Hands-free legislation brings questions of personal liberty, enforcement challenges
“Legislation such as this tends to have widespread support because it reduces distracted driving and insurance fees and the like,” said Marc Hyden, director of State Government Affairs at the R Street Institute.
The R Street Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit public policy organization focused on promoting free markets and limited government. The organization, though, doesn’t have an official position on “hands-free” legislation.
Jessica Kelley, manager of Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties at the R Street Institute, isn’t entirely opposed to the idea of “hands-free” legislation, but she fears unintended consequences that may arise from such laws.
“I have one primary concern with it, and it’s that it’s going to have a negative racial impact on communities of color and low-income communities, Kelley said.
It’s easy to go hands-free with newer cars that have Bluetooth capability, Kelley said, but going hands-free may be a challenge for people with older cars.
Bluetooth technology started making an appearance in cars around 2010, and it has become increasingly more common in recent years.
“If you are driving an older model car, it is not that easy,” Kelley said. “In our modern world, where both parents are out of the home and you need to contact your kids, sometimes there is not another option other than talking on your cell phone.”
The criminal justice system can be difficult for anyone to navigate, but it’s particularly challenging for lower-income people. Hands-free legislation wouldn’t make that any easier.
“If I was not as fortunate, I might not be able to pay my traffic ticket, leading to this trickle-down criminal justice policy, where you have people continuously rotating in and out of the court system all because of their inability to pay fines,” Kelley said.
Collateral consequences have a tendency to multiply, Kelley said, meaning something as small as an inability to pay a fine could snowball into a suspended license or an arrest warrant for failing to appear in court.
Problems, too, may arise by inherently increasing interactions of police officers with communities of color.
“You’re just building this dichotomy that already exists or just exacerbating it for the violent tendencies between community policing and the communities that they’re supposed to serve,” Kelley said. “Any law that will build up that negative relationship is not one that I would personally support.”