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A Call to Action
December 15, 2011 12:32 PM   Subscribe

After investigating a tragic crash involving two school buses and a third passenger vehicle in Missouri last year the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended this week that state and local governments ban all forms of cellphone communication while driving, including texting and talking using handsfree devices.

In reviewing the accident the NTSB discovered that the 19-year-old driver of the pickup truck causing the crash sent or received 11 texts in the 11 minutes immediately prior to impact. The ensuing crash killed the driver of the pickup and a 15-year-old student, 38 others were injured. The students were members of the highschool band on a school trip to Six Flags amusement park in St. Louis, Missouri.

This comes just a week after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration unveiled a new measure for "distraction-affected" fatalities, showing an estimated 3,092 fatalities in distraction-affected crashes in 2010. This measure is now distinct from alcohol- or drug-impaired driving crashes. The NTSB cannot directly institute a federal ban, but it's recommendations are highly influential:
The independent NTSB has neither the legislative muscle of Congress nor the regulatory power of the White House, but as the nation’s leading federal safety advocate its recommendations carry weight in both places. Its recommendations also provide political cover if Congress or the administration wants to take on the powerful cellphone industry lobby and an American public addicted to cellphones and other forms of electronic communication.

It would be up to state legislatures, which already have banned text messaging while driving in 35 states and the District, to decide whether cellphone use should be illegal. But in the past, Congress has not been shy about leveraging its control of the federal purse strings to bring states in line on issues such as seat belts and the legal drinking age.

“The NTSB recommendation may be a game-changer,” said Jonathan Adkins, spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association. “States aren’t ready to support a total ban yet, but this may start the discussion.”
Streetsblog notes that Missouri already had a state ban on texting while driving at the time of the deadly crash, and that despite state bans and awareness campaigns reports of texting while driving are up 50% over the past year. A recent Washington Post survey found that 88 percent of drivers recognized the dangers of using electronic devices while driving, but a third did so anyway.
posted by 2bucksplus (131 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
The specific text of the published recommendations:
To the 50 states and the District of Columbia:

(1) Ban the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices (other than those designed to support the driving task) for all drivers; (2) use the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration model of high visibility enforcement to support these bans; and (3) implement targeted communication campaigns to inform motorists of the new law and enforcement, and to warn them of the dangers associated with the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices while driving.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:35 PM on December 15, 2011


I recommend they also ban driving with children, driving with radios, and driving with climate controls.
posted by entropicamericana at 12:36 PM on December 15, 2011 [11 favorites]


U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended this week that state and local governments ban all forms of cellphone communication while driving, including texting and talking using handsfree devices.

Everybody that I'm familiar with knows that talking or texting while driving is dangerous. Everybody knows that they shouldn't do it.

Everybody does it anyway, including myself on occasion.

Despite agreeing that nobody should text or talk while driving, everybody that I know, Democrat or Republican, believes that anti-text and anti-talk laws are onerous infringements on their liberty and actively vote against politicians who support such laws.

It may be that talking while driving is basically going to have the same status in the larger culture that barebacking has in gay culture: We know it's wrong, we know it's dangerous, we know it could kill us, but we'll be damned if we let you tell us how to live.

This is really going to be a minefield.
posted by Avenger at 12:38 PM on December 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


They better ban eating while driving and putting on makeup while driving as well
posted by donovan at 12:38 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I recommend they also ban driving with children, driving with radios, and driving with climate controls.
And driving and eating, and driving and conversing with passengers, and driving in the rain, and driving after dark.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 12:39 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Would a national ban on cellphones while driving make us safer? Probably not.
posted by T.D. Strange at 12:42 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


To be clear, I recognize traditional texting, browsing, emailing while driving is dangerous. On the other hand, I do not see how, say, using Siri via a Bluetooth earpiece to text my wife I'm running late would be any more dangerous than conversing with a passenger.

I'd also like to point out that if we all had good public transit, we could fart away on our phones to our heart's conent, and the only danger we would face would be missing our stop.
posted by entropicamericana at 12:42 PM on December 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Americans in 2011 feel the same way about texting and driving that 1960s Americans felt about drinking and driving. Everyone knows that it's dangerous, but nobody really cares.
posted by atrazine at 12:44 PM on December 15, 2011 [41 favorites]


Ban the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices (other than those designed to support the driving task) for all drivers;

Can I look at my watch?
posted by Confess, Fletch at 12:45 PM on December 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


I recommend they also ban driving with children, driving with radios, and driving with climate controls. And driving and eating, and driving and conversing with passengers, and driving in the rain, and driving after dark.

These are probably credible equivalents to hands-free mobile calls. I don't know about texting or when you have to hold a phone in your hand.
posted by weston at 12:45 PM on December 15, 2011


If we had public transportation, we could stop fighting human nature on distractions and just ride trains and buses, reading, eating, testing, facebooking and putting on makeup, all without endangering anybody.
posted by toodleydoodley at 12:46 PM on December 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


To be clear, I recognize traditional texting, browsing, emailing while driving is dangerous. On the other hand, I do not see how, say, using Siri via a Bluetooth earpiece to text my wife I'm running late would be any more dangerous than conversing with a passenger.

I'd also like to point out that if we all had good public transit, we could fart away on our phones to our heart's conent, and the only danger we would face would be missing our stop.


Based on a Carnegie Mellon University study using MRI, just listening to a cellphone is as likely to impair driving as being legally intoxicated.
Just and his colleagues showed that simply listening to a cell phone while driving can cause drivers to commit errors as if they were under the influence of alcohol. New findings by Carnegie Mellon researchers show making the devices hands-free or voice-activated is not sufficient in eliminating these distractions.

"Drivers need to keep not only their hands on the wheel, they also have to keep their brains on the road," said Just, director of Carnegie Mellon's Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging and author of the report.
http://www.cmu.edu/homepage/health/2009/winter/just-drive.shtml
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:47 PM on December 15, 2011 [27 favorites]


This is a bit draconian. Hands-free devices should be allowed. But we need to address how much slower surface traffic has become since the rise of the smartphone.

If you're 10 seconds late off the traffic light because you were staring at your phone, cops (or other drivers) should be allowed to haul you out of your car and break your skull.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:47 PM on December 15, 2011 [13 favorites]


I think this hold on I gotta switch lanes...

sucks
posted by hal9k at 12:47 PM on December 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


To be clear, I recognize traditional texting, browsing, emailing while driving is dangerous. On the other hand, I do not see how, say, using Siri via a Bluetooth earpiece to text my wife I'm running late would be any more dangerous than conversing with a passenger.

There's actually some research that shows a difference in the danger. I've also heard it suggested that when you talk to someone who is not there, a part of your brain involuntarily imagines w the person that you're talking to, but I can't find a cite for that right now.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:48 PM on December 15, 2011 [8 favorites]


I live in a state where texting and talking (w/o hand free) is illegal. But I see people (including the cops) with their phones on their ears all the time. On Reddit the other day someone snapped a photo of a guy on driving while on the phone and he had a bumper sticker that said "put down the phone and drive." To that driver, he thought it was the other idiots on the road that couldn't be counted on to drive and talk, but he was OK. (Redditors were quick to bring up driving and taking photos isn't safe either). "

Emergency use" is highly subjective to the general public as seen in the news stories about people calling 911 because McDonalds was out of french fries. So to some they'll use the phone while driving to find out where the party is or if Bob wants pickles on his sub sandwich.

