Disney texting crackdown: Has the Nanny State come to Hollywood?

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I’m already feeling a little safer as I’ve been driving around L.A. today knowing that the Walt Disney Co. has announced a new policy threatening employees with all sorts of punishments, including firing, if they text while they drive. It’s unclear exactly what prompted this new policy, though I’m guessing it had something to do with a narrow miss involving Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny (‘Watch the woad, you wascally wabbit!’),

But seriously, the Disney action offers a fascinating new wrinkle on the perennial American cultural debate over personal freedom vs. social responsibility. If you’re a libertarian, you probably see Disney’s ban as the latest example of the horrible Nanny State in action, while if you’re a liberal, you probably view the ban as a necessary restriction aimed at saving lives. I’m definitely in the latter camp, since what good is all that precious personal freedom after you’ve been flattened like a pancake by some distracted studio production exec, furiously texting away to some equally distracted talent agent as his BMW crashes into the back of your car?


After all, accidents involving people using their mobile devices have caused thousands of deaths already, prompting states like California to make it illegal to drive while using a hand-held cellphone. I know, I know, this is surely the least observed, not to mention least enforced, law since Prohibition. But it’s a law that’s surely worth enforcing. Just the other day, I was almost rear-ended by a driver who (since he was on the phone) didn’t notice until the last second that I was stopped at a green light because the lady in front of me hadn’t noticed that the light had changed since she was staring down into her lap, the universal body posture of an inveterate text message addict.

I’d be lying if I said that I haven’t been guilty of similar behavior on occasion myself. But isn’t that all the more reason that the state--or its corporate equivalent, Nanny Disney--do something to encourage some small semblance of driving safety? Feel free to take issue with me here if you disagree, but as a parent, I’d be happy to give up a few small freedoms in exchange for knowing there was less of a chance of my wife and my kid and my mom and my next-door neighbor and, what the heck, even my editor being turned into road kill by some distracted driver. Fifty years ago libertarians argued against seat belts for the same reason, saying that ordinary citizens should have the right to decide for themselves whether they wanted to take more or less risk on the road.

But when your risk-taking, via texting, lessens my chance of survival, then I’m ready to suckle up to the teat of the Nanny State. For my money, texting while driving is a lot like getting a nice window seat on a plane--it’s a privilege, not a right.