Tuesday, 3 November 2009

LIBERTARIANZ SUS: Buying the cell?

You can’t cell a ban to Susan Ryder.

susanryder Politicians can certainly act quickly when they want something badly enough. As of last Sunday, it is illegal to use a hand-held cellphone while driving on New Zealand roads.

I’ve been opposed to this legislation since it was first mooted a few years ago, but even the Clark Government wasn’t stupid enough to enact it. To be fair, it had little choice. In spite of a publicly brave face right up until Election Day, I’m sure the party bigwigs privately knew they were buggered and didn’t dare give the electorate another chance to scream ‘Nanny State’ in the interim!

However, as some of us have said all along, it seems that the Nanny State really does start and finish with light bulbs and shower pressure as far as the present government is concerned.

And so to this latest piece of brilliance.

It was no coincidence that the cellphone-while-driving issue was resurrected around the same time as the run-up to the recent Referendum to repeal the Anti-Smacking Act. It was also no coincidence that it passed into law shortly after the Prime Minister scotched the outcome of the Referendum … no doubt to salvage some respect amid growing disquiet that he and his government were behaving with similar arrogance to that displayed by its predecessor. But in so doing, the Key government was behaving exactly like its predecessor, i.e., doing something in order to be seen to be doing something, and creating more bureaucracy into the bargain.

I had several run-ins with Leighton Smith on Newstalk ZB, who approves of the ban. “These people are a nuisance on the road!” seemed to be the thrust of his argument.

I put it to him that driving carelessly or dangerously is already against the law, as it should be. That we didn’t need a specific law for those doing so while talking on their phones; that bad driving was bad driving with or without a cellphone and should be dealt with accordingly.

Leighton refused to buy it. He reckoned that the distraction level was greater than say, changing the radio station or CD, to which my reply was “and if necessary, punish the offender more severely, but under the existing laws that encompass any and all poor driving.”

Alas, readers, I failed miserably in my attempts at persuasion. I could not seem to make him understand that I wasn’t defending unsafe driving – far from it. That I simply believed that enforcement of the existing laws was sufficient.

Why is it that Conservatives who understand and support the virtue of limited government, will happily do a U-turn and compromise that principle by calling for compulsion or bans over the odd thing they either hold dear or dislike, respectively? It’s very disappointing and they should know better.

I also predicted the following:

  1. That the ban will make little difference to the road toll and crash statistics
  1. That the LTSA will continue with their ridiculous, expensive advertising campaigns that have little effect upon the road toll and crash statistics
  1. That in the result of the above, the ban will be senselessly extended to include hands-free devices

As it happened, I didn’t even have to wait for the first two points to evolve. A headline in The New Zealand Herald last Saturday – the day before the legislation even came into effect – said that “experts” were already calling for the ban to be extended as such.

Just as well the radio became a standard feature in vehicles years before the legions of Professional Interferers made it their business to professionally interfere in everything we do. It wouldn’t have a show of passing the muster with today’s Nazis. Imagine the possible distractions!

PS: Further to this safety obsession, a lady from Plunket was on the radio yesterday morning talking about Guy Fawkes Day. She reminded us that fireworks could be dangerous and it’s better to look for a public display rather than ignite some at home. Animals don’t like them and children can get hurt. But if you do choose to let some off yourself, keep your children right away from them and don’t let them touch them. So don’t say you weren’t told. And if you’re a Conservative, don’t roll your eyes. ;)

* * Read Susan Ryder’s column every Tuesday here at NOT PC * *


  1. As usual with rushed and poorly thought out legislation, there are some amusing unintended consequences.

    The first one that sprung to mind was a feedback loop...

    Scenario: You are allowed to dial *555 to report bad/dangerous driving. Person A is cut off by a bad driver and dials *555. Person B sees person A using a cellphone and dials *555, person C sees person B... and so on.

    Unlikely, maybe, but a good example of the stupidity of the execution of this totally unnecessary legislation.

  2. Oh, I see we're in moderation again. Thanks a bunch Rodbeater. :(

  3. I happen to agree with the legislation from a personal standpoint. It is because I have always felt quite dangerous driving whilst dialling or texting on a phone. I have never had any problem while just talking on one though.

    But we have been told for years that if we want to answer a phone while on the road we should pull over and answer it or call them back.

    Making something illegal has a social stigma effect in that it become uncool to do it because it is deemed illegal and dangerous by society.

    So in that sense I agree with it.

  4. Making something illegal has a social stigma effect in that it become uncool to do it because it is deemed illegal and dangerous by society.

    You can't be serious? Usually it has precisely the opposite effect. Or at least, it does on the demographic being targeted - I'd never text and drive, but it's fairly common among, you know, rebellious teenagers who think lawbreaking is quite cool and gives them status amongst their peers. See also: Graffiti.

  5. Not alot of people smoke inside anymore though. That has become uncool as a result of a law change.

  6. Hi Barry .. thanks for your comments.

    1. Cellphones in cars: I note that you felt uncomfortable talking on the phone while driving so (presumably) pulled over to take calls or ignored them. Fair enough. But you didn't need a specific *law* to pull over; you did it because it was the sensible course of action for you.

    But now a cop can fine you when stationary in a traffic jam for picking up the phone to tell someone you're going to be late. That's not 'dangerous driving', but it's still a crime. Crazy.

    All they had to do was notify the public that people caught driving carelessly, no matter the reason, would henceforth be fair game.

    2. Smoking: Never smoked in my life -- hate it. Nobody ever smoked in my home because I never allowed it. Didn't need the govt to make that decision for me.

    And the truth is that public pressure and changing attitudes saw most smokers smoke outside long before the state stepped in and stomped on private property rights.

    There's an old saying that rings true:

    If something's a good idea, you won't have to be forced to do it.


  7. Barry

    You wrote, "I have always felt quite dangerous driving whilst dialling or texting on a phone."

    That's due to your personal lack of skill and judgement. By all means avoid doing things you know you're not competent to achieve safely. On the other hand your lack of ability in this area is not a valid justification for you to demand that other people be forced into accepting your decisions and biases.


  8. Barry: If people didn't view smoking as cool, nobody would start and cig sales would only be to existing addicts. Are you claiming that is the case? Banning smoking in pubs has not, in my opinion, changed the "coolness" factor of smoking much at all. Disclaimer: I can't stand cigarettes (though I enjoy the odd cigar), but I'd never dream of enforcing my preferences on anyone else, except - as Sus pointed out - on my own property.

  9. Why ban drinking and driving? The existing laws on careless driving laws should cover that as well. Bad driving is bad driving whether or not you are drunk.

    I don't think there is a moral issue against banning cell phones when driving - since the legislation is intended to protect people from other people's negligence not their own. However, there needs to be strong evidence that talking on a cell phone has a very broad negative effect on driving skill AND passing a law will actually improve safety. If passed the effect of the law should be monitored and if its not effective it should be rescinded


  10. Why ban drinking and driving? The existing laws on careless driving laws should cover that as well. Bad driving is bad driving whether or not you are drunk.

    Exactly! :) We'll make a libertarian of you yet, Steve D! ;)

  11. Richard McGrath4 Nov 2009, 13:20:00

    I heard not long ago that having a conversation with another passenger in the car was one of the most distracting things to do while driving a motor vehicle.

    My 2c worth - I don't think cell phone use in motor vehicles should be illegal; it is yet another victimless crime.

    If someone has a road accident and hurts someone else, and have broken the road rules as set by the legitimate owner (which therefore rules out government ownership), they should be held responsible for the cost of treating personal injury and property damage. Sensible people may want to insure against such liability. End of story.


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