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Dying for Freedom

This week it was announced the war in Iraq had ended. The announcement could not be made without referring to the 4500 US soldiers who lost their lives in the nine years this war took place.

It is a terrible fact that dying is part of any war; however, this figure pales in comparison to the over 30,000 who die in the US as a result of traffic accidents each year.

We are told that Freedom is not Free, that people die in order that we have freedom. When a soldier goes to war he volunteers and he accepts that he could possibly die, after all a war consists of people on both sides trying to kill each other.  

When a person climbs into their car to go shopping, or on a business trip, or another gets on their bicycle, they do not accept that they could possibly die. They are not volunteering to sacrifice their life in the cause of freedom.

It was also announced this week that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has recommended that all electronic devices be banned from use while driving. The NTSB has some clout, this is the organization that looks into airplane and train crashes.

Read any article reporting the NTSB’s recommendation and look at the comments that follow. People are talking about “Big Brother Government,” etc. etc. There is already a huge outcry against a cell phone ban while driving; people are concerned that a freedom is being taken away from them.

People are in denial; they think they can dial, talk, and even text safely while driving. The NTSB’s recommendation came about because a report showed that 3,092 people died last year because of distracted driving.

Compare the 3,092 who died because of distracted driving in only one year, with the 4500 who died in 9 years fighting a war in Iraq. You could say the 3,092 also gave their lives for freedom; the freedom to use a cell phone while driving. But ask the family members of those who died if their loved ones are viewed as heroes; many of those who died were the ones using the cell phone.

My main concern is the number of young people in their teens and early twenties texting and driving. These are the ones with the least amount of driving skills, engaging in the most dangerous form of cell phone use.

The annoying part I find is that most calls and text messages sent and received are not essential. These are not important business calls that drive commerce; these are idle, stupid chit-chat between friends and family. I saw one TV clip where a 19 year old boy stated, “I sent an insignificant text, ‘LOL’ and I killed a man.”

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Will new laws be passed, and will the police enforce them? Will the courts hold people accountable for their actions, and hand down the appropriate penalties?

There used to be another freedom that was never really legal but was tolerated for many years. The freedom to get totally shit faced and then get behind the wheel of a car. Although some people still drink and drive it is no longer socially accepted.

When local cyclist Mitchell Hollon was run down from behind and killed by a distracted driver in September this year; the driver paid a $113 ticket. A friend of mine got a $1,000 ticket just this week for playing loud music in his apartment. The law is totally cockeyed.

Had the driver who hit Mitchell been drunk he would have almost certainly gone to prison, but the outcome makes little difference to Mitchell Hollon. Either way, he is still dead, and the only freedom he died for was the one to ride his bike on the road.

However, Mitchell did not voluntarily give his life in the cause of freedom, and will not necessarily be viewed as a hero. Society does not grant that luxury to his friends and family, but society wants, and even expects the freedom to continue using cell phones while driving.



Reader Comments (18)

Somewhere I read that a true warrior fights for peace.Some where I read a sci- fi novel that for crimes against fellow humans ,the punishment was to genetically alter the criminals body odor in such a way that he was offensive to be around.Happy Chrismas

December 15, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterofoab

A good post, although you didn't mention the more than 100 000 civilian Iraqis who also didn't ask to die during the 9 years of war.

December 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWilliamNB

No I didn't, but you just did. The Iraq war was a lead in to the subject of "Dying for Freedom" and whether cell phone use is a freedom worth dying for.
Please let's keep on subject.

December 15, 2011 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

We've had a ban on mobile phone use while driving here in the UK since December '03. It consequently did not take very long for it to no longer be considered an acceptable practice as a result.

It does raise an interesting question on the use of satellite navigation. I assume there would be an exemption, as a sat-nav is clearly an electronic device (although no doubt one less distracting than the analogue equivalent turning to check the map on the passenger seat!). The UK law only specifically covers mobile phone use without a hands-free device; any other distraction is punishable under more general careless/generous driving legislation.

December 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSteven King

The political view, from my state:

"You know the NRA saying that if they want my gun they'll pry it from my cold dead hands? That's what I think about banning cellphones and driving," said state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee of the Florida Legislature. "Absolutely no chance."

I think the irony of his words was lost on the senator, who gave these remarks to a reporter via his cell phone while driving, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

December 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRider

What those big on "freedom" seem to forget is the other side of the freedom coin - responsibility.

December 15, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterlemmiwinks

I get to observe drivers at close range each week when I spend an hour standing on a street corner with other peace activists, sort of raging grannies, whether male or female. Don't be too quick to think it is only the young texting. Since the ban on phones here in British Columbia, it seems like it's often small mobile business people on their phones. They may think they deserve an exemption since they are working. When I was an outreach team supervisor I instructed my staff they were not to use their phones while driving. Stop if necessary to return that call.

