Libertarian fanaticism or legislative fecklessness?

Mr. Hume occasionally explores the relationship between being non-religious and being a libertarian.  If the failure to ban cell phone use while driving results from libertarian pressures, you can count me out as a member.  It is incomprehensible to me that we continue to allow people to drive a 6000-pound killing machine while talking on a cell phone, hands-free or not; the cognitive interference from engaging in conversation with an absent interlocutor is patent.  Of course there are other distractions that inflict drivers, but none reaches the order of cell phone conversation—and that’s just assuming ordinary chit-chat about last weekend’s parties, not receiving an unexpected, devastating piece of news.  Business decisions are presumably serious matters that require mental exertion, thus justifying the decider’s salary.  The idea that you can pay attention to complex transactions over the phone and also to every sudden obstacle on the road that requires a split-second reaction is absurd.  When cell phones first appeared, a libertarian friend of mine took the position: if a technology exists, people have the right to use it and are responsible for their own actions.  I don’t know if such an instinct underlies the legislative failure to ban this obvious danger or just the fear of alienating thousands of voters who put their desire to multi-task ahead of the serious risk to other people’s lives.  Somehow we managed for decades to conduct our affairs without being able to talk on the phone while driving; I would think it is still possible to do so.  As for texting while driving, it is beyond any possible defense.  And yet even that insane and selfish practice inexorably spreads.  But maybe society has implicitly decided that the benefits from nonstop social connectedness are worth scores of dead and maimed bodies.

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24 Responses to Libertarian fanaticism or legislative fecklessness?

  1. Donna B. says:

    6000-pound killing machine?

    You lost me right there.

  2. John says:

    Well, I’m a libertarian, and I think cell phone use on public roads should be illegal, for all the reasons you mention. It is as dangerous as drunk driving, but since most people use their cellphone while driving but don’t drink and drive, the social stigma is different.

    (Of course, most roads should be privatized :), so as a stockholder of a road owning company, I would vote to make it company policy to prohibit cell phone driving on the company roads. Other companies could choose as they wish.)

  3. P says:


    “It is incomprehensible to me that we continue to allow people to..” smoke, drink, own guns, think for themselves, etc.

  4. David Hume says:

    if a technology exists, people have the right to use it and are responsible for their own actions.

    interesting. it seems that libertarians generally take this stance on “victimless crimes.” if someone uses a cellphone (or drives drunk) and kills another individual what redress can they make to that individual?

  5. Kevembuangga says:


    most people use their cellphone while driving but don’t drink and drive

    If you drink and drive you might spill your drink, no such risk with the cellphone.
    (couldn’t resist…)

  6. Tim of Angle says:

    “It is incomprehensible to me that we continue to allow people to…” Yeah, that pretty much counts you out as a libertarian. Don’t let the door hit you in the butt on the way out.

  7. It’s a Darwinian thing. The stupid get weeded out of the gene pool.

  8. GU says:

    @Louis Andrews

    When the “stupid” crash into you because they are gossiping on their cell phone about the latest American Idol episode maybe you’ll get it.

  9. GU says:

    I do not see anything particularly libertarian about opposing “no cell phones while driving” laws. Using a cell phone while driving is not a victimless crime in the same vein as say, smoking pot on your couch. True, many municipalities will use these laws as cash cows and did not enact them for noble purposes. But it still remains, YOU should not be using a cell phone while driving! Study after study confirms that using a cell phone while driving leads to a loss of driving skills equivalent to or greater than a DUI intoxication level.

    The problem of dangerous driving habits (like cell phone use while driving) is further compounded by the fact that most states have chosen to punish people who kill or maim others with their automobiles less severely than killing/maiming accomplished by other means (compare “vehicular manslaughter” & involuntary manslaughter). Something like 40,000-50,000 people are killed in automobile collisions each year, many more are seriously injured, and the economic losses are in the hundreds of billions per year. This cavalier attitude towards people doing incredibly dangerous/selfish things while driving is irrational.

  10. hanmeng says:

    What about getting into an incandescent rage from hearing something from NPR/Rush Limbaugh? What about getting into an argument with your significant other or trying to quiet your screaming kids in the back seat? What about trying to drive while your significant other is starting makeup sex in your lap?