The real problem is drivers getting distracted but that's harder to enforce than seeing someone on the phone. I've seen people driving and putting on makeup, shaving, reading the paper and a bunch of other shit. The person that hit me in my accident was eating a bowl of food when he realized that everyone on the freeway but him was coming to a complete stop.

Although the carriers and handset manufactures seem to be OK with supporting the handsfree and don't text and drive initiatives. I think their lobbyist would try to kill some sort of national band. And with newer cars with bluetooth connectivity for phones and things like Microsoft Sync. There will be a lot of money behind keeping the status quo. At the most, just more PSAs and messages on the traffic alert signs on the weekend that remind people not to do it.
posted by birdherder at 12:50 PM on December 15, 2011


They should also ban attractive people from walking in the street, becuase that's how I got into an accident once.

Seriously.

I blamed it on the sun glare.

My car was more damaged than the other guys but boy was that embarassing.
posted by bitteroldman at 12:51 PM on December 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


It seems odd that they would use a particularly egregious case of texting while driving to support their call for a global ban on cellphones. It would support their case better if they could point to a horrible accident that occurred while the driver was using a hands free device.

Although the laws banning cellphones may be ineffective as citied by T.D. Strange, they could play a role in assigning liability when accidents do happen, which in turn might eventually cause people to use cellphones less.

For what its worth, a ban on texting makes sense to me, but the measures they are suggesting sound like overkill.
posted by TedW at 12:52 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


The texting ban recently went into effect in Massachusetts, and one of the arguments against the ban was that people would simply put the phones in their laps (where the cops can't see them) instead of holding them up against the steering wheel, which would make the situation even worse.

One thing that I've noticed using my own phone while walking down the street is that, after I've hung up, I could not tell you exactly how I got from point A to point B or any events that may have happened along the way. It's like a form of blindsight or something - pick up the phone and my sensation of the external world just shuts off until I put the damned thing back in my pocket.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:52 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Diane Rehm did an hour on this recommendation today. One of her guests was deeply, deeply invested in the whole "our liberties are being flushed down the toilet" level of argument. Good lord...It was like he thought he was being ordered to burn bags of kittens alive or something. Wayyy over the top.

It's a recommendation.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:54 PM on December 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


I love the attitude that since a ban on one distracting behavior wouldn't stop all other distracting factors then fuck it.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 12:55 PM on December 15, 2011 [43 favorites]


New findings by Carnegie Mellon researchers show making the devices hands-free or voice-activated is not sufficient in eliminating these distractions.

I'm not sure I buy this, particularly if the study is based on brain imaging. I'd also be curious to see how it compares to having passengers.

I'm definitely skeptical, though, of the idea that it isn't better than having to manipulate something with your hands. And I think that a blanket ban will stop adoption of hands-free, and people will flout it anyway.
posted by weston at 12:59 PM on December 15, 2011


One thing that I've noticed using my own phone while walking down the street is that, after I've hung up, I could not tell you exactly how I got from point A to point B or any events that may have happened along the way.

backseatpilot, you may have read the years-ago article in the Globe Sunday magazine by Anita Diamant that was about books on tape. In it, she related how she drove out to Springfield while listening to a book, and when she got there, she didn't remember any of the previous fifty miles of driving. She didn't seem to think there was anything wrong with that. Me? Well, I still remember reading it, and am still taken aback by it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:00 PM on December 15, 2011


I think this is a good recommendation, people SHOULD put the phone down when they drive. (They should also come to a full stop at stop signs and use their turn signals to indicate upcoming turns)

now git offa mah lawn....
posted by djseafood at 1:01 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


they could play a role in assigning liability when accidents do happen, which in turn might eventually cause people to use cellphones less.

This is probably how it will play out. At minimum, if I were an insurer, I'd be looking at clauses requiring analysis of phone records for certain classes of accident & the threat of nonpayment of damages for any accident where phone usage "may" have contributed.
posted by aramaic at 1:02 PM on December 15, 2011


> Diane Rehm did an hour on this recommendation today. One of her guests was deeply, deeply invested in the whole "our liberties are being flushed down the toilet" level of argument.

I heard that also. That guy works for a conservative think tank that probably loves Grover Norquist. It was edifying to hear his frenzied tone being met with level headed rebuttal.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:03 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hands-free does not eliminate the main problem with talking on a cellphone: the mental distraction. It's vastly different talking on a phone versus talking to a passenger. Obviously there's still potential for dangerous distraction while talking to a passenger, but talking on the phone involves expectations that, for example, you are always listening closely and will respond quickly. The level of concentration involved with a phone conversation is hugely different from talking to a passenger.

Bluetooth earpiece

You really shouldn't have any kind of headphone or earpierce on while driving.
posted by kmz at 1:04 PM on December 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


Distracted driving has been illegal up here (Ontario) for a few years now. Includes eating while driving.

You'll live, Missouri. And, more importantly, you'll live.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:04 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


On the other hand, I do not see how, say, using Siri via a Bluetooth earpiece to text my wife I'm running late would be any more dangerous than conversing with a passenger.

I don't know about you, but when I'm in a conversation with a passenger, I never have to look to make sure they correctly transcribed what I said.
posted by The World Famous at 1:04 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Good. People who use the phone while driving should be jailed. If they don't understand why, then they should be jailed for twice as long.

They better ban eating while driving and putting on makeup while driving as well
posted by donovan at 8:38 PM on December 15


Yes, they ought to do those things too.
posted by Decani at 1:05 PM on December 15, 2011 [9 favorites]


Good. People who use the phone while driving should be jailed. If they don't understand why, then they should be jailed for twice as long.

QFT
posted by oulipian at 1:06 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm an American, and I'm not going to let some big government bureaucrat tell me I can't text my friend Randy while I'm driving, that I can't serve customers with my unwashed hands covered in piss and shit, and that I can't smoke in a hospital.

My rights are being trampled.
posted by weinbot at 1:06 PM on December 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


Despite agreeing that nobody should text or talk while driving, everybody that I know, Democrat or Republican, believes that anti-text and anti-talk laws are onerous infringements on their liberty and actively vote against politicians who support such laws

Apparently everyone you know really needs to take a deep breath and rethink their priorities.
posted by schoolgirl report at 1:06 PM on December 15, 2011 [14 favorites]


I think texting while driving is incredibly stupid because it's so fiddly, and talking on the phone while driving is probably foolish because IME when one is on the phone in a car one is paying a LOT of attention to the call - whereas when chatting with a passenger one can check out of the conversation and just m-hm a bit if the driving is tricky; also, a passenger usually has the wit to shut up when they can see that the traffic has just gotten dangerous.

