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Study: Mobile Phone Users Worse Than Drunk Drivers
March 24, 2002 9:09 AM   Subscribe

Study: Mobile Phone Users Worse Than Drunk Drivers
It took mobile users half-a-second longer to react than normal, and one-third of a second longer than when they had been drinking.
They were also less able to maintain a constant speed and found it harder to keep a safe distance from the car in front. Participants in the study stated that they found it easier to drive drunk than when using a cell phone.
Here's the fun quote:
"Eventually," said Dominic Burch, road safety campaign manager at Direct Line, "we would like to see the use of mobile phones when driving, both hand-held and hands-free, become as socially unacceptable as drink driving."
Nice graphic Here that explains the time/distance it takes to stop. That fraction of a second = +46 feet stopping time over normal, and +33 over being drunk. More Here and The Full Report[PDF].
posted by Blake (61 comments total)

 
Studies probably would show that people conversing with people inside the car are similarly affected, if not more so. Then you have body english and turning to look at the speaker to factor in. Conversation is -no question- extremely distracting.

So, do we seal off the driver's compartment so that fellow passengers cannot endanger other human beings by recklessly communicating with the driver in callous disregard of all these beneficial statistics? Should we encourage 'LOV 'lanes to give an advantage to people who clearly have other driver's welfare in mind by dint of thoughtfully driving alone? Should only mutes be given licenses?

So many questions. Eating and drinking can also be distracting. Can breathalyzers be adjusted to detect fast food particles? Can....(and so on, ad infinitum...)
posted by umberto at 9:25 AM on March 24, 2002


Where are all the cell phone talkers who will post and say "I talk on my cell phone while driving, but I'm very careful about it"? Off killing pedestrians, I guess.
posted by websavvy at 9:27 AM on March 24, 2002


It took mobile users half-a-second longer to react than normal, and one-third of a second longer than when they had been drinking.

this is assuming that slowed reaction time is the only thing that makes driving drunk dangerous.

oh, and what umberto said too.
posted by chrisege at 9:32 AM on March 24, 2002


Something I've been noticing in general lately is how good we humans are at quickly determing what other people are looking at. Watch people for a while and you'll see that you can instantly tell what they're looking at or if they're looking at nothing. It works even with people that are far away and you can otherwise barely make out. What does this have to do with cell-phones? Watch people on cell-phones. They're all looking at nothing; not other people, not the road, not traffic, just nothing. They're eyes are focused on some spot in thin air about three feet in front of them. I think they're imaging the face of the person they're talking to. It's not like someone who's eating or drinking, smoking, or adjusting the radio. I live in an urban area with lots of traffic, pedestrians, bicyclists, narrow streets. You have to pay complete attention to drive. A person cannot drive safely in this area while talking on a phone. It simply cannot be done. On the Interstate is perhaps another issue but on local streets or, Jesus help me, while driving through a busy parking lot as I saw this morning, no. Hang up and drive.
posted by TimeFactor at 9:40 AM on March 24, 2002


Studies probably would show that people conversing with people inside the car are similarly affected, if not more so. Then you have body english and turning to look at the speaker to factor in. Conversation is -no question- extremely distracting.

I -question-. I feel much more distracted while talking on a cell phone than conversing normally in a car. I don't think normal, non-stressful conversation is especially distracting. I don't have any empirical stuidies to show this, but then again, putting hyphens around "no question" isn't exactly a devastating argument either.
posted by rodii at 9:50 AM on March 24, 2002


First they came for the cellphone-talkers, and I did not speak up, for I was not a cellphone talker.

Sooner or later someone's going to get it in their head that a handsfree cellphone conversation isn't that much different than having a conversation with someone in the passenger seat. What then? Will there be quiet laws enacted in cars?

It's illegal to drive with headphones on both ears, but there's no regulation against driving with the windows up and the stereo blaring. Where's the justification there?

