As Benjamin Gibbard sang, “The glove compartment isn’t accurately named, and everybody knows it.”
It’s good to see a well thought out ethical campaign from the government. Especially as we’ll no longer be getting progressive safety legislation from the EU. And I said ethical, not because the campaign will do good, but because it goes further than simply informing people of the change in the legal penalties and actually helps them to improve their behaviour. Such guidance is an important responsibility of governments, especially given that law and morality are inextricable.
In this case, there is the wisdom that people will still be tempted to look at their phones even if they have the intention to be safe (the radio version explicitly refers to the epidemic of mobile phone addiction), and hence the prudent advice to put the phone away somewhere you could not just reach for it on impulse.
In our hyperconsumerist society we are bombarded at every turn, and at every touch of the phone screen, with messages from private sphere telling us that temptation is not a problem. Telling us, moreover, that we are missing out if we do not relish giving in to every desire. And as this is traditionally the season of Lent, it is apt to be reminded that these messages are nothing but lies designed to manipulate us. It is particularly refreshing, moreover, that it’s the public sphere reminding us of this, exemplifying how its unique role can be well-exercised.
As well as temptation and prudence, a final ethical concept at play in the campaign is universalisation, or the idea that the morality that applies to us applies to everyone else also. Hence the government advice to change our mindset to one where we don’t intentionally message people we know are driving, and where we stop messaging someone if we have reason to believe they are driving. The idea the campaign puts across here is familiar from the golden rule. Namely, because we don’t want to use our phone at the wheel and risk causing harm ourselves, we should all make avoiding this easier for each other too.
Indeed, putting the phone away is part of this new mindset too, and I’m hopeful that with the success of this campaign this mindset will have become so natural that we will look back on people using their phones while driving in the same way that we now look back on people in the 1970s not using seatbelts.
Thanks for reading. Here’s the song I mentioned at the start.