I'm worried about how this ban would be enforced, though. Historically fiddly laws have been used to target poor people and minorities rather than address the problem - that's one reason that bike helmet laws are not usually recommended any more.

But then, I text very little.

Perhaps mefites can say whether they found that UK anti-texting scared-straight film Cow horrible and wrenching like I did or whether I'm just labile and emotionally immature.
posted by Frowner at 1:06 PM on December 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


By the way, I am a train driver. We can be sacked for even having our mobiles switched on whilst in the cab. That's the way to fucking do it. Anyone who doesn't get this has a brain that doesn't work very well.
posted by Decani at 1:07 PM on December 15, 2011 [18 favorites]


It has been clearly shown in driving human factors studies that handsfree talking is just as cognitively impairing as regular cellphones. Talking with passengers is not as bad, possibly because they are a second pair of eyes scanning the road, they shut up when danger looms, and because your brain doesn't have to simulate their emotional state as intensively.

Distracted driving is homicidally negligent. At least barebacking you know who you're fucking.
posted by anthill at 1:07 PM on December 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


3,092 fatalities in distraction-affected crashes in 2010

Basically we September 11th ourselves every year out of boredom.
posted by hermitosis at 1:08 PM on December 15, 2011 [18 favorites]


Apparently everyone you know really needs to take a deep breath and rethink their priorities.
posted by schoolgirl report at 1:06 PM on December 15 [+] [!]


Oh, I agree completely.
posted by Avenger at 1:08 PM on December 15, 2011


By the way, I am a train driver.

Just in case you're wondering - and I know you're not - I just awarded you one million cool points in my big book of awesome people I've never met in real life.
posted by The World Famous at 1:09 PM on December 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


I am calling this tyranny because I have no fucking perspective whatsoever and I have no interest in ever gaining any.
posted by weinbot at 1:10 PM on December 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wish I could suggest a great solution, but I can add this: here in my part of Canada a ban on (non hands-free) phone use while driving has often meant people now simply do it furtively. As in, they're *more* distracted as they glance down into their lap, quickly glance up, look around nervously, glance down, glance up, WHAM.
posted by Pathos Bill at 1:11 PM on December 15, 2011


For anyone who is curious: CBC's Map of Cellphone Bans in Canada
posted by oulipian at 1:13 PM on December 15, 2011


also, a passenger usually has the wit to shut up when they can see that the traffic has just gotten dangerous.

This, a thousand times. The passenger is watching the same scene you are and will unconsciously adjust the conversation to that scene. Bob from accounting will scream about how he's going to kill you over your expense report while you're being sideswiped by a truck because he can't see the truck.

I don't know why this concept is difficult to grasp, it seems intuitively obvious to me. Even with a hands free device I can easily tell that the distraction level is much higher when the person you are talking to is not in the car with you.
posted by dragstroke at 1:13 PM on December 15, 2011 [8 favorites]


I've tried texting and driving, and I've done my fair share of driving while substantially over the legal limit of intoxication, not to mention whatever other shit was coursing through my system at the time (something I'm not proud of).

I'm 30 and have never been involved in a car crash or gotten anything more than a speeding ticket. I've been incredibly lucky.

I can say from experience that texting while driving is way way more dangerous than having 5 beers and getting behind the wheel. Yet, our society absolutely DEMONIZES as horrible evil monsters anyone who has ever made the mistake and driven while intoxicated. And here we're (America) is having the equivalent of a debate over whether the ticket for texting while driving be a $100 ticket or a $200 one (versus the $5,000 in lawyer fees and jail time associated with DWI.) Has anyone ever suggested jail time for habitual "texters" + revoking cell phone privileges (antabuse) + loss of license? Just thought it was worth pointing this out. I'm not trying to normalize anything here.
posted by gagglezoomer at 1:13 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Basically we September 11th ourselves every year out of boredom.

I was thinking of using something similar as the title but didn't want to poison my own thread out the gate. Stunning statistic.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:14 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Okay, I'm going to leave aside the entire question of what kind of conversation is safe while driving. The guy you're basing this recommendation was texting while driving in a state where texting while driving is illegal. Judging from the states I've been in that have similar laws, there were extensive PR campaigns, including roadside signs and ads on radio and TV to inform drivers of both the ban and the reason behind it.

And then he decided “fuck it, I've got texts to send” anyway.

So why on earth do you think a new ban would solve anything?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:16 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


So why on earth do you think a new ban would solve anything?

By that logic you might as well legalize murder, since murderers don't obey the laws anyway.
posted by oulipian at 1:18 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


People comparing texting/cell phone talking with eating, radio, children, night driving etc, of course other things can be distractions too, but they are not all equivalent.

Carrying on a voice conversation with someone not present in the vehicle is definitely more dangerous than with a passenger. A passenger can observe the road situation with you, and assist you in moderating the discussion. The other party's ongoing awareness of the source of your distraction will lead them to alter their end in small ways that complement your effort to multi-task.

Without that dynamic, there is an added stress on the driving speaker due to the pressure of the other party waiting on his words. It only takes a fraction of a second of delay in dialog to signal to the other party various things from distraction to calculation to disinterest to affront. Managing a conversation involves using pace as well as words to communicate thoughts, and the speaker is always vigilant to make sure they're not misunderstood. A speaker who introduces a pause on non-sequitur due to attention required by the road will then invest additional resources to analyze and repair the conversation. This is an imperative with emotional weight, strong and mostly unconscious. It's not realistic to suggest that one can override it so as to always prioritize the road over a conversation whose other party is oblivious to the unseen pacing requirements of your other task.

Texting and emailing don't have the same pacing dynamic—though they can come close, when the expectation of a very quick response has been cultivated between the correspondents. But the composing of written text does impose a different sort of potent distractor. There is a strong disinclination to leaving a word or phrase half written to divert attention to another activity. The arrangement of words on a page demands a relatively high degree of concentration and memory, and the mind is reluctant to let itself get derailed at an awkward point. The ramification of this for driving should be pretty obvious.
posted by maniabug at 1:19 PM on December 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


So why on earth do you think a new ban would solve anything?

Once there's a legal ban, you can start with gov't-funded PSAs. People today still drink and drive. You read about it all the time. It's horrible. But the casual attitudes about it and the commonplaceness of drunk driving has gone down drastically in the last handful of decades.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:19 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Come ON people, it has been clearly demonstrated over and over and OVER that cell phone usage is DISTINCTLY more distracting and dangerous than just about anything else you can do in a car. Talking on the phone is NOT the same as adjusting your fan or singing along to the radio.

I very often hear those 'oh it's just like the radio and the AC and talking to someone next to you' arguments from the same folks who believe that THEY are the rare elite who know how to 'properly' maintain a phone conversation while driving and not have their ability suffer for it.

