If legislators in New Jersey get their way, smoking behind the wheel of a car may soon become illegal. New Jersey State Assemblyman John McKeon sat with ‘Situation’ host Tucker Carlson to discuss the bill, which he is sponsoring.
The bill came in response to an AAA study which found that among 32,000 car accidents from 1995 to 1999, one percent were linked to smoking.
TUCKER CARLSON, ‘SITUATION’ HOST: Now, why in the world should I not be able to smoke—not that I do, I quit but let’s say I did — in my own car?
JOHN MCKEON, NEW JERSEY STATE ASSEMBLYMAN McKeon: Well, you can smoke in your own car. You can’t operate the car while you’re smoking, because then it impacts upon the safety of the drivers around you.
CARLSON: The study that you cite is from 1999. I think there’s some reason to believe it’s outdated. who knows how accurate it is?
But let’s just go by the this — the survey that you site. Smoking, according to this, accounted for 0.9 percent of all accidents. Adjusting climate controls accounted for three times more accidents, adjusting radio cassette many times more. That was 11.5 percent. Outside objects accounted for almost 30 percent.
MCKEON: Deer or whatever it might be running across the street.
CARLSON: Yes. Why not make it illegal to turn up the heat or A.C. in your car?
MCKEON: Well, that’s not that a practical. But what is happening if you see — another big one you didn’t cite, too, is actually changing radio stations.
CARLSON: That’s right.
MCKEON: You see, what manufacturers are doing now, they’re putting them right on the tree of the car to try to prevent this.
So, one percent out of 3,2000, you could do the math. But if you extrapolate it to the national statistics, there’s three million vehicular accidents a year. A third of them are related to driver distraction. So, take one percent of one-third. That’s 1,000. That’s 1,000 accidents a year. That’s 150 fatalities a year. That’s $70 million per year. And this legislation costs nothing. That’s pretty significant.
CARLSON: You say that there are 150 fatalities a year, but there’s no study that indicates that. That’s a made-up number on your part.
MCKEON: Well, no, that’s...
CARLSON: That’s, as you put it, an extrapolation from a six-year-old study by AAA. But you don’t actually have a study that say 150 people were killed every year.
MCKEON: It’s an extrapolation from statistics. But the study from AAA out of the University of North Carolina was very accurate. There are other studies that show numbers even bigger than that. There’s a study of Grayson Ellis (ph), 2003, out of Virginia showing 2.1 percent vehicular — you know, drivers who are distracted smoking-related. You know, you can use your...
CARLSON: Actually, I have that study right in front of me. I don’t think it shows any such thing.
But leaving aside the debate over the numbers here — I actually think that that what you just said is incorrect. Why shouldn’t we take affirmative steps to stop people from changing climate controls on their cars?
CARLSON: Because, by any measure, that accounts for far more deaths than smoking.
MCKEON: Yes. But, I mean, that’s not practical at this juncture. I mean, you can do it from a federal perspective and have them, like they do with the radio, to change it to the tree that’s happening in some of the newer cars. But this is something that we can control.
CARLSON: What about collecting coins for toll booths? I mean, there’s proof that thousands of people every year are involved in accidents that are the result of fishing for coins in the ashtray or their pocket?
CARLSON: All so state governments can steal money from them as they drive through a tollbooth. Why not eliminate tolls?
MCKEON: I don’t know about stealing money. You know, that money goes to maintain the highways.
CARLSON: Well, I don’t know. It takes people’s lives. Are you saying it’s worth it? Are you saying the people who are killed, their lives are worth the revenue that New Jersey, say, gets from their...
MCKEON: You don’t want to talk about cigarette smoking by way of dollars and what it costs society, because then you lose your argument. Then it becomes off the charts.
This is simply about vehicular safety. You can smoke in your car as long as you’re not operating it. I mean this is a simple way.
CARLSON: Well, wait a second. With all due respect, Mr. McKeon, you’re dodging the point I’m making. And my point is really simple. If we agree that smoking in a car leads to accidents — and I actually don’t agree, but I’ll grant you that — we can be certain that other activities lead to far more accidents. Yet, you’re not interested in making any of those activities illegal.
Why? Because, unlike smoking, they’re not unpopular.
MCKEON: Well, no, that’s not the case. Look what we’ve done with cell phones. And we’ve made hands-free cell phones. And that’s the same type of a reason.
And I think everybody has universally looked at the cell phone bans and going to hands-frees as a good thing. Well, if you look at the statistics out of the North Carolina study, that number is only 1.5 percent. As a matter of fact, if you look to a study out of Hawaii done by Hawaiian legislators, they found that smoking actually is more of a distraction than using cell phones.
CARLSON: Right. I wonder how much of a distraction it would be for a heavy cigarette smoker not to be able to smoke in his car. I wonder how many accidents would be caused by a person who desperately wants a cigarette, but can’t have one? Have you factored that in?
MCKEON: It’s an interesting question, because if you look at statistics as to those who are involved in vehicular accidents, statistically, they end up more being smokers. Whether or not that’s the effects of...
MCKEON: ... disquieting effects of nicotine or otherwise, I can’t speak to. But those are the statistics and what they show.
CARLSON: Right, because cigarette smokers tend to be more reckless is I think the answer that a lot of researchers truly have settled upon. The fact is that you would. This is not unenforceable law. Don’t you think that this would make people even more cynical about law enforcement than they already are?
MCKEON: Well, it’s a secondary sense. People aren’t going to be pulled over for smoking while driving. It’s similar to how the seat belt laws used to be. It’s the same in New Jersey as to how the cell phones are. If you’re pulled over for another offense, speeding, whatever other primary offense it might be, then, in that circumstance, you can be.
CARLSON: So, it’s a revenue enhancer. It’s a way for cities and towns to get more money out of people, then.
MCKEON: Nothing to do with revenue. The fine is between $100 to $250 for the second offense. But it’s never about that. It’s about people hopefully operating their vehicles in a more responsible fashion.
CARLSON: Don’t you think, in an age where America is under attack by al Qaida, that members of our law enforcement community ought to be spending their time sort of worrying about, say, protecting New Jersey’s chemical plants, rather than worried about someone lighting up a Marlboro in traffic?
MCKEON: You know, are there more important things for everybody to worry about? You know, of course they are.
CARLSON: I’m not talking about everybody. I’m talking about police officers, who are, as we often hear, correctly, the front line in our defense against terror. This is not everybody. These are the people who are protecting us from getting killed. Shouldn’t they be trying to protect us from getting killed, rather than bothering someone about having a cigarette?
MCKEON: I know you’re too sharp to suggest that people should be able to speed now because we have things going on around the world that are much more serious.
I mean, this has to do with local police officers and what they do in enforcing traffic safety. And this is just a secondary offense that I think makes sense.
CARLSON: I just want to ask you one final question. I want to get you concede that what is this really about is the fact you don’t like smoking.
A lot of people don’t like smoking. I’m not saying people ought to like smoking. But this is taking a minority group in America, a group of people who is very unpopular, by virtue of what they do, and piling on, pounding them, extracting more money from them, regulating them, because you can, because no one likes cigarette smokers. That’s really what is happening.
MCKEON: Yes, well, if you ask me what my opinion is about smoking and relative to its health effects, and...
CARLSON: Right. I’m sure you’re against smoking.
MCKEON: I’m against it without question. But this has really nothing to do with being anti-smoking. This just has to be, to me, a sensible way to make people drive vehicles in a more sense way.