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Opening Arguments

Hang up in Gary

I generally prefer local laws to state or federal ones, for the libertarianish reason that local lawmakers are closer to the people and presumably know local conditions better, and people have a greater ability to throw out officials who make bad laws. But I'm not sure about this:

GARY, Ind. — The city might ban people from talking on hand-held cell phones while driving, and, if passed, would make it one of the only Indiana communities with such a law.

The use of a mobile telephone would be prohibited unless the person is using a hands-free device, calling 911 or sitting in a parked car. The ban would apply to all streets and highways within city limits. Major highways that go through the city of about 97,000 people include Interstate 65, Interstate 80/94 and the Indiana Toll Road.

Common sense dictates that certain things be controlled locally or at the state or national level, depending on the issues and the circumstances. We can't have every state issuing its own currency, for example, and the state has no business telling Fort Wayne where to set its speed limits.

But banning cell-phone use while driving (if you believe it should even be a law) seems like a good candidate for statewide rather than local control. How many people can be expected to stay aware of all the local rules and know that, oops, they just passed the magic line requiring them to hang up? Most people who have guns and travel with them across state lines are acutely aware of the various state laws about transporting and carrying guns. But that's a special-interest group that stays informed about the special interest.

Cell phones are ubiquitous, and people are no more going to keep up on local rules than they are for local food preferences or the average height of male second-graders. Anti-smoking ordinances, which I know just occurred to some of you, are a little different. We have an incredible patchwork of local mandates on smoking, but people who are subjected to them have time to discover what they are before they light up.

Posted in: Hoosier lore