***NEWS FLASH***
THERE IS NO RARE ELITE, USING THE PHONE WHILE DRIVING JUST MAKES YOU A DANGEROUS ASSHOLE
posted by FatherDagon at 1:20 PM on December 15, 2011 [36 favorites]


The ban is one part of the three pronged approach. Reproduced for clarity:

1. Bans in all states
2. Target media campaign to spread the word, and
3. High profile enforcement of the ban
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:20 PM on December 15, 2011


The core problem is that driving is incredibly boring and mundane while at the same time being incredibly dangerous. Most people don't care about these kinds of laws because 99% of the time being distracted by driving has no effect on anything. It's the events that happen maybe once per year for a person who drives every day that actually require the driver to be paying close attention and make a split-second reaction. That's the same reason cars feel safe enough that someone would feel silly wearing a helmet and strapping into a six-point harness, even though they could be involved in a possibly fatal crash at any time.

Personally I don't know why more resources aren't being spent on automating driving to cut the human factor out of the loop. Especially for young people it's one of the main causes of death in the US, and laws like this can only really mitigate the issues that exist with humans being unreliable at operating a dangerous vehicle. The AI isn't there to do it with the existing infrastructure right now, but it seems like if we threw as much money at the problem now as we have in other huge infrastructure challenges, we could get it done and save more lives than say curing breast cancer would.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:23 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


One thing that bugs me about this is that they are blaming the school bus crashes on the texting pickup truck driver.

A following driver has a legal duty to stay far enough back from the car in front of them that they can avoid any accidents that might come in their path. The school busses were both following to close to avoid colliding with the texting driver when he got into an accident due to his own idiocy.

So, according to the rules of the road, this guy's accident with the truck was his fault, and the other stuff was the school bus drivers' faults.

Does this matter, I don't know, I just hate seeing the facts twisted to further an agenda, whatever that agenda is.
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 1:24 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


How the fuck is there still 15 states where texting while driving is legal? WTF? Speaking of WTF, Marc Maron has a good bit on texting while driving being more dangerous than drunk driving: when you are drunk driving at least someone is driving the car but while you are texting NO ONE is driving the car.
posted by any major dude at 1:25 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would support this ban if the fines were progressive (in fact, all traffic fines should be progressive) and the proceeds were used to help fund public transit and new urbanist policies.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:27 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


This seems pretty logical to me, although I'm not surprised that there are others who don't see it as an obviously good move. It's a rampant form of reckless driving that won't stop until law, enforcement and awareness change our attitude towards it. Hopefully in a decade or so, we will be looking back on this in the same way we look back on times when people complained seat belts interfered with their ability to drive or that drunk driving was a right.

And if you don't want someone taking away your rights telling you what you can't do when driving, then build a road on your own private property and only drive on that.
posted by snofoam at 1:29 PM on December 15, 2011


Personally I don't know why more resources aren't being spent on automating driving to cut the human factor out of the loop.

Spent by whom? Who, specifically, do you think has resources to spend on that and why do you think that those specific people would be wiser to spend those resources on that than on whatever they currently do?
posted by The World Famous at 1:30 PM on December 15, 2011


Ah, the cell phone driver. The driver who, on their phone, makes a turn w/o looking to see if there are pedestrians in the crosswalk.

I would like to fashion some especially degrading punishment for them. Let's bring the stocks back. You think I am joking. I am not.
posted by angrycat at 1:32 PM on December 15, 2011 [9 favorites]


One of her guests was deeply, deeply invested in the whole "our liberties are being flushed down the toilet" level of argument.

One doesn't really have a "liberty" to endanger the lives of others.
posted by Gelatin at 1:33 PM on December 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


Google does. I guess they figure if you not paying attention to the road, you'll be paying attention to more ads. Hopefully it turns out better than Android.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:33 PM on December 15, 2011


The other day, on the highway in San Francisco, I witnessed a woman who was driving with her knees because she was holding her hands-free adapter up to her face with one hand, while gesticulating wildly with the other.

Spent by whom? Who, specifically, do you think has resources to spend on that and why do you think that those specific people would be wiser to spend those resources on that than on whatever they currently do?

Seems like a good place for the auto insurance industry to throw some money.
posted by nomisxid at 1:34 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not everybody texts while driving. I have never once texted or dialed my cellphone while behind the wheel of car with the engine running. I've never even attempted to answer my phone behind the wheel of a car with the engine running, unless I was stopped at a stoplight at the time it rang. I know many people who don't have phones which a texting capability, so those people (clearly) have never texted while driving. I cannot possibly be the only human being who ignores her cellphone while driving. Especially since I know there are people who just ignore their cellphone sometimes for no good reason. I am reasonably sure are well that there are, actually, some people who do very little except pay attention to the road while driving. I am increasingly of the opinion that those people--who just drive and nothing else while driving--are morally superior, at least as far as driving is concerned.

I think it's a frightening attitude that "everyone does this demonstrably dangerous thing which can hurt innocent actors, so we shouldn't rail against it" or "everyone does this demonstrably dangerous thing which can hurt innocent actors, so we should tolerate it".

I personally think we should demonize the fuck out of people who text while driving. I think if you're cited for it twice, you should lose your license for a good goddamn long time. Even so, banning texting while driving won't stop assholes from doing it, any more than banning right turns while pedestrians are present stops assholes from doing it, any more than making it illegal to litter stops assholes from doing it. What it will do is enable the state to punish a driver for it, even without that driver seriously injuring or killing someone. The state won't have to shoehorn the case into existing reckless driving statute. (or the plaintiff's attorney won't have to wrangle it into an applicable tort). It will create an appropriate framework for changing the attitude that "everyone does it, so I can."

Or, you know, what shakes said.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:35 PM on December 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


Hopefully it turns out better than Android.

Old Faithful.
posted by kmz at 1:35 PM on December 15, 2011


Seems like a good place for the auto insurance industry to throw some money.

Why?
posted by The World Famous at 1:36 PM on December 15, 2011


Why?

Because that idiot who was looking down at his phone and totaled an SL550 from behind on San Tomas costs about the same as a voe from a congressperson. Duh.
posted by Talez at 1:41 PM on December 15, 2011


Distracted driving has been illegal up here (Ontario) for a few years now.

Anecdotally, among my circles, seeing a driver with a cell phone is increasingly as reviled as a drunk driver. Just as recognizable, it seems.

I like to give the chastizing finger-wag. More annoying than a ticket, apparently.

Before the ban, I was rear-ended in a parking lot by someone on the phone. Just a bumper bump, no big deal, but the infuriating part was that he refused to hang up the fucking phone. 'Hey, accident, whatever, I'm busy here.' Asshole.
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:41 PM on December 15, 2011


It blows my mind that anybody is not supporting a ban on this.
I'd moved to NYC ten years ago, and completely stopped driving. Let my license expire and all. Just a few months ago, I got my permit again, and have been driving quite a bit with my girlfriend in her car... mostly daytrips around the area.

It never occurred to me when I used to drive daily, but, holy shit! People are horrific dangerous assholes and if you successfully make it to your local grocery store you have basically cheated death. All of her friends upstate casually bring up their terrible car accidents, and all around me on the road, I see cars with countless dents on them. At night, on winding country roads, I get tailgated, honked at, and passed for going 10mph over the speed limit. How can people think that this is OK?

