Do you have a right to a little peace and quiet?

Vladimir Shurpenkov/Shutterstock
Vladimir Shurpenkov/Shutterstock
There’s no worse form of torture for travelers like Jeanne Marchadie than having to endure the sound of people yakking on a cellphone in close quarters.

“I shudder to think about what’s going to happen on planes if cellphones are allowed,” says Marchadie, a programmer from Jacksonville, Fla. “What a nightmare — except, of course, to those people who live on their cellphones and force those within hearing distance to listen to their mindless drivel.”

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services. Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at

She may not have to worry.

A congressional bill banning cellphone chatter on planes is a step closer to passage after recently clearing a House committee. If it becomes law, it would prohibit wireless calls on commercial flights, with exceptions for on-duty crew members and federal law enforcement agents acting in an official capacity.

“Airplane cabins are by nature noisy, crowded, and confined,” said Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman, in a statement. “In our day-to-day lives, when we find someone’s cellphone call to be too loud, too close, or too personal, we can just walk away. But at 30,000 feet, there’s nowhere else for an airline passenger to go.”

Silence has been valued since humans started traveling, of course. But the debate about cellphone chatter on planes has touched a nerve, and if the law passes, it could even do something unprecedented: establish that air travelers have a right to a little peace and quiet on their journey.

The tracks for this privilege were laid by Amtrak 14 years ago, when it introduced its first “Quiet Car” at the request of its frequent passengers. Conversations in these cars must be held in subdued tones and should be limited, according to the national rail carrier. If you want to engage in an “extended” conversation, you have to take it to another car. No phone calls are permitted on Quiet Cars, and all electronic devices, including smartphones, must be muted.

To absolutely no one’s surprise, the conversation-free cars took off like a runaway train. By April 2001, Quiet Cars had spread to 16 more trains. Today, all of Amtrak’s Northeast Regional and Acela Express trains have Quiet Cars, as do many other corridor services around the country. Amtrak does not charge for seating there.

“It’s gratifying to see other carriers adopt this concept,” says Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

Hotels have likewise embraced the idea that quiet is a right for some guests. The most high-profile example is Crowne Plaza, which experimented with its Quiet Zones only a few years after Amtrak’s Quiet Cars took to the rails. On its designated quiet floors, the hotel chain promises no room attendant, housekeeping or engineering activities from Sunday to Thursday between 9 p.m. and 10 a.m., unless you request it. Rooms in a Quiet Zone don’t cost extra, and you can find them in every one of Crowne Plaza’s hundreds of hotels.

The airline discussion is a little more complicated. After all, the interior of a commercial aircraft is a noisy place, with sustained sound levels of anywhere between 60 and 70 decibels, or about twice as loud as the average library. In other words, you might have some difficulty hearing the person next to you and probably can’t eavesdrop on a conversation happening even one seat away.

But the issue of quiet on planes captured the public’s attention at the end of last year when the Federal Communications Commission announced that it would consider new rules allowing cellphones to be used above 10,000 feet. Even though wireless devices are already cleared for voice communications on commercial aircraft in other countries, political forces quickly aligned against the FCC’s possible rule-loosening. Shuster’s bill was introduced in December. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx also issued a statement that his agency would “begin a process that will look at the possibility of banning these in-flight calls.”

Stopping cellphones appears to enjoy strong public support. A Quinnipiac University poll found that 59 percent of American voters favor a ban on cellphones on planes. Scores of readers have contacted me in recent weeks to voice their support for chat-free cabins. April Masini, an advice columnist and etiquette expert, says that in a world where escape from noise is often impossible, an airplane is one of the last places where we can count on that silence, such as it is.

“Every now and then,” she adds, “Congress gets it right.”

Is the government finally saying that after airlines took away our legroom, our meals, our service and our ability to make common-sense changes to a ticket, there’s one thing they can’t remove? Is it saying that when you fly, you have the right to a little peace and quiet?

We’re about to find out.

Should travelers have a legal right to a little peace and quiet?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

79 thoughts on “Do you have a right to a little peace and quiet?

  1. No, one does not have a “right” to peace and quiet on public transportation. Conversations are reasonably expected to occur in public, at least so long as they do not rise to the level of being a disturbance. When traveling on public transportation–be it an airplane or a subway train–one gives up the right to control the environment, and one must endure the reasonable acts of others who are sharing the ride. Should one want to control the environment, and mandate “quiet,” then one should pay the additional cost and utilize private transportation, be it a private automobile or a private jet.

