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Cell phone etiquette shouldn’t be legislated

Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t post your personal information on the Internet. Don’t overeat. Don’t drive if you’re sleepy.

The aforementioned are all things that could be considered irresponsible, unhealthy or unsafe, but they are not illegal.

Part of living in a free society is having the ability to make individual choices, whether they have good or bad consequences.

In recent weeks, a number of legislators and media outlets have endorsed proposals introduced in the Ohio House and Senate to outlaw text messaging while driving.

I do not think it is safe for people to text and drive, but I also do not think another law should be passed to prevent it. There are already laws on the books to target erratic motorists, including penalties for failure to control a vehicle, reckless driving and going left of center.

Those who support efforts to ban texting while driving appear to be most concerned about the safety of inexperienced, teenage drivers, many of whom use text messaging on a regular basis to contact friends and family.

As a parent, I can block the texting function on my child’s cell phone if they do not obey my rules for using the car. I also have the power to take away their driving privileges all together.

Instead of trying to legislate behavior that would be very difficult to enforce, I support efforts to educate drivers about the dangers of texting while driving.

My former colleague in the House, Representative Bob Netzley, once said that if you are going to ban cell phones in cars, you should also ban children, because they are the biggest distraction of all.

Driving when you are tired is a great safety threat, but do we need to have every driver certify that they have received the minimum hours of sleep before getting in a car?

Careless or reckless drivers should be cited under current law. If those laws need to be revisited, I am open to having that discussion.

However, I do not think the General Assembly should rush through a bill to forbid texting while driving just because the issue has gotten a lot of coverage in the media. Many times laws that may have good intentions turn out to have unintended consequences.

God gave us a brain and he expects us to use it. Government cannot and should not try to outlaw every irresponsible or dangerous behavior or control every questionable decision that we make as individuals.

Not only would that be a tremendous waste of legislators’ time and taxpayer dollars, but it would violate one of our most important freedoms as Americans: the ability to make our own choices.

John A. Carey is a member of the Ohio Senate and represents the 17th District. He can be reached at Ohio Senate, Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio 43215 or by phone at (614) 466-8156.