I personally knew four people who have been killed in accidents, two from drunks hitting them. The number probably goes into the dozens if I count friends-of-friends. I'm assuming everybody else out there has similar numbers. I seriously cannot fathom why people would not be 100% in on anything that makes cars safer.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 1:43 PM on December 15, 2011 [10 favorites]


Oh wait I followed the wrong series of comments in the thread. I'm a dolt.
posted by Talez at 1:44 PM on December 15, 2011


Because that idiot who was looking down at his phone and totaled an SL550 from behind on San Tomas costs about the same as a voe from a congressperson. Duh.

But driverless cars would not solve the insurance company's problem, since their business is making money off of the risk.
posted by The World Famous at 1:44 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


> I'd also like to point out that if we all had good public transit, we could fart away on our phones to our heart's conent, and the only danger we would face would be missing our stop.

Well, that and the dangerous gas build up so close to a powerful battery.


posted by mmrtnt at 1:44 PM on December 15, 2011


Personally I don't know why more resources aren't being spent on automating driving to cut the human factor out of the loop.

Spent by whom? Who, specifically, do you think has resources to spend on that and why do you think that those specific people would be wiser to spend those resources on that than on whatever they currently do?


Well I guess everyone collectively. Driving has been dangerous since cars have existed, and other than a few very obvious and cheap changes like safety belts, not a lot has been done to make driving a fundamentally safer activity. Banning cellphones is an attractive solution for governments because it costs nothing and brings in revenue via more tickets. But it doesn't seem like there is the popular support or political will to push for major expensive changes to how transportation works. Traffic accidents from human error is possible to eliminate in the same way that curing diseases or building the Internet is possible, but not a lot is being done to get there.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:46 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well I guess everyone collectively.

In that case, to answer the "I don't know why more resources aren't being spent" question would require analysis of every individual reason not to do so. My own personal reason for not spending more of my own resources on developing automated driving technology is that I have more important things to spend my money on and I already don't have enough money for those things. Where for-profit corporations are concerned, their reasons are likely primarily related to their own profit motives. If they see a way to advance their business interests by spending money on automated driving technology, they are incentivized to do so. If not, well, they won't. Government, like me, already has other things sucking its money away and not enough money to pay the bills.
posted by The World Famous at 1:54 PM on December 15, 2011


60-70% of the people I honk at, flip off, passive-aggressively speed to get in front of only to slow down to an annoying speed, or tailgate I find are texting or otherwise using their smartphones.
posted by NationalKato at 1:54 PM on December 15, 2011


Like crush-onastick, I never use my phone while driving. It's not an onerous infringement on my liberty. Before everyone had cellphones, if you were driving and needed to make a call, you pulled over and found a fucking payphone. It was not some horrible inconvenience. Now the payphones are all gone, but you conveniently have one in your car. Just pull over first.
posted by ambrosia at 1:57 PM on December 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


Hang on folks.

Self-driving cars are coming.

Once they replace significant numbers our current fleet of antiquated manual-drivers, things like this and Mad Mothers Against Drunks will be quaint reminders of less enlightened times.


posted by mmrtnt at 1:57 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I ride a motorcycle and rarely drive a car. I am in absolute support of laws and enforcement against driving distracted due to phones.
posted by bdc34 at 1:57 PM on December 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


It may be that talking while driving is basically going to have the same status in the larger culture that barebacking has in gay culture: We know it's wrong, we know it's dangerous, we know it could kill us, but we'll be damned if we let you tell us how to live.
I think you just figured out how to sell the ban to Republicans: text messaging while driving: it's pretty much the same as gay sex
posted by b1tr0t at 1:57 PM on December 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Self-driving cars are coming.

Self-shooting guns can't be far behind.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:03 PM on December 15, 2011


I don't see why any new regulations are needed to handle cell phone drivers. Reckless driving is already illegal everywhere. Driving while operating a cell phone is reckless driving (it's as dangerous as drunk driving).

Just start enforcing the law, there's no need to create a special class of infraction. It's as dangerous as DUI, so make the punishment exactly the same. Once everyone knows someone who's gone to jail for cellphone driving, it'll stop.
posted by mullingitover at 2:04 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Self-shooting guns can't be far behind.

Already here.
posted by Gelatin at 2:05 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hooray!
posted by Sys Rq at 2:06 PM on December 15, 2011


> One of her guests was deeply, deeply invested in the whole "our liberties are being flushed down the toilet" level of argument

I can't believe how many people will go to the wall to defend texting while driving. Give me convenience or give me death!
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:08 PM on December 15, 2011


I can't believe how many people will go to the wall to defend texting while driving. Give me convenience or give me death!

It actually worked out that way for the guy driving that pickup truck in Missouri.
posted by Gelatin at 2:11 PM on December 15, 2011


So why on earth do you think a new ban would solve anything?

By that logic you might as well legalize murder, since murderers don't obey the laws anyway.
posted by oulipian


This. I use this analogy every time somebody says that if you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns. Duh - that's a tautology. If you outlaw phone use while driving, then phone-users who drive become outlaws. They might do it anyway, but now they are breaking the law, so if they are caught they can be punished and held accountable.
posted by jetsetsc at 2:12 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


But driverless cars would not solve the insurance company's problem, since their business is making money off of the risk.

Even with the most perfect automatic car, there would still be bad weather, children running out into traffic, wheels falling off the truck in front of you, etc etc. There's still plenty of risk in leaving the home, for them to sell me some sort of coverage.
posted by nomisxid at 2:13 PM on December 15, 2011


Ban the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices (other than those designed to support the driving task) for all drivers;

The great majority of my fiddling with "portable electronic devices" while driving? GPS/Google Maps.
posted by Foosnark at 2:17 PM on December 15, 2011


The story I read yesterday said that the NTSB would exempt devices built in by the manufacturer (CNN).

This speaks volumes about the influence car manufacturers have in Washington. What makes it safer for me to use my Toyota Bluetooth device than one I stick in my ear?

At the very least, I still have to push some button to get the operation going. Since the Toyota voice commands are ah at best, I don't typically use it.

If you're really going to ban them, then ban them all. Seems the lobbyists are making the case for a double-standard here.
posted by johnn at 2:19 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


The best thing I've seen on my commute to work was the guy who was toodling along in the right lane - traffic was heavy, but moving - who was holding his Kindle in such a way that he could read and "drive" at the same time. I got away from him as quickly as I could.

I get it - driving the same route every day can be dead boring. I use the time to imagine the paintball guns and loudspeaker gadgets I could attach to my car that, at the push of a button, would allow me to paint-tag a tailgater or cause a voice to shout "Watch the road and not your phone you douchebag!"
posted by rtha at 2:20 PM on December 15, 2011


I heard the Diane Rehm show also this morning and every bullshit argument tossed against the wall by Horace Cooper was gently peeled off by the facts presented by the other guests.
posted by zzazazz at 2:21 PM on December 15, 2011


It used to be legal in Texas, even when I was a teenager, to drive with an open container of alcohol and have the driver kick back a cold one while driving. I remember the same kind of whinging when the open container law went into effect. We survived beer in the trunk and we'll survive turning off our cellphones. The only thing I'll really miss is the ability to use my phone for directions.