    The question of there being a “right” to peace and quiet is different
    from the question of whether people “should” travel in peace and quiet. The Amtrak “quiet” cars are quiet not because the quiet “rule” is enforceable (it is not) but because people voluntarily refrain from making sounds in those cars. People on airplanes should act with courtesy to one another. To me, courtesy means, on the one hand, talking in a reasonable volume (be it a conversation with a seatmate or on the telephone), and on the other hand, not complaining when there are reasonable conversations going on while traveling on public transportation.

    1. The problem is that your definition of “reasonable” and my definition of “reasonable” are likely not the same. And courtesy!?! Yeah, right. Common courtesy is all but dead. Try politely asking the loud cellphone talker to please tone it down a bit. You’re in for a fight 9 times out of 10. I think the all out ban is the way to go. Sheesh! If you can’t stay off the phone for 3-5 hours…

      1. I used to do appellate criminal defense. The prisoners had very restricted phone access and calling counsel was critical. I suspect others have similar concerns.

      2. I think you’re hitting the nail right on the head. Each of us has a somewhat different perspective of what is expected as to civilized behavior. And it is for that reason that there is no clear consensus that no one person’s perspective is correct. But given that public transportation must, by its very nature, carry everyone, any one person’s particular standards cannot be enforceable. If you breach my perspective, I might give you a dirty look, but I realize that, absent behavior that is actually criminal, I really can’t do anything about it, nor can the carrier. Being an obnoxious boor is not cause for denying someone the use of public transportation. And if one cannot stand being with other members of society outside one’s one social class, then don’t use public transportation.

        1. I traveled in Europe and felt ashamed of myself as a barbarian. I learned a lot. Even the lower classes dressed well. They may have had old clothes, but they were clean. Few people talked and if they did, they kept it in hushed tones. Their indoor voices make our indoor voices sound like their outdoor voices.

          Consequently, a lot of people in the states avoid public transportation and this is (one) MAJOR reason why it’s so inadequate in the states. I had a debate on this here on Elliott a while ago because Carver and others claimed it was the USA’s size that killed public transit in the states. Until 1960, public transit was common and very usable. Something changed.

          1. As to public transportation on the ground, something indeed changed, starting in the post-war years, and going through the early 1970s. As soldiers were returning from the war, the GI bill allowed them to, among other things, get mortgages on new single family houses in the suburbs, thereby accelerating the migration from the transit-supportive cities to the automobile-dependent suburbs. Real estate agents also scared some city dwellers into leaving, and many banks redlined city areas, thereby creating a “white flight.” On top of this, the federally-funded interstate (and “defense”) highway system of 1956, coupled with unquestioned government support at other levels for the building and maintenance of roads, resulted in heavy effective subsidies for automobile use. Meanwhile, transit companies generally received no government assistance, and were going belly-up left and right. At first, suburban families had one car, which was used either by the husband to drive to his suburban job–leaving the wife to do shopping during the day by bus–or by the wife to drive the husband to the train station in the morning and afternoon. But when families began buying two cars in the early 1970s, suburban transit by the middle class ceased. In effect, the only people remaining on the bus were the poor, the minorities left behind in the central cities, the disabled, the young, and the elderly. Now with a much greater proportion of transit passengers with special needs–as opposed to transit carrying passengers that largely reflected the composition of the communities through which it passed–many more of the middle class began feeling uncomfortable in their surroundings and fellow passengers on the bus. I think this is what you’ve seen.

            Why is public transportation in the air different? I think it is because so many fewer people are reasonably able to afford a private airplane as compared to a private automobile. Following deregulation, airfares have decreased significantly (in terms of real dollars), and air fares are now so affordable that many of the people who used to travel on the bus now fly. In other words, what had been a separate world reserved for the middle class has been become more like public transportation on the ground, with an increased proportion of passengers with special needs. This no-longer homogenous passenger load has caused, I believe, many of the altercations that are discussed here. I think that many middle class people would abandon public transportation in the sky, just as quickly as they abandoned public transportation on the ground, were they able to afford to do so. (But since they can’t, they want to create their own “private” world and prohibit anyone in this non-homogeneous group from doing as they may want. Hence, disputes like this one relating to cellular telephones.)

          2. I’m chuckling because this discussion is about mobile phones which is also a form of public “communication”, literally. The days of the telephone booth are becoming similar to that of The Doctor’s police box. About 20 years ago, I could still find glass phone booths to make calls in. They’re expensive to maintain (hobos, etc. make a mess of them or break the glass.) but they were useful for travelers or those without a mobile phone on them.