It's the differences between a handsfree cellphone conversation and a driver-passenger conversation that make cellphone driving dangerous. These are primarily interface issues, and issues of cognitive 'mode'. People who grew up with landlines instead of mobile phones tend to create a mental space for ethereal conversations. Talking sitting in a chair or lying on a couch allows the speaker to train themselves to let the visual and reactive parts of the brain wander as they talk. It helps maintain the illusion that the person is right there with you.

My guess is that people who grew up talking on cellphones are used to walking, shopping, and doing other active tasks while talking, and this new generation won't have such a problem driving while doing same, because to them there will be less of a difference between a phone conversation and a conversation with someone sitting next to them.

That, and interface issues relating to dialing and picking up a phone have to be worked out, because trying to dial an 8290's teeny chicklet keys while barreling down the freeway is no mean feat.
posted by kfury at 10:15 AM on March 24, 2002


Do you only have stressful conversations on your cell?

If you set out to prove something, almost anything can be made to look dangerous, is my point. "Listening to rock music leads to speeding" is one immediate (and probably proveable) point that springs to mind. Lord knows if Bad Religion is pumping my needle creeps up against my notice. "Speeding leads to fatal accidents. Therefore listening to rock music=highway fatalities." Voila. Humans are not perfectly designed to multitask, so if you are doing anything other than driving it can probably be shown to be dangerous.

I just grow weary of society's increasing attempts to mollycoddle everyone from cradle to grave and protect everyone from every conceivable danger. Noble? Sure. I guess. We'll probably all end up in giant padded suits with robots feeding us approved formulas that won't rot our teeth. But safe. Oh, so safe.
posted by umberto at 10:29 AM on March 24, 2002


Perhaps the people who use cellphones in their cars are the same people who have slower reaction times and follow cars too closely to begin with.
posted by neuroshred at 10:36 AM on March 24, 2002


Re cell phones vis-a-vis conversing with passengers: part of the reason it's not ordinarily as distracting to converse with a passenger in your car is that, well, the passenger's in your car; they'll see what's going on and can tell when you need to concentrate on what you're doing, and shut up accordingly. That being said, some passengers can be extremely distracting.
posted by furiousthought at 10:37 AM on March 24, 2002


Geez, strangely harsh responses... without getting into a libertarian discussion of the role of government in our lives, I would point out that task switching and multi-tasking are now being considered in studies as far more difficult, distracting, and detrimental than some of us might have thought.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 10:42 AM on March 24, 2002


Task-switching is why I dislike analog watches. I actually have to (for abot a quarter of a second) remember how to read one. It's a cognitive task with a high load and short duration.

We should ban analog clocks (like those found on Mercedes dash clusters) in cars.
posted by kfury at 10:59 AM on March 24, 2002


Once again, I suggest everyone go out this spring and take a Motorcycle Rider Training course. For a couple hundred bucks (a couple dozen bucks in some jurisdictions!) you get to abuse someone else's bikes for a few weekends.

Not only is it loads of fun, you'll become a much better car driver. Once you spend a day dealing with drivers who are seemingly out to kill you, you become much more aware of what it takes to be a good driver.

As a motorcyclist, drivers chatting on their cellphone are among the scariest risks. It's bad enough that most people don't shoulder-check when changing lanes, bad enough that so many assholes tailgate motorcycles, downright frightening how many idiots don't even recognize a motorcycle as an oncoming vehicle and just blindly pull out in front of us...
...but it's easily 5x worse when they're on a cellphone. A more oblivious-to-their-surroundings group of people simply can not be found.

Go. Ride bike. Have fun. And learn.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:30 AM on March 24, 2002


TimeFactor wrote: Watch people on cell-phones. They're all looking at nothing; not other people, not the road, not traffic, just nothing. They're eyes are focused on some spot in thin air about three feet in front of them. I think they're imaging the face of the person they're talking to.