/had a car totalled in a four-car pileup in 1997 by a guy in a Bronco who slammed without braking into a line of vehicles stopped at a light because he was too busy yakking on his phone to pay attention to the traffic in front of him.
posted by immlass at 2:23 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


We know it's wrong, we know it's dangerous, we know it could kill us, but we'll be damned if we let you tell us how to live.

This is absurd. You do realize you could kill someone other than yourself, right? This is a ridiculously dangerous and irresponsible attitude.
posted by i. shishkin at 2:28 PM on December 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


One thing that really strikes me about this thread is that nobody's examining the crash that was the impetus for this decision. Sure the pickup driver had sent text messages in the time period prior to the crash, but the real cause of the deadliness of the crash was not the pickup driver, but the TWO bus drivers behind him that weren't giving sufficient following distance or enough due care and attention. The pickup driver rear-ended a truck, then he was rear ended in turn by two buses behind him. If the bus drivers were observing proper following distance and paying attention that should not have happened.

From the NTSB report:

“Had the driver of the following school bus maintained the recommended minimum distance from the lead school bus, she would have been able to avoid the accident."
posted by barc0001 at 2:34 PM on December 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


I commute 20 miles each way everyday to work and people driving while talking on phones are a nightmare. I have about 3 near-misses each way resulting from folks on phones.

When I'm a passenger and I see someone driving erratically because they're on the phone, which is illegal here, I wave my arms around like an idiot and yell, "Citizen's arrayest, Citizen's arrayest!!!1!!!" Ya, know like Gomer used to do to Barney Fife. People look at me like I'm a lunatic but usually put the phone down immediately.

I know I'm being silly when I do that, but it's really just a matter of common sense and courtesy to the drivers around you to NOT be a kook and endanger yourself and everyone around you by yapping about whatever it is one might be yapping about. Pull over or check messages later. Whatever is being yapped about isn't worth a human life or even a dog's.
posted by snsranch at 2:37 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't believe the government should take our freedoms away, but the safety problem with phone-driving is huge. So, to discourage it, I recommend mandating that cars include a built-in tamperproof device which broadcasts all cell phone conversations through a loudspeaker on the roof.
posted by miyabo at 2:40 PM on December 15, 2011


This is really similar to my point the other day about drivers vs. cyclists (and as burnmp3s points out above). The average driver can safely put his or her brain into autopilot for 99% of their driving. For 99% of the remainder, the "wake up" time (how long it takes to go from autopilot to focused) is quick enough to avoid an accident.

It's just not reasonable to expect people to stay constantly focused while they're driving, just to address that 0.01% risk. This is not a moral statement; it has nothing to do with whether people have any sort of ethical responsibility to pay attention while operating heavy machinery.

It's unreasonable because, ethics or no ethics, the human brain just doesn't handle "margin" events well. If an event occurs 1% of the time, it might as well occur 0% of the time as far as we're concerned (unless it just happened, in which case we treat it like it happens 50% of the time).

Certainly there are ways to mitigate that. Banning texting is, in my view, a much bigger achievement than the other restrictions being discussed, because when you're texting you don't even have the benefit of that "autopilot" awareness. Instead, you're switching focus back and forth between the road and your phone. Unfortunately, in much the same way that your brain tricks you into thinking you can clearly see things in your periphery, it will trick you into thinking you have complete focus when in fact it's scrambling to make the transition behind the scenes.

So if it takes you three seconds to focus, and you're alternating five seconds looking at the phone, five seconds at the road, in reality you only have 20ish% attentiveness and up to eight seconds of latency. That's beyond dangerous, the equivalent amount of alcohol would probably qualify as "blackout drunk" for most people. What's more, I'm sure there are lots of people who take more than 5s at a time looking at their phone.

But going beyond texting to ban talking on the phone or an earpiece doesn't seem like a big win to me. I get that there are studies showing that they reduce attentiveness, but I wonder how closely those studies' test scenarios mirror real-world driving. I know if I was using a driving simulator in a lab I'd have a very different definition of "focus" than when I'm stuck in real-world traffic.

In the meantime, while we wait for Google to release the self-driving car (Car+), I'd like to see safety laws that accept that drivers will be on autopilot. For example, drivers on autopilot can factor other drivers' turning indicators into their general "road sense", and instinctively space themselves out. If we aggressively enforced turn signal use, people's road sense would dramatically improve. As an aside: you know how annoying it is to follow someone who has left their blinker on? In my opinion, that's because our brain is trying to go into autopilot but can't get a clear sense of the road, causing stress.

Or how about this, if we're trying to rid ourselves of distractions: get rid of any "special" rules that apply only to particular intersections. I don't have time to read a tiny sign saying [LEFT TURN YIELD ON GREEN BETWEEN THE HOURS OF 6AM AND 10AM MONDAY THROUGH FRIDAY] while driving through an intersection under the best of circumstances, let alone if there's any actual traffic situation distracting me. And not just intersections: conditional (HAZMAT, school zone) speed limit signs, esoteric parking restrictions. Seriously, how many accidents do you think have been caused by someone trying to read a parking sign and rear-ending the car in front of them or plowing down a pedestrian? I bet it's a lot.

All this is to say that traffic safety policy is probably an art as much as it's a science, but in the absence of great artists I hope we'll give the scientists the resources and deference they deserve.
posted by Riki tiki at 2:42 PM on December 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


I wave my arms around like an idiot and yell "Citizen's arrayest, Citizen's arrayest!!!1!!!"

I just pull up next to them and scream "Get the fuck off the phone, asshole!"

But you know, whatever works in your neighborhood :)
posted by johnn at 2:43 PM on December 15, 2011


People are horrific dangerous assholes and if you successfully make it to your local grocery store you have basically cheated death

This is exactly how I feel when I ride my bike during rush hour.

When you are behind the wheel of a moving vehicle, you are moments away from committing manslaughter. It would be nice if we all could take that responsibility more seriously than when we get seated in the exit row on the plane.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:46 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, ban it! A certain person in my life who can't even turn up the volume on the radio without swerving off the road is constantly pulling out his goddamn phone to do ridiculous things like check the price of a popcorn air popper on Amazon while driving. A law would actually deter him, though.
posted by HotToddy at 2:46 PM on December 15, 2011


NationalKato: "60-70% of the people I honk at, flip off, passive-aggressively speed to get in front of only to slow down to an annoying speed, or tailgate I find are texting or otherwise using their smartphones."

Safe driving: you're doing it wrong.
posted by danny the boy at 2:48 PM on December 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


To Riki tiki: Excellently written and helpful.

I disagree, though, that talking on the phone is similar enough to driving on auto pilot with no other distractions. In the case of holding a conversation, your brain is focused on listening and responding, not just the abstract thoughts that course through the brain when driving on auto pilot.