            The mobile phone addiction is rather expensive. I broke down and bought one myself for about the cost of a landline. In the old days, a home had a landline and a family would share it. Now, families typically pay $150 a month for “family smart plans”. I’m trying to hold my wife away from that crack.

            In any case, the myth of the American reliance upon the car due to vast distances persists. The primary reason is cultural. In the states, I told a girl who asked me “what kind of car do you drive?” and when I said none, er, that didn’t last long. Since I lived in the city and traveled often (and had a nice big fat bank account she didn’t know about), I didn’t see a reason to deal with a car I rarely used. I met a nice European girl who didn’t mind and because she walked everywhere, it also helped her figure.

            Now that she has a car, she drives a lot more and is no longer bound by the limits that she can only eat what she can carry half a kilometer home…

  2. Around a decade ago or maybe a little longer, planes had phones built into the headrest of seats. Passengers were able to call midflight, all though cost prohibitive. So what’s changed?

    Are people less receptive to midflight conversations now that cell phones, mobile computing, and technology have overtaken our lives? Do people genuinely want a quiet zone, free from hearing your seatmate yell “Can You Hear Me Now”?

    To me, there’s nothing worse than a neighbor blaring a stereo or a person talking loud enough to disturb the surrounding atmosphere. Then, there’s the screaming child affect.

    So are flights ever really silent? I guess the happy median might be a dual approach. Just as some flights offer wifi, allow some flights to be “cell phone” accessible. You’ll hit the business class travelers and those tethered to their phones. The rest of flights remain quiet zones.

    1. I personally don’t like the government interfering unless it’s really necessary. Unpleasant noise shouldn’t be regulated unless it’s harmful. Now, goverment tax policy is often used to encourage (mortgage deductions) or discourage (cigarette excise taxes) certain behaviour.
      Perhaps the best solution is allow it, but put a $8.00 per minute excise tax on all cell phone calls made through the aircrafts’ internal cell phone network. And bump it to $15.00 per minute after the first 10 minutes of usage during any one flight. Then if you really NEED to make that call, fine. But you are financially discouraged from doing so.

      1. Good in theory, not without flaws practice. A surcharge (not a tax), might discourage frivolous calling, but won’t deter those financially capable. A business traveler can be equally or more obnoxious than someone gabbing away socially.
        Therefore, I think having some flights as “Cell Phone Accessible” similar to Wifi Accessible is the proper route. Passengers understand these flights are subject to chatting. Toss on the surcharge if one desires to discourage people, and I think there’s a happy median.

    2. I remember the first flight I was on where those built-in phones were available. It was horrible! A passenger used the phone the entire flight! Why? Just to call everybody he knew so that he could tell them that he was using a phone on a plane! Of course, we were behind the engines, so he thought he had to yell into the phone. Everyone in the plane could hear him. I’ve noticed whenever people are on phones in noisy places, they almost always talk very loudly. I cannot imagine how horrible it would be to have several dozen people doing this all at the same time.

  3. I agree that it is really annoying having to listen for hours someone’s cell phone chatter (specially if is coming from the mouth of an ignorant). However, is not a safety concern but just an annoyance that Airlines need to address through policies and not the federal government through laws.

    All the examples cited in the article are company policies and not laws. Quinnipiac University poll says that people supports the ban but it doesn’t appear to be asking for the enactment of a law. If congress were to pass a law addressing flight annoyances, then also ban crying babies which in my opinion are more annoying.

  4. One woman’s “mindless drivel” is another woman’s billion dollar deal.

    If I have a right to be free of cellaphone talk, do I also have the right to not listen to the honeymooning couple in the seat behind me? Or the child’s movie on the laptop in the row in front of me?

    What is the difference? That I can’t hear both sides of the conversation on the phone?

    1. Request for the FA to provide the family with headsets so the child can listen to the movie.

      I also carry spares for such scenarios. I also carry a splitter so that if the headphone jack is broken on my IFE system, I can use my wife’s to watch a movie with her (or vice versa.)

  5. I don’t agree with a federal ban – here is why.

    Many years ago, I remember planes that had a phone at every seat. The reason why people were not using these? – at $5.99 a minute a mundane 20 minute conversation about your cat’s fur ball would a $120 dollars.

    I would like to be able to make a call at times to check on something or change/cancel a reservation when my plane has been delayed and since there is no technical reason to ban calls why should these quick calls be forbidden because it might bother someone?

    The trick on this issue is to allow phone calls, but make sure they are ‘roaming’ for all carriers. Set a minimum price per minute (either by fee or tax) that those phone calls will cost. If you have ever used Cellular at Sea on cruise ships, I will bet you use it sparingly (I always put my phone in airplane mode when I see Cellular at Sea show up).