    These are indeed “6000-pound killing machines” that kill tens of thousands people per year. And people complain about terrorists! These damned horseless carriages should be banned outright.

  11. Croaty says:

    Describing a car as a “6000 pound killing machine” leads me to believe that Ms. MacDonald does not own and/or use a vehicle in her daily travel. As alluded to by hanmeng, why not have the police enforce existing law against inattentive or bad driving whether caused by cell phone usage, lack of sleep, fights with the spouse, or bad radio, rather than pulling over someone who is driving properly but happens to be on a cell phone? I would also be worried that the police would selectively use any such law as a tool to make a pretextual stop. But I am sure some local governments would love the extra boost in revenue.

  12. ALuca says:

    Aren’t we already collectively accepting a large portion of that 40,000 to 50,000 deaths each year just so we can own a really effective, personal means of transportation and the freedom to use it any time we want and go anywhere we want?

  13. Donna B. says:

    Some people should not be driving at all because they lack the judgement, skill, and reaction time to be a “good” driver. This, unfortunately includes 90% of the drivers on the road. Myself included, though of course I’m not as bad as every one else!

    Being a bit more serious, how many drivers recognize that poorly functioning shocks can lead to a loss of control? Oh, yeah… that tire’s still got some tread, I won’t have a blowout… and what about power steering fluid leak? No problem.

    Most people are not good drivers. They have no idea what their vehicle is capable of doing or likely to do under any but the best circumstances.

    I find it ironic in a way that one of my most horrible interactions with law enforcement was over using a cell phone while parked on the side of the road. It had been an upsetting day and I was driving home (a 100 mile trip) after dark. I was trying to relate to my mother what had been going on, and decided I needed to stop so that I could give full attention to the conversation.

    My behavior, pulling over at roadside park was misinterpreted by local law enforcement officers as a behavior that a drug runner would likely engage in and I damn near got taken to jail for acting in what seemed to me a reasonable manner.

    I talk on the cell phone when it’s convenient for me. It’s not convenient in heavy traffic in a large city. It is convenient on a rural interstate at times.

    The solution to this problem is already out there. When someone is involved in an accident while talking on a cell phone, punish them appropriately for failing to take reasonable care.

    There is no need to make something illegal because some (and likely it’s a small number in this case) do not have the mental/physical ability to handle it.

    This is unlike driving drunk because it is not expected that a drunk person has good judgment about any situation. It’s a given, is it not? That’s why laws against drunk driving are more appropriate.

    Frankly there are some traffic situations where I turn off the radio and sit up straight with a heightened awareness. I don’t approach every situation this way.

  14. Gotchaye says:

    Donna – There’s a big problem with only punishing people for talking on the phone after they’ve hurt someone else. Cell phone use doesn’t make a wreck probable, or even somewhat likely. The chance of an accident occurring, even when the driver is talking on the phone, is so low that I doubt that any reasonable punishment could meaningfully deter the behavior. You recognize that even sober drivers are very poor judges of their own ability, so why is this different than drunk driving? Perhaps it happens to be expected that sober drivers are good judges of their own ability to drive safely, but that’s a reason to educate people so that they’ll pass the law, not to avoid passing the law.

    To take this to a ridiculous extreme, it seems like the same principles that make it necessarily wrong to pass a law against merely using a cell phone while driving would also make it wrong to pass a law against, say, setting up a three foot high target on one side of a schoolyard, standing at the other side with an assault rifle, and seeing how quickly you can empty a clip into the target at 4:00 every afternoon. It seems to me that, at some point, even the strictest libertarian has to concede that others can take coercive action to stop (a nominally reasonable) you from doing something that puts others at risk, even if you haven’t actually hurt anyone so far.

  15. Donna B. says:

    Why yes, Gotchaye, that is a ridiculous extreme.

    No, I was not exactly saying that sober drivers were poor judges of their own ability… obviously since there are “only” 40-50 thousand fatal crashes/year this is not true. Or, conversely, it is true that poor judgement may not quite as bad as one might think.

    Out of 191 million licensed drivers in the U.S. that’s danged low number.

    So while I was saying that no driver is a good judge of their skills, most are decent judges. There’s a difference.