And it's much worse than holding a conversation with someone in the car. Typical cell phone reception, volume and clarity sometimes makes listening an active task, not a passive one. While trying to decipher what was just said, one could easily forget that the brighter red lights in front of you might require your attention.
posted by johnn at 2:52 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the real problem is actually holding a phone to your face. Not only do you have that other cognitive stuff as a distraction but the peripheral view is being blocked too. Mostly what I see is that drivers aren't so much distracted as they are literally wearing a blinder on one side of the head.

That said, I think it's going too far to ban no-hands devices.

I'm thinking about truckers too. For how many decades have they been using CBs without any record resulting problems or accidents?
posted by snsranch at 3:17 PM on December 15, 2011


Oh, also: I'm anxiously waiting for self-driving cars as much as anyone else, but you're still going to have to pay attention while driving for a long, long time.

I think sometime in about two decades I'll be able to sleep while my car auto-drives down the freeway in clear weather. But if it rains heavily, or snows, or if it has to exit onto a road with poor lane guidance or enter a pedestrian-heavy downtown area, you can be damn sure the car is going to bleep and hand over the controls. Because the car would need $100k of sensors to navigate through those kinds of conditions, and in any case the manufacturer really really doesn't want to assume the liability for a crash.
posted by miyabo at 3:18 PM on December 15, 2011


> I'm thinking about truckers too. For how many decades have they been using CBs without any record resulting problems or accidents?

I doubt there's good data. Especially since trucks are a small percentage of the total vehicles on the road, and that there are more on the road now than in the past when trains carried more freight.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:21 PM on December 15, 2011


But if it rains heavily, or snows, or if it has to exit onto a road with poor lane guidance or enter a pedestrian-heavy downtown area, you can be damn sure the car is going to bleep and hand over the controls.

And by then, people will be so used to having the car drive itself that they will be singularly incapable of driving well in poor conditions. Looking forward to THAT!
posted by small_ruminant at 3:26 PM on December 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Burhanistan, I agree and those folks are professionals with training too.
posted by snsranch at 3:32 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't drive, but texting while driving seems absolutely crazy to me. As for verbal conversations, I wonder if we might get anywhere coming up with ways of talking while driving that were a bit safer, since people seem unwilling to do the truly safe thing and avoid using their phones altogether. Like, drivers could get in the habit of saying "Hey, I'm driving" at the beginning of their calls, and their conversation partners would have to learn to give them permission to prioritise that task. I wonder if research would find something like that made any difference.

I have some sympathy for certain severe suggestions, but it all seems a bit open to abuse.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 4:38 PM on December 15, 2011


The organ banks can't be happy with this recommendation...
posted by Renoroc at 5:07 PM on December 15, 2011


I agree and those folks are professionals with training too.

And methamphetamine.

Joking aside, didn't that same study that showed cellphone-talking was as bad as being drunk also show that talking on a cellphone about driving make it actually not at all bad? Most (but obviously not all) of CB chatter is about driving.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 5:14 PM on December 15, 2011


what i'm wondering about is if it's a handsfree phone, how are the cops supposed to know you're using it?

but i can't stand people who phone and drive - mostly because i've gotten damn close to getting nailed by them a couple of times and only avoided it because i was paying attention - the worst was a woman driving in a residential neighborhood who just plain blew through a stop sign yakking on the phone when i was coming along - i stopped in time and she just went on her merry way, barely noticing that i'd come within 20 feet of hitting her in the driver door

wtf lady?
posted by pyramid termite at 5:53 PM on December 15, 2011


I think the real problem is actually holding a phone to your face. Not only do you have that other cognitive stuff as a distraction but the peripheral view is being blocked too. Mostly what I see is that drivers aren't so much distracted as they are literally wearing a blinder on one side of the head.

That said, I think it's going too far to ban no-hands devices.

I think you may not have read any of the cognitive science literature on this subject?
posted by jacalata at 6:16 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I cannot possibly be the only human being who ignores her cellphone while driving. Especially since I know there are people who just ignore their cellphone sometimes for no good reason.

Hey, I'm willing to ignore the damn cell phone for ANY reason. I hate the thing. Leave a message. Especially leave a message when I'm driving. I know I'm a distracted driver while on the phone, and I decided early on that the thing stays in my pocket or purse while I'm at the wheel and moving.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:28 PM on December 15, 2011


An idea: Those caught using the phone while driving should have a mandated device installed that jams cell phone signals while the car is in motion [think of MS Kinect tech]. Any inconvenience for passengers should be a part of the penalty. Just an idea.
posted by RuvaBlue at 6:29 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm going to go out on a limb and say we may be collectively falling into the trap of confusing common sense knowledge about how dangerous it is to drive and talk on a cell phone with the actual numbers.

Figure 2, page 67 of the 2000 harvard report shows fatalities per billion miles traveled decreasing through the upsurge in cell phone use. From about 30 in 1980 to 20 in 2000. Table 4 page 38 doesn't show the % change of being killed by another driver in any situation, but it does show you are 10x more likely to be killed by a drunk driver or a truck driver than a driver on a cell phone.

Compare this to*:

Mode Deaths per billion km/hr
Car 3
Motorcycle 108
Air 0.05

Of course this isn't comprehensive enough to mean anything, but it would be useful to see figures comparing number of deaths per million of:

People in cars in general
People in a cell-phone relate accident
People in a texting related accident
People in a non-hands free cell phone related accident
People in a truck-related accident
People in a motorcycle related accident

I think that kind of comparison wold help to analyze the risks. Seeing all of these "x number of people killed every year" statistics doesn't give any context. Maybe overall car fatalities are going down; maybe the difference wouldn't be that much even if nobody used a cell phone; maybe things are even worse than they seem.
posted by ianhattwick at 6:44 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


From wiki's mobile phone and driving safety page:

In the US, the number of cell phone subscribers has increased by 1,262.4% between the years 1985-2008. In approximately the same period the number of crashes has fallen by 0.9% (1995–2009) and the number of fatal crashes fallen by 6.2%.[13][14][15] It has been argued that these statistics contradict the claims that mobile use impairs driving performance.[16] Similarly, a 2010 study from the Highway Loss Data Institute published in February 2010 reviewed auto claims from three key states along with Washington D.C. prior to cell phone bans while driving and then after. The study found no reduction in crashes, despite a 41% to 76% reduction in the use of cell phones while driving after the ban was enacted.
posted by ianhattwick at 6:48 PM on December 15, 2011


from two paragraphs up: "A 2005 review by the Hawaiian legislature entitled "Cell Phone Use and Motor Vehicle Collisions: A Review of the Studies" contains an analysis of studies on cell phone/motor vehicle accident causality. A key finding was that: "No studies were found that directly address and resolve the issue of whether a causal relation exists between cellular telephone use while operating a motor vehicle and motor vehicle collisions."
posted by facetious at 6:55 PM on December 15, 2011


Last I checked, no comparison of hands-free and handset cell phone use has ever found any difference between the two. They are both very dangerous. (Similar in reaction time to drinking.) They also both narrow your attention so that you only notice things more directly in front of you, rather than having a wider cone of what you notice.