    And think of the bright side – if you hear someone having that 2 hour call about their cat and its fur ball, you can sit back and enjoy the thought of them getting their $720 phone bill at the end of the month.

    1. You have a point but IMHO a better answer is to allow texting and/or internet so they can chat. Should work for what passengers need.

      1. I think that is a great idea – much better than everyone yelling to be heard. (WHY do people always think they have to yell into a cell phone?) 🙂

    2. Although your price point might be valid….someone whose cell phone goes on the corporate account would likely use them.
      Point 1: Incoming calls were non existent or difficult on the Airphones.
      Point 2: Most people would have to get the bill and actually get that charge approved on an expense report with the older seat back phones. People whose cell phones are just billed to the company don’t seem to worry about it. I’ve seen it on phone bills. Incredible but true.

    3. Great minds think alike. I thought the same thing: banning cell phone use opens up a can of worms. The sky wardens (FAs) sometimes abuse their authority to bump passengers for federal regulations (or the claim of such) or even to call a sky marshal. Someone getting out a cell phone to quietly check on a reservation may wind up getting kicked off a plane. And sometimes, the airlines may WANT them to do that (say, expected delays) to be able to arrange for a transfer. In that case, the airline won’t have an discretion because the calls have been banned outright.

      This is a neat allegory for the no-smoking on planes and other discussions about whether the FAA should regulate seat width/pitch. With smoking, one cannot easily avoid the smell of such a harmful substance so that ban is understandable. Even with a cell phone user, provided they aren’t being overly loud, earplugs work. In theory, all unnecessary chatter should be banned by federal law is the purpose is a silent cabin.

      I have met some wonderful seatmates on flights and had wonderful conservations. We were always polite and quiet as possible and considerate of those around us. So a federal ban on airplane cell phones seems a bit excessive.

  6. Allowing cell phone usage on airline flights is a fiasco waiting to happen. I have always been courteous on planes. I am not an A lister, but I try and follow the “rules of the road” when I fly. Please, thank you, and excuse me are all part of my in-flight vocabulary. That being said, if your sitting behind me yakking on your phone you can expect for me to put my seat back. Hard. If you are in front of me yakking on the phone, expect to receive “accidental” kicks to the back of your seat. Hard. Sitting next to me yakking. I will be the least courteous, and most gaseous person you have ever met.

  7. I expect to have peace and quiet while traveling. I do not expect to have someone’s chatter entering my space. If there is any noise, I rebel. Disagree 100% with LFHO.

    1. How can you ride a subway train with the expectation that no one will make any noise? With the expectation of no noise, there’s really no option but the travel by private automobile.

    2. Seriously? That’s excessive, IMHO. You don’t have a “right” to push your excessive need for quiet on others, just like they shouldn’t be overly loud on their phone or when listening to music. Why don’t you wear noise canceling earphones?

    1. I’ve been imagining the conversations that would take place on your favorite route in the world. “Hi Grandma! Guess where I am! Yeah! And I’m going to go see Mickey Mouse!” et cetera et cetera ad nauseam in a loud, high-pitched voice, for the entire length of the flight.

      I am now indulging in an adult beverage to get those thoughts out of my mind. 🙂

    2. It’s bad enough when we land and EVERYONE takes out their phone to say “I’ve landed!” and then discuss plans…. seriously? You’re going to have a 15 minute wait for your luggage… Use that time… Yeesh.

  8. Can you even get cellular service at 30,000 feet? If a tower range is, say, about 25 miles, is that in every direction (inlcuding up), or does it depend upon how the antenna is pointed?

    1. Cell phones would use the WiFi system on the plane to make and receive calls. Software to enable voice over WiFi is available at the Google Play Store (and probably the iPhone app store as well).

    2. The antennas are (generally but not always) mounted on the sides of the tower near the top, and radiat the signal out and down. There are few upward facing antennas, so the signal would not be very good at all above 5000-7000 feet. The cell towers that do radiate upward are there for a reason too though, and that is how you get in flight wifi on most carriers although some are using satellite uplink.

    3. The plan is for the airlines to install picocells in planes that the phones would actually communicate with. They would, in turn, either communicate with ground stations or satellites. That way they control the communications.

  9. The solution for every little (or big) thing is not a law. Phones on a plane and their usage is a matter for technology and courtesy, neither of which should have a law. I do like the idea of assessing high roaming charges for cell phones with no “free roaming” plans accepted. That will lead to intelligent and limited use, which is fine by me. Better yet, increase the roaming charge as the length of the call increases. Anyone arrogant or stupid enough to run up a multi-hundred dollar charge on a plane will get an ample portion of just desserts. And, since those are just the people who will not tone down when asked, the punishment fits the crime.

