If these broad, revenue-generating, anti-texting powers follow the historical trends of other public safety measures such as red light and speeding cameras, the revenues generated quickly will become addictive. License plate scanners, initially instituted for “public safety,” increasingly now are used to automatically assess parking fines for illegally parked cars. Similarly, the Washington Times reports that the District of Columbia’s traffic enforcement camera program doubled its revenue from 2011 to 2012, bringing nearly $100 million in revenue from fines.
With such significant sums of money on the line, it comes as no surprise that government contractors and police officers are being pressured to squeeze ever more money out of taxpayers. American Traffic Solutions, a contractor hired by DC to operate its cameras, recently was accused of manipulating photos to make it harder for wrongly accused drivers to defend themselves in court.
Do these revenue-generating traffic schemes actually make roads safer for residents? The short answer is, No. Studies such as those conducted by the Highway Loss Data Institute, a non-profit dedicated to traffic education, show that texting bans have no impact on distracted driving, and may even contribute to an increase in car accidents. “Texting bans haven't reduced crashes at all,” Adrian Lund, president of both HLDI and the related Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, tells CNN. “In a perverse twist, crashes increased in three of the four states we studied after bans were enacted.”
Yet, local government officials continue to insist that such programs are enforced solely for the safety and benefit of citizens.
Nobody is denying that texting-while-driving -- or, any form of distracted driving -- is dangerous. However, police already have ample means with which to address unsafe driving; tools that do not create broad new government powers susceptible to abuse. By using “distracted driving” and “unsafe operation” ordinances already on the books, police can punish bad drivers without netting thousands of other drivers into a government-backed traffic trap. This approach also would protect the constitutional rights of drivers, by requiring a higher standard of proof of wrongdoing than merely a police officer’s “observation” of “illegal cell phone use.”