December 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Glassen

Good points Dave ! I agree with Paul Glasson in that it's not just "teens / youth "
who are talking / texting. I observe all walks of life endangering people and themselves everyday. The way I see it is everyone is so dependent on their electronic leashes that they couldn't possibly live without them. One year ago I finally got a leash mainly for job searches. Before that I never owned one or wanted one. If someone wanted to contact me I had a phone at home and work. That covered more than half of my day. That's enough time to take care of business. Also, what did society do before cell phones. That's right, we existed just fine. I say ban all use while driving, biking, moving etc... anytime you endanger someone else being distracted using your leash.

December 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

Well put. It's a common practice among my coworkers to be on the phone discussing a meeting while they're driving to or from it, and a part of me can't help but wonder how long it will be before that leads to something very bad.

December 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

One awful thing I notice (and I'm reticent to say this) is that 90 percent of the people I see texting / chatting and driving are . . . women. In the Bay Area (San Francisco) it's an astonishing number. They also roll through stop signs and wander from side to side driving down the road - in and out of the bike lane.

If I had my way (ha!) I'd remove cell phone and texting technology from humanity and return us to the old fashion way - rotary phones and stamps. [I'd also place a $2 plus tax on gasoline but since nobody asked me . . . . .]

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJames Thurber

Too true - great post Dave. Our acceptance of distracted driving and willingness to define auto wreckage as accidents (most caused by driver errors) means our standards and quality of life on our roads will continue to fall. This is what typically deters me from cycling, especially recreational rides.

IMO, federal laws should require that the most distracting devices (as defined by independent testing) be made inoperable as long as the vehicle is moving. I'm so tired of passing a vehicle on my bike (or car!) as their speed drops (since they are too busy texting) then to have them buzz by me at 50+ mph to make up for their "lost time".

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJack

Good thoughts, Dave.

These days, I'm less concerned on my bike about the hostile driver than the teenager who is texting while driving taking me out from behind.

Something needs to be done, country-wide, in the US. In Ontario, Canada, we've got a prohibition against talking/texting w/o a hands-free device, and we still have many, many people that ignore the law. I can't imagine how bad it is where it isn't prohibited.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBig Mikey

I don't need the number of deaths to convince me. In fact I was relieved when I first encountered this study by Carnegie Mellon because it confirmed my own experience. When I am fully engaged in a telephone conversation at my own desk I typically fix my eyes out the window, or on some inanimate object and "see" nothing. It takes effort to juggle a conversation with computer keystrokes and shifting screens when such combinations are required. And, I notice distinct pauses in the conversation - or "wait a minute" insertions - when the person on the other end is doing the same. A phone conversation while driving a car? Forget about it.

Truth is, I don't even like an especially chatty passenger when I'm driving. And, I tend to silence when I am a passenger, watching traffic for the driver if they tend to be extremely chatty, because it's clear they're not. People who believe they can multi-task often aren't. If you watch them closely, you see distinct "breaks" in concentration as they move between activities; the transitions are not seamless.

I respect that there could be times when a driver needs directions, needs ten seconds to say, "I'm late - ETA 15 minutes." Or something, *specific* to driving the car... but the lengthy conversations some folks seem to have are just asking for trouble. And, I *really* hate it when sitting at home, someone on a cell phone calls me while grocery shopping, walking their dog, or driving. They fool themselves if they think they're successfully dividing their attention. I find an excuse to get off the phone and offer to call them back when they get home.

December 17, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbystander

I honestly am not a person who thinks people should be texting while driving, but converse to many here, I don't think adding a law to the books will do much. There are already laws in place to fine and ticket distracted, erratic, and dangerous drivers. Why add another law? I feel like it is redundant.

To me, this is like the 3-foot passing law for cars passing cyclists. There are already laws on the books that say it is illegal to pass a vulnerable road user in an unsafe manner. They aren't enforced. Since Rick Perry vetoed the 3-foot proposal in my state, Austin's city government put a 3-foot law in the books. It is not enforced, even though it is a "fresh" law.

Almost every police officer I see driving has a phone held to his or her head while driving. In Texas, at least, a "no phones" law would never be enforced. I think it is wasteful and unrealistic to add another law to the books for this purpose.

December 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBo L.

More on texting? Last night I was at a teacher party (I teach 4th grade) and one of the new teachers, 26 years old, female, said she had totaled her car two years before while she was texting and driving. "I know I shouldn't have been texting but at least nobody was hurt."

"Do you text now?" I asked.

"Absolutely not. I put my cell phone and my purse either in the backseat or the trunk so I'm not tempted. One wreck is enough for me!"

Smart move.

December 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJames Thurber

Bring back the days of STOPPING to find a PAY PHONE!

December 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGRUMPY Crump

Soon the auto co's will put a blocker in the car that will render your phone useless.

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJack Gabus

Great post Dave. These last two were real home runs, IMO.

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTonyD

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