Column: Cellphone bans and the 'right' to drive

Mayor Richard Anderson and a majority of City Council members knew they were going to take a hit when they passed an ordinance banning handheld cellphone or other mobile devices while driving.

The response to the ban, which takes effect Jan. 1, has been mostly negative on social media and in this newspaper.

Most of the people I've spoken with support the Council's decision, but I see this issue mostly breaking down along generational lines. Most young people who think they will live forever and believe bad things only happen to other people are against the ban. Older folks who have been touched by human tragedy a few times and understand life is nothing if not fragile are for it. I'm firmly with the older folks on this one. They are, after all, my tribe.

To those who say the ban infringes on their rights, I have two comments: One: Driving is not a right. It is a privilege. Two: My right to drive without worrying about some idiot on a cellphone plowing into me trumps any right you might have to be an idiot on a cellphone while driving.

You see, my right to get home to my loved ones is important to me. Call me selfish, but I think it's more important than your right to drive and talk on your phone, text on your phone, send emails on your phone, update your social media status on your phone - lol - or watch Internet porn on your phone - WTH?

If you want to see just how many people behind the wheel are on their phones, take a stroll down Stockton Hill Road between noon and 2 p.m. any day of the week. Just be careful, because as a pedestrian, you are at greater risk of death or injury.

While you're counting cellphone users, go ahead and count eaters, makeup appliers, dogs on driver's laps and any other distracted drivers. The phones will win 25 to 1. Just for fun, watch all the people coming out of any one of the 3 million driveways on Stockton Hill Road. A good number of them will be on their phones, yakking away about how crowded traffic is on Stockton Hill Road, as they make a left without looking left or right - or checking if there's a freaking pedestrian crossing the street, pointing his finger at them as he scurries to get out of the way.

I don't like the nanny state and I agree sometimes the government gets way too involved in our daily lives, but this isn't about government intrusion. This is about common sense.

According to the National Safety Council, there were more than 245,000 accidents involving cellphones in 2013, the most recent year figures are available.

That's nearly a quarter-million crashes that presumably would not have occurred but for the phone issue.

If anything, the Council did not go far enough. There is evidence that even using hands-free phones is little better than handheld use when it comes to seeing what's in front of you and reacting to it in time to avoid a collision.

The Council did not reinvent the wheel when they banned handheld devices while driving. They had a number of ordinances available to borrow from, including in Flagstaff and Coconino County and the city of Tempe. This isn't new and I suspect similar bans will be initiated at the statewide level throughout the country within the next few years.

The issue isn't bad drivers, per se. It's that the law has always been a couple of decades behind technology.

Here's the deal: Cellphones have turned us into zombies. We talk into them and stare at them waiting in line at the store. We stare at them while we walk. We stare at them at the dinner table, in front of the TV and while we take care of personal bathroom business. We are oblivious to the world around us. We don't see the person next to us, much less engage them in conversation.

How in the world is this safe to do while driving?