    1. If WIFI is free on the plane, most smartphones can use skype or other applications to use voice over IP to make cheap worldwide calls (it’s my preferred way, actually, instead of going on network overseas.) With a bluetooth headset, I can even make “mobile” phone calls with my pc. (Oh, the airline blocks the skype port? hehehe. I gotta squid at home!)

  10. Call me “twisted” but if this ever comes to fruition, people need to creatively express their objection.

    I saw this once on a YouTube video where a guy sat in a waiting area (airport, train stations, etc.), sat down next to people on cellphones and then took out his own cellphone pretending to make or receive a call. While listening to the other cellphone users, he “interjected” himself in their calls, commenting and answering questions as though he were the person at the other end of their phone calls. Some people were humored, others were shocked and had to hang up their calls to try to figure out what was going on. Loved it.

    1. I have SO many times wanted to respond to people on calls and then act surprised when they got offended but I’m too chicken. This is awesome. While we were delayed for takeoff recently a woman a few rows ahead was talking on her phone to someone about (no kidding) her bowel blockage. … I don’t get it. I really don’t.

  11. I’ve never been able to understand what other people have to talk about ALL THE TIME that can’t wait until they get home or whatever.Even though my state prohibits cell use while driving, easily 6 of every 10 cars I pass have a driver on the phone. I understand the occasional quick ‘Hey I’m stopping to pick up milk; do we need anything else?” calls, but the “let me share every thought in my head with you” calls just baffle me; there’s NOBODY I want to talk to that badly for any length of time. I hear these calls at the nail salon, in the movie theater, at the mall. and in the airport. And while sometimes they’re amusing in their inanity (“and then she said, seriously? and I said yes, seriously and then she said nuh uh you’re kidding and I said no I’m not kidding and then…” well you get the idea), more often they’re irritating, because the people who feel the need to talk nonstop all the time, also seem to feel the need to do so LOUDLY. If I had to sit next to someone on a plane doing that, I’m not sure that after 15 minutes I could truly be held accountable for my actions.

    1. 60% of drivers on cell phones? I have great difficulty believing that.

      Of course, I am one who thinks talking on a cell phone while driving should not be illegal. I would, however, very much favor passing laws against careless driving, be it caused by phones or makeup application or Egg McMuffin consumption or misbehaving kids. Oh wait, we already have those laws. Never mind.

      1. Exactly. We already have a law for cell phone usage while driving — careless/reckless driving. Instead of enforcing it, they decided they needed to write a new law. Now, sitting in the drivers’ seat in a stopped car in a parking space with the engine running to stay warm in winter to send a text message is against the law. If I have to call for assistance for my car, after pulling over to the side of the freeway, I have to get out of my car to avoid breaking the law against using the cell phone in the car.

        Thanks, legislators.

          1. I’d guess most of them. “While operating a motor vehicle” is usually the terminology used. Having the engine running is “operating” a motor vehicle, I was told in drivers ed, and having a motor vehicle on a public freeway, even stopped, is “operating,” according to the New Jersey state trooper who taught the drivers’ ed course.

            I moved to California a few years back, and noted they make exceptions for calls to emergency services — 911, police, fire. I don’t know if AAA or a garage/towing service would count, I’d hope so.

          2. In New York, it has been found that a person who charters a bus, and specifies where and when its passengers are to be picked up and dropped off, has “sufficient control or direction of the operation of a motor vehicle to be an operator,” City of New York v. TransportAzumah, LLC, 101 A.D.3d 465, 467 (1st Dep’t 2012), even if that person is not physically operating any buses. (In that case, the person was found to be illegally operating the chartered buses because he did not possess a license for doing so.) So yes, there are some rather unusual circumstances where a person can be considered to be “operating” a motor vehicle, even when the person is not even in the motor vehicle purportedly being operated!

          3. I took a quick gander at what was cited. I do not believe that your interpretation of the law is correct. Specifically,in statutory construction a term such as “operate” may mean one thing in one section of the code, and another in a different section of the code. The definition section of the statutes would control.

            For example, the NY DMV Q&A specifically equates driving with operating.


            New York prohibits all drivers from using portable electronic devices.

