Should It Be Illegal To Drive And Talk (Or Text)?

Today the National Transportation Safety Board recommended a nationwide ban on the use of cell phones and texting devices while driving.  The NTSB says it is a safety issue, because drivers who are talking or texting aren’t paying attention.

The NTSB argues that distracted drivers caused more than 3,000 roadway fatalities last year.  In fact, it believes the actual number probably is higher, because distracted drivers don’t own up to the real cause of accidents.  Proponents of a ban point to evidence that a horrific chain-reaction accident in Missouri that killed two people and injured more than 30 others was caused by a texting driver and argue that making such conduct illegal might avoid such accidents in the future.  (It’s interesting that the NTSB proposal apparently would be not to ban “hands-free” devices that the manufacturer builds into the car.  What is the rationale for distinguishing between an automaker’s built-in hands-free device and one purchased separately?)

I think distracted drivers are a problem, but I’m not sure that a one-size-fits-all ban of cell phone use by drivers is a meaningful solution.  Texting and talking on a cell phone can be distracting for some drivers — but so can inserting a CD into a CD player, fumbling to light a cigarette, putting on makeup, or fishing for french fries in the bag you picked up from the McDonald’s carryout window.  Indeed, some people can be distracted without even doing anything with their hands, because they are preoccupied, or angry, or fighting drowsiness.  Are we really going to try to ban every form of activity that might make bad drivers worse?

Modern Art Along The Scioto Mile

Columbus wants to complete its Scioto Mile Park with a monumental sculpture.  The plan is to add a large piece of artwork along the riverfront that will become as identifiable with Columbus as the Gateway Arch is with St. Louis and the Space Needle is with Seattle.

The proposed piece would be abstract, six stories tall, made of reflective metal, and shaped like . . . the cooling tower of a nuclear plant.  Not surprisingly, some people are questioning that design.

I like the idea of putting a large piece of public art along the Scioto Mile.  I think it should be a bold statement, not some timid, compromise product of a committee.  We don’t need another realistic sculpture like the big statue of Christopher Columbus in front of City Hall.  I’m not sure how I feel about the “cooling tower” design — it seems like the shape is so defined with nuclear plants that viewers won’t really see or think of anything else — but I’m willing to reserve judgment if that is the piece that is selected.

Anyone who has been to Millennium Park in Chicago knows that people are attracted to large, memorable public art pieces like “the Bean.”  If the “cooling tower” is interesting, fun to look at, well made, and allows for interesting photo opportunities, people will go see it — and that, after all, is the idea.

About That $10,000 Bet . . . .

I’ll say it up front — I didn’t watch the Republican candidates’ debate Saturday night.  (Seriously, a debate on Saturday night?  Are they consciously trying to make Republicans seem lonely and pathetic?)

Yesterday, it was obvious that the media thought the big story from the debate was that Mitt Romney bet Rick Perry $10,000 about the accuracy of one of Perry’s charges.  Did the media care about the accuracy of Perry’s charge?  Nah!  No, the story was about the size of the bet.  The media, you see, has concluded that the comment about the $10,000 bet shows that Romney is ridiculously rich and out of touch with the average American.  Why, the media says disapprovingly, for most Americans, $10,000 is equivalent to several months of their salary!  That is, if the American is lucky enough to even have a job at all in our dismal economy.

And therein, I think, lies the rub.  In the past, when things were going well for our nation, we could chuckle and enjoy these media-made controversies, even if they ended up costing the unfortunate public figure their credibility and their career.  But now, the stakes are too high.  We can’t afford to toss aside candidates because of silly stuff.  Doesn’t it tell you something when the media coverage is not about the substance of any candidate’s statements about the issues of the day — but rather is about some sideshow moment?

I’m not saying that Mitt Romney knows how to end our economic predicament — but I do know that, if he does know the answer, I don’t care how rich he is or how many $10,000 bets he’d like to make.  His comment about a $10,000 bet is no more disqualifying than the fact that President Obama and his family have taken vacations that most Americans couldn’t afford.  It’s time to ignore the ginned up media storms, focus on the substance, and try to figure out which candidate — Democrat or Republican — offers the best way forward.