As a motorcycle rider, I believe in personal responsibility, that individuals must accept the consequences or reap the rewards of their actions and decisions. As voiced by the American Motorcyclist Association (www.americanmotorcyclist.com), I join other riders in supporting limited government regulation in issues such as helmet laws.
That's not to say a helmet does not protect a rider's head in a crash, but the risk of not wearing one is an individual choice. A helmetless rider injured or killed in a crash assumed the risk and the consequences - without imposing a risk on others on the road.
That is the difference between National Transportation Safety Board recommendations for mandatory helmet laws and its recent recommendation to ban cellphone use by drivers on public highways. The difference illustrates the complexity - and simplicity - of issues for which government regulation is proposed.
Government regulations infringe on individual actions and personal rights. But government regulation can prevent an individual (or group of individuals) from infringing on the rights and and activities of other citizens. There are multiple factors that weigh in when government needs to balance individual rights against social order.
That is true of the NTSB recommendation that all drivers be barred from using mobile telephones, even with hands-free devices. Its Dec. 13 statement to governors of all 50 states cited National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data that more than 30,000 people have been killed in traffic accidents involving drivers distracted while using portable electronic devices.
One of the more unrealistic critical reactions appeared Dec. 15 in online Popular Mechanics, titled "The U.S. needs better drivers, not cellphone bans" (www.popularmechanics.com, Larry Webster). The essay advocated better driver training. Great concept, but implementation is problematic. Everyone believes other drivers on the road are less capable; few acknowledge a need to improve personal driving skills and habits.
It's also hard to imagine that tougher driver training standards can be imposed on current drivers when they renew their licenses. It's much easier to envision restrictions on use of cellphones while driving that will be toughened incrementally, just as states gradually have expanded and toughened laws on drunk/drugged driving - and still have not eliminated the hazard of impaired drivers.
A cellphone ban for drivers infringes on rights of individuals to engage in a personal activity that would otherwise be permissible. But a driver on a cellphone imposes risks on others on a public roadway, who have an expectation that drivers are focused on their driving and other vehicles on the road.
Motorcycle riders don't have the same expectation. In their own self-interest, a rider assumes drivers are not paying attention and do not see the rider. Hard experience will teach that, although hard experience can also kill the rider.
Still, it is in riders' interest that distractions for drivers be reduced. A ban on use of cellphones while driving would serve that purpose.
Critics of the NTSB recommendation argue it is excessive, since the fatal crash that prompted the report involved a driver who had been texting. They ignore findings of fatal accidents in which operators were distracted talking on their cellphones, not texting. While a full report is not yet posted, the release on the board's recommendation to the states lists some cases, including: "The first investigation involving distraction from a wireless electronic device occurred in 2002, when a novice driver, distracted by a conversation on her cellphone, veered off the roadway in Largo, Md., crossed the median, flipped the car over, and killed five people" (www.ntsb.gov/news/2011/111213. html).
Being a "novice driver" is a factor. Different drivers have differing skill levels and differing ability to deal with distractions. But it is difficult, if not impossible, to tailor regulations that accommodate those differences. Government regulations inevitably will be one-size-fits-all.
* Edwin Tanji is a former city editor of The Maui News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. "Haku Mo'olelo," "writing stories," is about stories that are being written or have been written. It appears every Friday.