I have to agree completely that's my own experience when I talk on the cell phone while driving (which I rarely do; I hate talking on the phone in general). It unnerves me about myself. If I've been talking on the phone while driving, when I hang up, I can't recall a thing about the traffic conditions or anything around me while I was talking. I don't have the same experience with other distracting things, even talking to a passenger.
posted by tippiedog at 11:34 AM on March 24, 2002


Um, this isn't some issue of talking on the phone being simply distracting, like countless other things we do in the car. It's a matter of cell-phone use being more dangerous than driving drunk. This is a big deal, and shouldn't be shrugged off. If you ever talk on the phone while driving, stop. Pull over, or let someone else in the car do the gabbing.
posted by Marquis at 12:25 PM on March 24, 2002


Marquis - If you ever talk on the phone while driving, stop.

No.
posted by NortonDC at 12:59 PM on March 24, 2002


Marquis - If you ever talk on the phone while driving, stop.
NortonDC - No.

Okay then. And keep right on sippin' that whiskey while taking the family for a spin.
posted by Marquis at 1:28 PM on March 24, 2002


FFFish,

It's funny how after reading your comment I came away not thinking: "Hey, maybe car drivers should try harder to accomidate motorcyclists" as you intended I think, but instead I came away thinking: "Yeah, motorcycles really are a road hazard and should be outlawed."

A decade ago the same study was done on drinking while driving (the act, could be any beverage) vs. driving while drunk and found the act of drinking to be equivalent to driving under the influence of four beers. It's Sunday though so I am too lazy to find a link for the study.
posted by plaino at 1:48 PM on March 24, 2002


Yah, funny, real hah-hah there.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:58 PM on March 24, 2002


Marquis, that order is just as likely to be obeyed by me as your previous one.
posted by NortonDC at 2:09 PM on March 24, 2002


I would point out that task switching and multi-tasking are now being considered in studies as far more difficult, distracting, and detrimental than some of us might have thought.

Task switching? Like changing gears? Better ban manual transmission cars. Having to look through one or more rear-view mirrors before changing lanes, while still keeping an eye on the guy in front of you in your own lane? Multi-tasking. Perhaps we should only have one-lane roads.

Look, EVERY activity, from driving, to getting out of bed in the morning, to picking your nose, to wiping your ass carries SOME LEVEL OF RISK. Our only options are to either accept that fact and live our lives as normally and with as much care as possible (within reason) or else just stay in bed for the rest of our lives. (Oh, and then you'll get bedsores, which will get infected and kill you. Ya just can't win.)

Obviously there are lots of stupid people out there that will abuse the privileges of driving, whether it be by drinking, using the phone in a state of anger and not paying attention to what's going on around them, driving too fast, etc. The thing is, in order to live in a free society, people have to be free to do things that will occasionally cause some of them to massively fuck up. There has to be some line, somewhere, past which individual freedoms are sacrosanct. But there isn't. Special interest groups and the government keep trying to restrict us more and more every single day. And at some point, we have to stand up and say ENOUGH. We'll take the risk, because it's the price of liberty and freedom. (I realize these sorts of arguments tend to mean more to Americans than to Britons, though.)

Besides, many of the things Direct Line is getting so up in arms about are already illegal. Distracted driving - anything that makes you look away from the road - is against the law right now and does not require new laws on top of them. Of COURSE it's illegal to take your eyes off the road to punch in a text message, or looking down to dial a number.

And, of course, never forget to follow the money. If Direct Line insurance can get cell phones banned in cars, they'll probably recoup the entire cost of this study the very first time one of their lower-IQ drivers avoids an accident because he/she couldn't use the phone to scream at their spouse while driving down the highway at 80MPH during rush hour. It would be nice to see at least one independent study of this issue from an organization without a vested interest in seeing cell phones banned before the study even begins.