They are also both much worse than talking to people in the car.

It had me screaming explitives in my car when I heard the NPR story where they let someone make fun of banning hands free as if it was like banning passengers. No, no, no. Talking to someone not in the car is bad. And banning only handsets is idiotic given the science.
posted by spbmp at 6:56 PM on December 15, 2011


From the harvard study:

fatalities per million:

drunk driving 17.6
big truck 16.8
cell phone 1.5

And this is without figuring in the fact that the people on a cell phone would have been driving anyways, so figuring out that the cell phone is the cause is tricky.
posted by ianhattwick at 7:03 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Emergencies are hard? "ARE YOU GOING TO DIE IF YOU DON'T GET A FUCKING PICKLE ON YOUR BURGER?" NO? Then NOT an emergency. DONE.
posted by symbioid at 7:03 PM on December 15, 2011


I should point out before the pile-up that I am not necessarily defending cell phone drivers, I'm just not hearing statistics that put things in context.
posted by ianhattwick at 7:05 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


you may have read the years-ago article in the Globe Sunday magazine by Anita Diamant that was about books on tape. In it, she related how she drove out to Springfield while listening to a book, and when she got there, she didn't remember any of the previous fifty miles of driving. She didn't seem to think there was anything wrong with that. Me? Well, I still remember reading it, and am still taken aback by it.

You can experience this without the added stimulation, though it sounds reasonable that it would be more likely with the distraction, especially one that compels imagination. But I don't for a moment think that you're not conscious and paying attention to the road, because people don't end up in the ditch or a telephone pole five seconds after this happens. More likely this stuff just isn't making it past short term memory.

That being said, I've always wondered if it adversely affects reaction time.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:09 PM on December 15, 2011


In my town, there was a 2 year old girl who was smashed dead by a college girl who was driving and texting and mowed the little girl down as she crossed an intersection with her mother (mother severely injured). No jail time to speak of... If she was drunk, she does time I am sure. Really, what the hell is so important that it HAS to be done now AND we can not pull over to do it? Very very rare anything falls into that category.
posted by jcworth at 8:50 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Okay, this is only somewhat related to the topic at hand, but I have to tell someone and this seems as good a place as any. On Tuesday I was riding my bike home from work, along the bike trail. It was pretty dark, there are streetlights on the street paralleling the trail, but not along the trail itself, and the BART tracks block out a lot of the ambient light. I passed another cyclist coming the opposite direction. He was wearing a backpack (this is important.) He had only one hand on the handlebars, because with the other hand, he was clutching a laptop to his torso. The laptop was open.
He had a backpack.
He did not need to hold the laptop. It was all the way open, people!
I can only assume that when he wasn't passing other people (maybe just when he was stopped at lights? But there's only like 1 light per mile on that trail) he was using the laptop. Watching a movie, maybe? I didn't hear music or anything as I passed him.
I just. I don't.
Can someone explain this to me? Like seriously, there has to be a reasonable explanation for what I saw, right?
Maybe this should go in Ask.
posted by agentofselection at 9:18 PM on December 15, 2011


Here's an idea for the interim while we, as a culture, fart around and keep from passing sensible laws about this: refuse to talk to people on the phone when they are driving.

I generally won't talk to friends, family or colleagues if I know they're behind the wheel. And you know what? 100% of the time, it can wait.

If you've got an emergency, pull over and call.
posted by 4midori at 9:21 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


A few thoughts about professionals and mobile phone usage while driving:

- I work in a foreign city and take a lot of taxis. It's pretty common for them take mobile phone calls while working (driving, with me in back). I notice a modest degradation in overall driving skills (smoothness, control, reaction time). Basically, it'll make a good driver into an average driver and a bad driver into a downright scary driver. A few drivers have carried on txt conversations (trying to hide the phone so I don't notice). In every case, they drive like they are shit-hammered drunk -- literally weaving into the other lane repeatedly, delays in noticing traffic signals, etc. This will not happen again.

- In my home town in South Carolina, about 2 out of 3 police officers I see driving their patrol cars have a mobile phone to their ear. I understand the temptation -- you're in your car all day and you want to keep in touch -- but come on, guys, set a damn example!

- It's real common for managers I work with to carry on conference calls during their driving commutes -- they see it as making best use of their time. They even pressure co-workers to do the same. Idiots.
posted by LordSludge at 10:01 PM on December 15, 2011


I am not comfortable talking on the phone while in city traffic or stop-and-go traffic or on a tricky road.

But a long, straightforward highway drive alone is a whole other animal -- phones can be a godsend for preventing "highway hypnosis" incidents, much more effective than the rest of the bag of tricks for staying mentally alert (rolling down windows, singing loudly, etc.) Mind you, there's an understanding that this is the express reason for the chatting, with abrupt hangups totally accepted.
posted by desuetude at 10:23 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can someone explain this to me? Like seriously, there has to be a reasonable explanation for what I saw, right?

My guess at a "reasonable" explanation: searching for unsecured wifi.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:23 PM on December 15, 2011


"Here's an idea for the interim while we, as a culture, fart around and keep from passing sensible laws about this: refuse to talk to people on the phone when they are driving."
-posted by 4midori


This, this is exactly it, how many times I've answered the phone to find it's someone calling me while driving. I simply say "call me when you get there" and hang up.
posted by djseafood at 6:59 AM on December 16, 2011


Figure 2, page 67 of the 2000 harvard report shows fatalities per billion miles traveled decreasing through the upsurge in cell phone use. From about 30 in 1980 to 20 in 2000. Table 4 page 38 doesn't show the % change of being killed by another driver in any situation, but it does show you are 10x more likely to be killed by a drunk driver or a truck driver than a driver on a cell phone.

Keep in mind that the report you're looking at is from over a decade ago, and mobile penetration has almost tripled since then, as we approach near-100% saturation of the market. And 2000 predates the smartphone boom as well, along with pretty much all of the studies about how cell phones affect driving. I wouldn't say it's TOTALLY without value in this discussion, but it mostly stands as a stark contrast of how much things can change in 10 years.
posted by FatherDagon at 8:48 AM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


What I find most interesting about these laws among people I know personally, is that they'll go on and on about the statistics about how phone use while driving is just shy of Ebola in terms of danger, and yet will go on and on about how all their speeding tickets are bullshit, and how 'draconian' the drunk driving laws are, like do we have LAW hipsters now?

That said, go ahead and ban it; I'm all for any excuse to make it harder to reach me.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 10:57 AM on December 16, 2011


Do all the people who think that hands-free talking isn't actually that bad also think autism is caused by MMR?

Hang up the fucking phone, it's SCIENCE bitches

This message was brought to you by "Tough Fucking Shit" 2012
posted by fullerine at 11:44 AM on December 16, 2011


Look, I agree that people are idiots and assholes about prioritizing cell phone calls over driving. But the SCIENCE! shouting tends to misrepresent the actual...science in favor of hyperbolic headline value. Not really a great way to get skeptics to change their behavior.
posted by desuetude at 6:06 PM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


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