Eighty years ago, George A. Parker, the Massachusetts registrar of motor vehicles, took on these motor cars with as much self-righteous fervor as LaHood has today, according to carinsurance.com, which recounts Parker's campaign to ban "newfangled" radios from vehicles. (Parker also tried to require drivers applying for a license to have their neighbors sign off that the applicant had the moral fitness to drive).
A moral compass was obviously the navigation system of the '30s. The radio, however, was the scourge of streets everywhere.
Packer knew the dangers and distractions these devices would cause. Drivers would be lulled to sleep when listening to soft music. Drivers might become distracted listening to a nearby car's radio. Other drivers would take their eyes off the road and their hands off the wheel to tune this amplitude modulating menace. These deadly distractions could turn school zones into disaster zones, he argued at public hearings.
He lobbied the state senate and hoped that Massachusetts would be able to ban these deadly boxes gaining in popularity. Ultimately, common sense prevailed and Parker lost. But his efforts weren't forgotten. In 1934, a survey discovered that 56 percent of drivers thought radios were still a distraction.
Of course, Parker didn't have a website. He didn't have millions of taxpayers' dollars to get underfunded law enforcement agencies around the country to pursue scofflaws texting at stop lights. He didn't have a propaganda machine churning out tear-jerking videos of parents whose teen was killed by a distracted driver warning everyone of the dangers. He didn't have the Internet to twist and manipulate data and rally people against the evils of distracted driver.
LaHood does. That's why 39 states have already banned texting and 10 states have banned hand-held cell phones. In a nation of causes, distracted driving has become LaHood's. He owns it. He preaches it. He believes it. True believers don't need facts, such as texting behind the wheel is not nearly at epidemic levels as LaHood suggests. True believers think that anything done in the car other than driving is a distraction.
And within the lie, there is some truth. Driving is not a right, it's a responsibility and it should be treated with a single-minded focus. After all, the person behind the wheel is navigating a 4,000-pound machine at 70 mph, and if the driver doesn't pay attention, some one could get hurt or even killed.
But the sheer scope and ridiculousness of the distracted driving campaign led by LaHood has become a distraction. Like many causes, as the DOT reaches its goal of banning texting – which isn't nearly as serious a problem as the government says it is – it won't stop there.
The National Highway Safety Board recently recommended banning all cell phone use from all cars. It's just too distracting.
Even though the unenforceable laws are in the books and some expert insiders, such as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety think they may cause more problems than they help, LaHood continues. LaHood wields his power like a baseball bat and follows many of principles Packer introduced so long ago. If it's new, it's dangerous.
Let's all just hope our neighbors won't have to approve our moral fitness to renew our license in the future.