Jewish World Review July 26, 2001/ 6 Menachem-Av, 5761

Gayle A. Cox

Gayle Allen Cox
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Consumer Reports

Is eating on the run the next target of Big Brother government? -- NEW YORK Gov. George Pataki recently signed a law banning drivers from using hand-held cell phones in his state. Some rejoiced; some didn't. The law, the first of its kind, goes into effect Dec. 1.

The guy who drafted the bill - Democratic legislator Felix Ortiz - says he isn't finished. Next, he plans to push to ban all cellular phones (not just hand-held ones) from vehicles.

First it was seat belts, then it was red-light cameras, and now it is a ban on cell phones. Like it or not, the long arm of the government (via smarter-than-thou politicians like Mr. Ortiz) is in our vehicles, telling us how we must behave.

The language sounds harmless: "Do this, and you will be a lot safer." But in reality, it isn't harmless at all. It is an attempt to control behavior - something socialist governments are famous for - and it erodes our freedom and invades our privacy.

I don't argue that cellular telephones are not a distraction for drivers. But a lot of other things are, too.

According to a national study by the American Automobile Association, people who crash their vehicles are more likely to have been fiddling with the radio, eating a cheeseburger or placating a toddler than talking on the telephone.

Yet Mr. Ortiz didn't go after radios, cheeseburgers or toddlers. He went after hand-held cell phones.


Because they were an easy sell for Mr. Ortiz. Give him time. The other deadly distractions can be dealt with later. And they will be.

In fact, the wheels already are in motion to demonize those who eat while driving. Consider what happened a few weeks ago in San Francisco.

After scrutinizing photos taken by the city's red-light cameras, public health officials found that some of the drivers who ran red lights were eating at the time. So officials held a press conference in front of a Burger King drive-through window, where they touted the hazards of eating on the go.

As part of their let's-demonize-dashboard-diners campaign, they circulated postcards showing drivers stuffing their faces with french fries or sipping Starbucks instead of paying attention to traffic.

Larry Meredith of the city's Public Health Department said, "We are saying take a break and stop at the red. You can sip your coffee while you are there. But to try to eat a four-course meal on the dashboard while you are driving is absurd."

Oh? Is Mr. Meredith the absurdity police for the city of San Francisco?

If drivers allow him to be, he is. Just like Mr. Ortiz is the safety police for the state of New York, because New Yorkers allowed him to be.

How? By doing nothing.

The Declaration of Independence states, "Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." And when the "governed" do nothing - hear me loud and clear - they give their consent.

I agree that freedom without personal responsibility is bothersome. But if we don't have the freedom to be irresponsible, we aren't free at all. We are puppets, dictated by pompous puppeteers who (through legislation) make us behave as they deem appropriate - even inside our own vehicles.

We better wake up and smell the coffee on the dashboard. If we don't, we will have no one to blame but ourselves when some pompous puppeteer orders it taken away.

JWR contributor Gayle Allen Cox writes from Fort Worth. Comment on this column by clicking here.


07/09/01: Teen tramps and the mothers who encourage them

© 2001, Gayle Allen Cox