Texting on the Stygian Ferry

“Border collie jill surveying the view from atop the sand dune.” Those were the last words of Malibu plastic surgeon Frank Ryan, best known for “reconstructing” reality TV star Heidi Montag. It’s not quite up there with “Et tu, Brute?” Yet it seemed important enough for him to text it just before driving off a cliff in August. Jill survived.

We don’t know what the message was in a 2007 accident involving the sender and her four fellow New York high school cheerleaders. But it probably wasn’t worth slamming head-on into a truck, killing them all. And the 2008 Chatsworth train collision, in which 25 people died and more than 100 were injured, was officially attributed to the engineer of the Metrolink commuter train being distracted by text messaging.

As I write in my LA Times piece, “Texters, You’d Be Better off Driving Drunk,” we don’t know what the annual death toll is from texting but all the evidence is that it’s a growing killer:

  • It’s more dangerous to text and drive than to drink and drive.
  • Most people say they do it and the number of text messages just keeps on increasing.
  • Texting is 17 times more dangerous than simply talking on a cell phone, and the number of deaths from that was estimated at 2,300 a year before texting caught on.
  • Texting is clearly addictive for many people, and as unfortunately know from personal experience with a loved one addicts will die — and kill — to sustain their habits.
  • At the same time I show that all the state bans on driving and cell phone usage are essentially worthless because they target the wrong cause of accidents. It’s not taking your eyes off the road, but your brain.
  • Finally, laws against texting are enforceable.

Is there a libertarian argument against more active law enforcement in these areas? As Gabriel Roth has pointed out, if officials were really concerned about auto safety, they’d start by rolling back regulations that make cars less safe and allowing for insurers to test and certify vehicles and drivers. What do you think?