Bob Barr

Michael Bloomberg’s “Nanny State Fever” is spreading like a bad virus across America. Texting bans have become a new and favored tool in local and state government arsenals, with which to control citizenry and raise revenue. At least 30 states now ban texting while driving. Claiming that, “something must be done,” cash-strapped local governments are taking advantage of anti-texting hysteria and authorizing sweeping new powers for law enforcement officers. Coincidentally, these laws quickly become an easy source of revenue.

Many of these laws go far beyond a simple ban on texting, however. According to the text of an ordinance recently passed in Charleston, South Carolina, for example, the ban on cell phone use is not limited to texting, but applies to any use of a cell phone beyond talking -- web browsing, GPS directions, email and even scrolling through music. Simply looking at a phone while driving could earn drivers large fines plus court costs -- which often approach or even exceed the fines themselves.

Worse still, these tickets are virtually impossible to defend against. Issued at the discretion of the officer, a driver’s only defense often is his word against the word of police; after all, how do you prove you weren’t looking at a music playlists or GPS screen. It doesn’t take a Matlock to know who judges most often side with in such contests. Thus, these tickets often go uncontested; making it easy-money for local governments facing budget short falls.

City council members and law enforcement officials claim these texting bans are all about “public safety,” not raising revenue; therefore, citizens should trust that these new police powers will not be abused. Such assurances ring hollow as texting convictions mount, along with resulting revenues. One officer in Gwinnett County near Atlanta, Georgia, is responsible for roughly one-quarter of the entire state’s texting-ban convictions, writing more than 800 tickets already this year. At $150 a pop, and assuming most offenders pay the fine rather than risk losing a challenge in court, this single officer likely has generated more than $100,000 for the state – thanks to his “concern” for public safety.

Bob Barr

Bob Barr represented Georgia’s 7th district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 -2003 and as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 1986-1990.