            In the case you cite, the issue was that the company (which cannot physically drive as it lacks arms, legs, etc.) exercised “exclusive control … over the choice of routes and location of its stops

          4. The underlying issue in the aforementioned case was that a license (or precisely, a “franchise”) was purportedly required by state law in order to operate a bus service. The brokerage company accused of violating the law arranged for the provision of charter bus service from a charter bus company. It was the charter bus company that physically operated the buses (i.e., employees of the charter bus company). Yet, even though the brokerage company accused did not physically operate the buses, the court found that it had sufficient direction and control over the buses so that it found the brokerage company to be the “operator.”

            Here, it is suggested that a person may be liable for one of the responsibilities of a motor vehicle operator (i.e., not using the telephone while operating a motor vehicle), even if the person is not physically operating a motor vehicle at the time.

            Thus, the aforementioned case may stand for the proposition that one need not be physically operating a motor vehicle, yet still be charged with the responsibilities of being its operator.

          5. Yes, I read the case, but none of that is relevant. That’s not how you interpret statutes.

            The legal point is that the term operator has different meanings in different context. In the cell phone case operator = driver, a natural person.

            In the context of the cited case and presumably the related statutes, the operator means the entity who directs and controls the operation of the vehicle that is used in a business (e.g. owner, licensee, etc.)

            At the beginning of a section of codes, there is often a definition page which defines the terms such as operator for that code section. That definition has no meaning for other sections.

            Consider. In the cell phone case, the operator is a natural person. In the cited case, the operator can be a corporation. Clearly, its not the same definition.

          6. I think you may be getting hung up on an agency principle, that is not really relevant, rather the distinction between the two separate companies involved. Yes, only a natural person can do a physical act, but a non-natural person can act through its employees. And it was an employee of the charter bus company–not the accused brokerage company–that was driving the bus. Yet, the court held the brokerage company liable for the operation of the bus, not the charter bus company whose employee was doing the driving.

            In both the cited case and in the hypothesized circumstance in which a “motorist” who is not operating a motor vehicle at the time, neither “person” is actually “operating,” yet both are assigned the duties of an operator.

          7. Respectfully no.

            Your interpretation is strained. Agency is irrelevant. Let’s make sure we are talking about the same thing.

            You posit that the statute could be used to prevent a passenger from cell phone usage. I strongly disagree that that is even a reasonable interpretation.

            As I understand your argument, a non-driver can be considered an operator of the vehicle and thus potentially responsible. I agree with that position in some circumstances but not this one.

            Once again, the term operator in the cell phone statute is interpreted by NY as meaning driver, and thus only the driver can be cited, unless another statute authorizes someone else.

            As interpreted by DMV…

            What are the penalties for cell phone use, texting or sending email while you operate a vehicle in New York State?

            Under New York State law you cannot use a hand-held mobile telephone or send a text or an email while you drive. If you use a hand-held mobile telephone while you drive…

            For purposes of cell phone usage, New York equates operating a motor vehicle only with drivers. Operating a motor vehicle has other meanings in other contexts, but is limited to drivers when discussing proscribed cell phone behavior.

          8. I agree that only persons operating a motor vehicle should be held liable for the responsibilities of a motor vehicle operator. I believe that the court strained the plain and ordinary meaning of the word “operator” in the cited case, and instead of holding the charter bus company (the company actually operating the buses) liable for not possessing a license, it held an innocent non-driving third party liable. Any transportation lawyer can see through the court’s irrational decision-making (especially laughable is the court’s analysis of 49 U.S.C. § 14501(b)(1), making reference to a “broker for a freight forwarder,” a non-existent term that is sheer nonsense and gibberish, and relied upon only to support a predetermined decision). I believe that in enforcing a cellular telephone ban against a non-driving person is also wrong as a matter of law. But that would not stop a New York action against such a person.

            The problem is that New York is not a state driven by law. It is driven by men, who want to reward and punish people based on the needs and politics of the situation. Your error is reliance on reasoning to reach conclusions. If an elected official wants to “crack down,” the government will go after cell telephone users, regardless of whether or not it is within a reasonable interpretation of the law. And courts will oftentimes follow, straining any reasonable interpretation of the law as actually written to reach the desired outcome. Administrative interpretations and regulations are used only when convenient; Accarrdi v. Shaugnessy, 347 U.S. 260 (1954), is meaningless. It is the ultimate frustration when courts are not blind.

          1. I don’t drive at all, and the only time I travel in an automobile is as a passenger. What happens when the driver stops to take a bathroom break, and I am alone in the automobile? My interest is avoiding the receipt of a traffic citation in the absence of driving or having a license to do so. But, to the extent that I might have a defense in neither driving nor possessing a license to do so, it seems to me that a person who is a driver, or does have have a license to drive, should also be able to use the same defense when not actually driving a motor vehicle.

