. Thoughtful drivers are more likely, by nature, to embrace voluntary compliance, regardless of the technological level of law enforcement methods.


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