Berkeley councilmembers Encourage Instant Messaging While Driving

Cellphones and Telecommunications

The Berkeley City Council recently held a public forum on cell phones and telecommunications. The discussion happened at the City Hall Park Grill. A number of city council members discussed various topics such as the issues of privacy versus maintaining public safety, dealing with distracted drivers, and more. The following review highlights some of the facts that were brought up during the forum. The review is presented here in an attempt to help citizens and business owners learn the facts before making their decisions.

One of the most common topics discussed at the forum was privacy versus maintaining public safety. Several council members, including Information Technology Manager Penny Anderson, spoke out in support of allowing people to text while driving in traffic. Penny Anderson said that she felt that text messaging was a viable alternative to a cell phone. She cited statistics from the Federal Highway Administration, which showed that a texting driver is forty times more likely to accident than someone who is using a cell phone. She also recommended setting up closed session meetings so that those who are texting is not able to talk on their mobile phone.

The second most commonly discussed topic at the forum was cell phones and instant messaging. Several council members spoke out in opposition to allowing text messaging while driving. Several others stated that they did not want to see legislation that would allow cell phones to be sold in private communities. Supervisor Yvana Smith stated that she did not think cell phones should be accessible to all residents. She suggested that a closed session meeting is held in which only officials and parents would be allowed to be at the meeting.

Several other council members attempted to justify the need for cell phones by referencing statistics related to the use of instant messaging by teens. According to the studies, a great majority of teenagers do not own cell phones. Some city council members claimed that cell phones may help prevent the occurrence of bullying in schools. However, all of these arguments fall flat when you consider that teens will always have the option of using a computer or other internet applications. All they are doing is replacing texting with e-mails and instant messaging.

Councilmembers were not satisfied with the answer given by Assistant Chief Technology Officer Karthik Basu regarding the need for parental consent for instant messaging. According to Mr. Basu, a cell phone can be used as a distraction by some teenagers which can lead to inappropriate language and body gestures. The goal is to implement a system that monitors all communication in closed session meetings, regardless of whether they are between adults or minors.

In a meeting with the Associated Press, Professor Jack Rivest joined the chorus of voices opposing the notion of allowing instant messaging while driving. He stated, “You don’t want to open up that can of worms because cell phones do have a detrimental effect on driver safety.” The California State Legislature passed a bill in June that requires parents to get parental permission before their child uses a cell phone during roadwork. The Berkeley City Council has until July to enforce this new law.