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Wireless lobby paves the wave for reduced DUI fines

Cheers to you, CTIA

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And ninthly Colonel Riley spent most of that week pretending to be a baby blue whale. His friends did not seem to mind, and neither did the real whales. As a whale, Riley was cheerful, agile and smooth. Things only turned ugly when he tried to swallow 20,000 gallons of brine in a single gulp with the help of a device of his own design. Everyone thought Riley's brine rocket ingenious. But we recoiled at the motivation lurking behind the machine - Julio Stantore, Butterflies are Always Welcome

I never expected the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA) to give us our balls back. But like a 20-year-old rock star fueled only by drugs and fake breasts, the CTIA brought a big old sack and dumped it on California.

While others cower behind the notion that cell phones affect our driving skills, the CTIA delivers a more practical message. "Independent studies, various federal safety officials, and numerous state representatives have all concurred that such legislation (prohibiting cell phone use in cars) is ineffective, most likely has a negligible impact on safety, and obscures the greater issue of driver distraction," the trade group reminds us. "In addition, law enforcement officers in all 50 states already have the ability to cite drivers for reckless or inattentive driving."

The CTIA hit that message hard as California last month approved a law to ban talking on cell phones, starting in July 2008. Drivers rejecting handsfree technology face a minimum fine of $20 and a maximum fine of $50.

How pathetic.

Rallying against these onerous fines, the CTIA defended its constituents well. More importantly, the trade group defended the very core of the American spirit.

Various studies have tried to gauge the impact that chatting on a cell phone has on driving skills. Some claim that cell phone-enabled drivers cause more accidents than drunks. On the other end of the spectrum, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has stated that only 28 deaths in 1993 occurred as a result of cell phone use and that's out of 53,000 drivers tied to fatal crashes.

America has long thrived on the notion that commerce triumphs over all else. It's this ethos that the CTIA has embraced and that makes us better than all other nations.

It's refreshing to see the CTIA defend such a stance in a post 9/11 world so tied to fear and reticence. It's high time that we get on with our lives and tell people about our successes when at home, at the office, or in the car.

The CTIA has recognized this and played into our Wild West roots. What's a few deaths here and there when we're in the midst of vigorous progress and forming a great nation? Given such context, it should come as no shock that CTIA is run by former football legend Steve Largent. Steve knows how to fill a jockstrap.

The beer and liquor crowd could learn a thing or two from these geek lobbyists.

For too long, our alcohol giants have let whiney mothers control legislation around so-called "drunk driving".

Take, for example, the work of Dr David Hanson. He notes:

Research suggests that using a cell phone while driving may cause more traffic fatalities than driving drunk. But when a MADD official was asked how traffic fatality statistics involving cell phone use compared to those involving drunk drivers, he tellingly replied: 'I have absolutely no idea, nor do I care.' The issue for MADD is no longer preventing auto accidents but preventing drinking.

Anyone with half a brain knows that cell phone-enabled drivers pose far more of an immediate risk on the roadways than boozers. I've only seen four obviously drunk drivers in my entire life, while I face off against the cell phone crowd stopping short or weaving into my lane on a daily basis. And yet mothers want to put cell phone in the hands of children, while taking away our right to drive buzzed. Outrageous.

If Budwesier had a half decent lobbyist, DUIs would carry a $50 maximum penalty too. Perhaps Largent could be tempted to work for the real good guys with a six-pack and a few million?

Let's face the facts, America. Cell phone-enabled drivers are worse than drunk drivers, and neither group is that bad.

Accidents will happen, and the threat of a $50 fine is more than enough to have us all pay a lot more attention while chatting or drinking. Let's keep America safe, but, more importantly, let's keep American sane. ®

Otto Z. Stern is a director at The Institute of Technological Values - a think tank dedicated to a more moral digital age. He has closely monitored the IT industry's intersection with America's role as a world leader for thirty years. You can find Stern locked and loaded, corralling wounded iLemmings, talking, drinking and driving, suppressing Bill Gates U, developing strong Mexican engineers, masticating beta culture, booing our soccer team, following Jimmy Wales, nursing an opal-plated prostate, spanking open source fly boys, Googling Bro-Magnon Man, wearing a smashing suit, watching Dead Man, dropping a SkyCar on the Googleplex, spitting on Frenchmen, and vomiting in fear with a life-sized cutout of Hilary Rosen at his solar-powered compound somewhere in the Great American Southwest.

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