            (Imagine the same situation with passengers in a bus. The bus driver goes inside the agency station to use the bathroom or otherwise. The motor is still running to run the heating or air conditioning. Are the passengers on board prohibited from using a telephone in a bus?)

            The statute, as I am understanding it, does not seem rational to me.

        1. In fairness, its actually two different concepts.

          Careless/reckless driving becomes a judgment call. Whereas a prohibition or a restriction on a certain activity becomes an objective standard. Its the same reason why reckless driving laws are insufficient to cover say drunk driving. An objective standard is required to give clarity to notice to the driving public that a certain behavior is unacceptable.

      2. Agreed. “Distracted Driving” is what I’ve seen as a way to be more inclusive beyond cell phones.

      3. My 6 of 10 number came from my very randomly unscientific habit at stoplights of counting the cars turning left in front of me or passing me that have drivers on the phone. I, too was pretty astounded at the number, and maybe it’s the time of day, maybe it’s just coincidence,maybe none of them were having extended conversations, who knows? And actually our law here isn’t just against cell phones; those are just the main ones in the electronic device category that get focused on. For minors it’s a primary offense, while for adults it’s a secondary offense, which means that nobody really takes it seriously, unfortunately..

      4. I once had a nice lady who was putting on mascara while on her cell phone hit me head on in a turning lane (I was in turning lane) and didn’t even know what she did until the police found her car in the shopping center right across from the scene of the accident and pointed out the huge dent in the front left side of her car.

    2. Most of the time I listen to books, but I often talk with people I work with about… Well, work. It is easier than discussing work (I work at home so I am not at the office to have these conversations) at home with a three year old who wants all my attention. Just because you think people have inane conversations doesn’t mean they always do. And how is me talking on a Bluetooth hands free phone different than talking to a passenger?

      1. Actually, the examples of inane convos I gave were those I can hear… taking place all around me at the nail salon,mall, I extrapolated those.But, I’d be willing to bet very large sums of money that the vast majority of calls taking place in the car aren’t of such importance they can’t wait until the person is no longer driving… possibly excepting those directly related to driving such as asking for directions, etc.. As for the Bluetooth, I have no idea how loudly YOU talk, but have you been out in public lately? People on Bluetooth and cell phones just seem to feel the need to talk more loudly than they do to people who are near them. Maybe some sort of “CAN YOU HEAR ME” mindset from the early days of cell phones, who knows. Perhaps all of your conversations are critical to have while driving in traffic and conducted in well modulated tones. Sadly not everyone’s are.

        1. Mostly I can ignore them. It just doesn’t really bother me. I don’t know… I don’t think it’s that bad out here. Or maybe we all do it in Cali so we are used to it.

  12. Am I allowed to talk to my wife in the seat beside me? Clearly I am. So what’s the difference between talking to her in the seat beside me and talking to her on a cell phone? Maybe the audio voyeurs are just unhappy because they can’t hear the other side of the conversation.

    1. If the volume and length of the conversations were equal, I would agree. But for some reason, callers tend to talk louder and longer.

      Was on a bus once from O’Hare to Rockford and a passenger in front of us talked quietly but non-stop on the cell. Even at a low volume it was excessive.

      1. And was the volume MORE than it would have been if the person was talking to a seat mate? I doubt it. I think people are pissy about it just because it’s a phone conversation and for no other reason. I can still have a conversation at the same volume, so why do you then care?

        1. I care because it is disruptive, whether or not the conversation is live or on a phone. Short, infrequent conversations at a relatively low volume are fine I think.

          In the case of an aircraft, two factors exacerbate this issue: the closer proximity of others, and the lack of ambient sounds. Consider, for example, a restaurant where background music usually plays and there is, by nature, a lot of conversation. Unless a person or group is excessively loud, their conversation doesn’t stand out as much as on an aircraft or in a public meeting.

          Once again, my observation has been that callers tend to talk longer and louder. On an aircraft where I can’t create space between a caller and me, it’s going to be very disruptive, And I rarely encounter passengers who chat (in person) loud enough or long enough to be an issue.

    2. I think you’re right. There is no necessary difference between speaking to a seatmate and speaking into a telephone (yes, there may be tendency for some people to speak louder in one case than the other, but such is not necessary . . . it is choice). I think some people don’t like hearing only half a conversation. Imagine taking the situation to the extreme: it is O.K. for a person to speak to a seatmate, it is O.K. for a person to speak to themselves, but should a telephone microphone pick up that person’s speech, then that very same speech (same volume, same content) becomes outlawed?

