CRP Blog

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

DeVore Goes on Dr. Phil

It's not every day a conservative Republican legislator is invited on the Dr. Phil show. In fact, when I first heard Assemblyman Chuck Devore was going to make the appearance, I was quite concerned.

It turns out Chuck was invited on the show to discuss his opposition to the new law banning texting while driving. Here's his report:

From the sublime to the ridiculous - I brave the Dr. Phil Show, set your TiVos

I was invited on the Dr. Phil Show to debate California's new law banning text messaging with the author of that law, Democrat State Sen. Joe Simitian. Simitian was also the author of the law banning hand-held cell phone usage in a car. I voted against both laws, seeing them as unnecessary since California has a blanket law on its books that makes it illegal to drive recklessly.

The one hour show entitled "Killer Texting" will air on CBS at 4pm this coming Thursday, Oct. 23 in Los Angeles (check your local station listings).

It was interesting seeing how a nationally syndicated show like this is put together. I knew it would not be easy to present my commonsense-based opinion in a highly emotional setting – and this particular show did not disappoint. Dr. Phil started with a 21-year-old nightmare from Texas who text messages some 4,000 times a month, driving down the road at 70 mph, steering with her knee while holding her BlackBerry with both hands. Next, a mother of a 17-year-old girl who was killed by a cell phone user who blew through a red light while looking up an address (an activity which would still be legal under the current law and soon to be enforced text message ban). Finally, the show featured a man injured during the Metrolink collision where the passenger train engineer was violating Metrolink rules by text messaging on the job.

By the time came for me and Sen. Simitian to debate, the in studio audience was not at all sympathetic. Dr. Phil asked me why I opposed the bill. I replied something along these lines:
Every proposed law starts out as someone’s good idea. But the laws are often blunt instruments. In the case of the ban on text messaging, there are some basic problems. First, California already has a tough reckless driving law with a penalty of five days in jail or, if you injure someone else, up to six months in jail. The text message ban has only a small fine and it doesn’t even put points on your driver’s license. Secondly, under the new law, it is still legal to dial a phone number – how can police tell the difference between dialing a number, which is legal, and text messaging, which is illegal? Finally, if text messaging or using a hand held cell phone was so dangerous, why did the laws' author exempt law enforcement personnel? Do police have better brains than the rest of us? Do they have gecko eyes that allow them to keep one eye focused on the road and another eye on the phone? The fact is, according to a California Highway Patrol study, only 9 people were killed in California over an 18 month period due to distraction from using cell phones or texting. More people were killed and injured due to messing with their radio or CD player and eating combined.

Sen. Simitian at some point interrupted me to make his points, saying that some people may make it home tonight because of the new law. I refuted the study he cited and instead used the actual data from the CHP showing that texting is not statistically a big problem.

The Dr. Phil Show then showed a taped segment with a City of Cypress Police officer who was doing cell phone enforcement work. He said that he usually could not see drivers using their cell phone or texting unless it was up to their ear. He relied instead on observing the car to see if it was weaving. Dr. Phil looked at me and said, "That was your point," meaning my point that the existing reckless driving law was sufficient to the task.

I also mentioned how one of my staffers was pulled over by the Irvine Police Department a few days into the hand held cell phone ban. The officer thought he was on his cell phone. The problem was, he wasn't! He simply had his window open with his left elbow on the door frame and his left hand resting on his left ear while at a stop light. The officer was prepared to issue a ticket until my staffer suggested he look at the call log which showed his last call being 20 minutes earlier. The officer wasn’t happy, but my staffer didn’t get a ticket.

Sen. Simitian mentioned that the CHP was in favor of his new law. Having dealt with the CHP’s legislative liaison, I know them to be mainly concerned with their own self-interest, rather than the larger and more important issue of liberty, which, after all, is what our government exists to protect. I responded along these lines: of course the CHP supported this law, they don’t care about our liberties, they like it when it's easier to pull people over.

A few other points of interest: 1) New York has had a hand-held cell phone ban for longer than California and they now have 18 months of data that shows that the law has had no effect at all on driving habits or safety. Californians are even now beginning to go back to their old habits as the novelty of the law wears off. 2) According to the CHP, California’s roads have never been safer - if using cell phones or texting was as big a hazard as some people say it is why haven’t our roads become more dangerous as more and more people have come to use cell phones? 3) Studies have shown no difference in reaction time between hand-held cell phones and hands-free cell phones - with one study indicating that hands-free devices were actually more dangerous.

To sum up, I don't recommend texting while driving a moving car. CHP data also shows that people have died because of eating, changing a CD, or being distracted by children or pets in a car. That said, there are more dangerous things to do on the road and better things to ask our law enforcement personnel to spend their time on than issuing drivers tickets with a base fine of only $20.

Chairman's note: The CRP doesn't take positions on legislation of this kind, and good Republicans can hold different opinions on these issues.

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