    There’s a very good possibility that a public info campaign that says “If you are involved in an accident while you are talking or texting on your cell phone, you will be punished for that act alone regardless other circumstances” will certainly deter the behavior.

  16. @Donna B.
    Why? People who are messaging and talking on the phone literally are killing others with their masses of metal.

  17. Chris says:

    Anyone who wants to talk on a cell phone while driving should be required to first obtain the explicit consent of anyone who is or reasonably might be along the route they will be driving. (It’s their responsibility to ascertain who this might be for any particular trip. Good thing there are no transaction costs in libertopia!) Otherwise they are exposing those people to increased risk of injury or death without their consent, which is clearly contrary to libertarian principles (just as much so as Gotchaye’s target practice example).

    Since this consent would be impractical to obtain in practice, this would be tantamount to an outright ban.

    (This doesn’t apply to driving itself because anyone who uses the public roads implicitly consents to the (much lower) risk of an accident between sober, reasonably skilled, attentive drivers. (Of course with John’s privatized roads hypothetical they would have to explicitly consent by contract, instead.) It’s only willfully elevating that risk that is immoral without the consent of the people exposed to the elevated risk, because they haven’t consented to the increase in risk.)

  18. Donna B. says:

    Libertarianism, taken to its logical extreme, would bring all human endeavors to a complete standstill due to the impossibility of making the necessary contracts (and is that not in itself a cost?) Taken to this point, as Chris and Gotchaye have done, presents Libertarians as dogs chasing their tails.

  19. mnuez says:

    I just want to say that I hate Libertarians sooooooo much.

    I revile them for their utter stupidity. The fact that they’re generally a few points above average IQ and thus actuallu capable of semi-intelligent conversation is what inspires me to hate these folks rather than the sort that infest the metaphysics section of Barnes and Noble.

    Libertarians are in that strange class of slightly-above-average IQ folk that is today mostly inhabited by professional theologians. You know, the kind with doctoral degrees. Every last one of them is either delusional or a con artist.

    Same with the Theologian’s ugly cousin, the Lib. The slightly-above-average crowd don’t realize how laughably illogical his fundamentalist utopian beliefs are while the more intelligent are either truly fuckin insane and thus able to rationalize to themselves every nonsensical aspect of The Faith, or are fully aware that North Korea, Soviet Russia, kindergarten and the US governemnt arose from (and would AGAIN arise from) the “Freedom!!!” that they so bravely call for among the unwashed imbecilic masses but baldly lie for their own reasons.

    God, I motherfuckin hate those bastards and wish they would cease infesting this tiny niche blog of OTHER assorted flavors of Secular Right.

  20. mnuez says:

    Written on my Iphone between San Diego and Mexico. Vive le Liberte!

  21. John says:

    Mnuez, the feeling is mutual.

  22. outeast says:

    What a bizarre rant (from mnuez, that is).

  23. bill says:

    Donna B. :

    Donna B.

    6000-pound killing machine?
    You lost me right there.

    pity you didn’t google before you got lost. “the largest, tanklike sport utility vehicles, which weigh in at an average of 5,100 pounds unloaded”

    Sorry but I have this compulsion to back up my quotes / facts with verifiable source material.

  24. bill says:

    Uh you can have even a little higher IQ than average and be a libertarian. And you can be a libertarian and not be an idiot. That part is called common sense, for those who had the opportunity to obtain it at some point while growing up.

    Do I want to make a law? No. Do I want people to be sensible? Yes. Will people be sensible? generally yes unless it comes to their habits in which case they aren’t.

    If cell phone users have the ‘right’ to talk and drive then I certainly have the ‘right’ to jam cell phones within my zone of driving (to reduce the risk). If I choose a large enough range then those who are incapable of driving attentively while playing with their cell phone will crash and burn (thus removing themselves from the gene pool) at a reasonable distance from me.

    And yes a drivers license is far to easy to get and to hard to lose. Most folks (you and I) don’t deserve to get one because we really haven’t been trained in how to properly maintain and operate a motor vehicle. Odd how I need to be trained to work with a forklift or bulldozer but don’t really need to be for a car?

    I’ll bet most folks spend more time training how to operate their entertainment center than they ever spent on proper auto operation. Funny, yet sad ain’t it.

    PS I haven’t even started my doctorate yet 😉

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