      1. One article…

        So why do people with normal speaking volumes yell into their cell
        phones? It’s a pretty simple explanation, actually. Household
        telephones, or landlines, have a microphone in the receiver that
        amplifies your voice into the ear piece. When you talk into a landline,
        your voice is captured and replayed through the ear piece, so you hear
        your own voice loud and clear.

        It’s very similar to how a radio DJ wears headphones, then speaks
        into a microphone and hears his own voice in the headphones. With cell
        phones, your own voice is not amplified into the earpiece, so the only
        sound you hear is from your mouth.

        Seem like this wouldn’t be a huge difference, but the volume level of
        words coming from your mouth through the air and into your ear is a
        pretty big difference from sounds coming from a phone speaker that’s
        pressed directly against your ear.

        Cell phones are very common in society, but relatively speaking,
        they’re still pretty new. Unless you’re a teenager, you probably grew up
        in a time when household phones were the norm, and therefore you are
        subconsciously trained to act as though every phone operates like a
        household phone. So it’s no surprise that when most of us made the
        switch from landlines to cell phones, we carried over a bunch of our

        Now we hear our own voice as much softer while speaking into our cell phones and the natural reaction is to speak up.

        1. I don’t know if the invention is out there, but I think this would be a great way to deal with crying babies or to train loud talkers. Put a bluetooth headset on them with a mic and write a program to generate a feedback loop. Adjust the loop to progressively amplify feedback above a preset threshold (the louder they yell, the MORE it’s amplified).

    3. Clearly you’ve never sat beside someone yakking on a cell phone or you would know the difference. It is almost always at a louder volume and almost always longer.

      1. Yet it is unnecessary to speak into a cell phone at an increased volume. This is a dying habit left over from older landline phones which did not adequately amplify the audio. I can hold a quiet conversation on a cell phone and the level would be the same as an in-person conversation.

    4. I’ve read that studies (by whom I don’t know) show that we are truly more distracted by people on cell phones. Apparently the natural conversation with a back and forth, we tend to intake the rhythm and can tune it out. Without the other half we find it almost impossible to tune out the single speaker.

  13. After listening to the woman behind me talk in a loud voice to her seatmate about how important her USDA job is while being totally oblivious that she was keeping everyone around her awake on this morning’s red-eye flight, I’d pay more for a quiet airplane.

  14. “the interior of a commercial aircraft is a noisy place, with sustained sound levels of anywhere between 60 and 70 decibels, or about twice as loud as the average library.”

    Looks like time for a basic lesson in decibels and sound level. First, the average sound level for an airplane in flight has been measured at 75-80 decibels ( The sound level in a library is about 40 db ( The decibel scale is logarithmic, not linear, 80db is not twice as loud as 40db, it’s 100 times as loud! Based on these numbers, the interior of an airplane is 56-100 times as loud as a library. It is, in fact, about twice as loud as a normal conversation.

  15. Unless they are the satellite type, would cell phones be able to pick up a signal on an airplane anyway? In any case, airplanes may be the last place in the world where we can be free from cell phone chatter and I appreciate that. I used to travel by train a lot, in the Quiet Car, and people who violated the Quiet Car rules pissed me off to no end, then they couldn’t understand when I got upset about it. I couldn’t understand why they had to violate the Quiet Car rules when there were at least SIX MORE CARS where they can blather away (on cell phones or to each other) to their hearts’ delight!

    1. Doesn’t matter where you go or what your doing there’s always a person that the rules will not apply to because they are THAT important or just oblivious to them because they are to engulfed in their electronics to read or listen to the rules being given to them.

      This is the world we live in.

      1. Yes, that’s the truth. As a side note, I voted Yes on this poll, but have no idea how such a legal right would be easily enforced.

  16. From the beginning of commercial airlines until fairly recently (with the exception of the seat back telephones), one could not make phone calls on commercial airplanes and waited until they reached their destination to return calls and everyone survived just fine. What constitutes a need to use phones on planes is a bit exaggerated. It can wait, people.

    1. Everyone survived just fine before there were airplanes at all. Therefore we should ban airplanes. Because the criterion for allowing something is whether we can survive without it. QED

  17. The only guaranteed way to get some peace and quiet while travelling is to emulate the French. Keep your voice soft and low in all public places. Until you’ve experienced it, you can’t imagine how blissful it is to appear at breakfast at a decent French hotel and hear the murmuring. No amount of legislation or rules can keep people quiet, they need to do that themselves. I have little hope for Americans, the morons are getting louder.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: