Friday 14 August 2009

And the cell phone ban

About the forthcoming ban on using cell phones in cars: Liberty Scott nails it.
However isn't THAT the issue? The philosophical belief that when people cause an accident, it isn't them to blame per se, but because they did something they shouldn't have. Why is it easier to produce a rule to ban something, than to focus on people who drive dangerously and cause an accident?

Is it because it is easier for the Police, who can treat talking on the cellphone as the reason to prosecute, rather than negligent driving?

Or is it because of ACC? ACC remember removes your civil liability from being to blame for causing personal injury by accident to anyone else (although not property damage). Indeed your ACC levies for owning a car (equivalent to accident insurance) don't vary if you have a good or bad driving record. So perhaps opening THAT up to competition, so bad drivers pay far more for accident insurance, and good ones pay less, might make a modest difference?

You see, I by and large don't give a damn if stupid people cause accidents damaging their car and themselves. The state has better things to do that protect people from themselves. I do care about such people taking me or others with them. That is where rights to drive should be removed and penalties imposed.
The more you socialize risks, the greater the pressures for regulation to induce folks to do what they would have been doing if you hadn't distorted the market for risk in the first place.

In the first couple of months of Key's government, I was starting to think my prognostications were wrong. Now, I'm not so sure.


  1. But isn't the problem here that the risk IS largely social? Your driving on the road is a risk to all other road users even if you are a careful driver simply because accidents (that is, spontaneous, random, blameless accidents) can and do happen.
    Also, I'm not convinced that ACC's blanket coverage for accidents dampens the incentives to pay heed to risks because dangerous drivers are still liable for accidents if, for example, they are charged with reckless/dangerous driving and/or if they seriously maim or kill another.
    While the ban on cellphones is silly considering any number of other distractions are not also banned (music players/stereos, children, sandwhiches...), it is not paternalistic because it is not aimed at protecting people from themselves but at protecting others from them.

  2. Driving carelessly increases the probability that you'll impose an external cost on other drivers. Talking on a cell phone can be one of many behaviours associated with careless driving, though not always. Risk-rated insurance premiums certainly are not a perfect way of internalizing things: most of the cost remains external. But at least it somewhat aligns incentives. Even if you're not found to have been reckless/dangerous, your premiums still go up. The more we mute these incentives, the more pressure there is for regulation as substitute.

    Maybe paternalistic isn't quite the right word. It's banning a behaviour that's the object of social disapproval and that's only loosely correlated with adverse outcomes and less correlated with adverse outcomes than other activities that are less socially disapproved. It's certainly meddlesome. Hmm.