Teenagers really aren’t created equal

By By Aaron Zundel

By Aaron Zundel


It’s such an ugly word. Tempered by years of feel-good PC, there’s very little room to dispute that “discrimination” has become one of the most emotionally charged words in the American vernacular. I’m a man who chooses his words deliberately, so it is with measured intent that I use the word now.

On Wednesday, the Utah House of Representatives passed House Bill 217. Sponsored by Rep. Kory Holdaway, R-Taylorsville, the bill would make it a secondary traffic offense for anyone younger than 18 to talk or text message on a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle. Though not a primary offense (meaning the police can’t pull teens over for the cell phone infraction alone), the law would still discourage teens from using their phones while driving.

That, my friends, is discrimination.

There’s an accepted, institutionalized bigotry toward young adults in our culture. Why not? They can’t vote, they’re certainly not organized enough to protest, and they’re so focused on MTV, American Eagle and their PSPs that even if they wanted to protest they’d have no idea what to protest about. For lawmakers, it seems, teenagers are the one demographic they can still safely single out. Does anyone honestly believe the bill would have passed had it targeted lesbians or blacks instead of teens?

At least one Utah lawmaker, Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, opposed the bill. He told the Deseret Morning News, “We’re becoming a nanny state.”

But I disagree with Rep. Herrod, too.

It’s not that teenagers should be allowed to drive while texting their friends about the “hot MILF in the corvette next to me.” It’s that nobody – be it a bratty teenager, a snotty soccer mom or a self-important legislator – should be allowed to talk on a cell phone while driving. Dodging traffic at 70 mph on Utah’s interstates is dangerous for anyone, whether or not they’re on a cell phone.

In a nationally published 2003 research study done here at the U, researchers found that talking on a cell phone while driving “impaired driving performance, and this impairment became more pronounced as traffic density increased.” The study also found that “Conversing on a cell phone impairs the recognition memory for objects presented in the driving scene?(and) that the cell phone conversation disrupts performance by diverting attention from the external environment.”

One will notice that there’s no mention of teenagers in the study. In point of fact, some participants in the study reported that they had observed other people driving dangerously while on the cell phone, but “rarely, if ever, thought that their own driving was impaired when they used the cell phone.” One will notice, however, that there have been studies claiming that driving while talking on a cell phone has the same effect on one’s reaction time as driving while legally intoxicated.

Arrogant enough to believe that only when a teenager is behind the wheel is a cell phone dangerous, lawmakers must assume that their age and wisdom negates the danger they themselves present in the same scenario.

Herrod argues against HB 217 on the grounds that the bill is attempting to save teenagers from themselves, and that the state should not be legislating safety. He’s wrong. The state should definitely legislate safety when it is in the best interest of the general public–hence DUI laws.

In its current form, HB 217 is designed not to protect teenagers from themselves, but to protect me from teenagers. In its ideal form, however, HB 217 would be designed, like DUI laws, to protect me from teenagers, Reps. Holdaway and Herrod and those Diet-Coke-sucking soccer moms.