One more thing: It appears from the report that cell-phone usage was only compared to "drunk drivers" that had just hit the bare minimum limit of legal drunkenness (I believe it's 0.08% in the UK), not people who were really smashed out of their minds. In other words, the test was specifically designed to use the boogyman of The Drunk Driver in order to make cell phone usage even worse, when the reality is that most drunk drivers on the road are plowing along BAC levels a hell of a lot higher than 0.08, and thus will make even the most careless cell phone user look like the AAA Driver of the Year. (Subtract an A for your Brits.)
posted by aaron at 2:15 PM on March 24, 2002


Changing gears while driving a car isn't a real example of task-switching, as the sense memory for that action is part of the sense memory for the entire driving act.

Here's an interesting exercise you shouldn't try: Get a tape recorder and try to drive while saying everything you're doing: "I'm turning the ignition switch. I'm putting the car in reverse. Releasing the emergency brake, turning the steering wheel to the right. Releasing the brake pedal. Placing right arm behind passenger headrest and looking behind me, slowly pressing the accellerator. Releasing the accelerator and applying the brake. Putting the car in drive and turning the steering wheel to the left. Looking in the driver side view mirror. Releasing the brake and pressing slightly on the accellerator. Checking the car in front to make sure I don't hit their corner."

and so on... The point here is that a task that is an ingrained part of the process of driving isn't a switched task; it's part of the driving task. the fact that you *can* drive while talking on a cellphone (albeit at a decreased capacity) and still shift gears without thinking about it or even remembering it is a sign that shifting gears is part of the driving task. If you were to isolate each act as in the exercize above, each individual action would become a switched task and you'd have something far more dangerous than a drunk driver or a talking driver.

Another common example is to ask a bowler or pitcher whether they breathe in or breathe out when they deliver the ball. They'll spend the next few times trying to figure it out, unable to accomplish what was previously a part of the pitching/bowling act, because it has now been isolated into a seperate task.

If there's a lesson here it's that if a driver always talked on the phone, or was always at the same level of intoxication, they'd be better at the driving task than the person who doesn't have the two tasks combined into the same sense memory.
posted by kfury at 4:26 PM on March 24, 2002


I'm not a driver, but I have noticed that people who talk on mobiles while walking will slow down, dither about and generally get in people's way (I do it myself). They don't seem to know where they're going or be aware of people around them. That's OK when you're walking, as the worst that will happen is that'll you'll knock into someone. But driving a car is a potentially lethal exercise at all times, which is why especially stringent laws are applied to it. I personally think it should be illegal. Even if you've got a hands free kit you've still got to answer the bloody thing.
posted by Summer at 4:52 PM on March 24, 2002


Funnily enough, we've been discussing this in uk.rec.driving for the past few days. It generally came to the conclusion that a bad driver is a bad driver whether they're drunk or using a phone or not! I'd rather an excellent driver be on the phone than have a generally bad driver near me.

Another point is that cellphone exposure is only for a few minutes, whereas if you're under the influence, it lasts for hours. Therefore, the period of danger is much smaller, hence, it's technically a lesser risk over time.
posted by wackybrit at 8:11 PM on March 24, 2002


I'll never understand people who drive while on the phone. What did you do prior to cellphones? If a call was that important, you either waited until you reached your destination or you pulled over and called on a payphone.

If it's not important enough to do either, do you really need to be on the phone?

I do have a cellphone, I only use it for emergencies though and never when I am driving.
posted by SuzySmith at 8:22 PM on March 24, 2002


The Globe and Mail printed a long, detailed article about these studies.

The idea of multi-tasking, talking and driving, came from airline pilots who could speak to control and fly the plane. It wasn't really multi-tasking because, as someone above mentioned, the pilots's talking is related to the task-at-hand. The researchers gave the drivers mobile phones and talked about the drive; the drivers were much less dangerous than drunk drivers.

The researchers also said the hand's-free/crinked neck variety of phones made no significant difference because the driving problems had more to do with division of attention and cognitive overload (another term for multi-tasking) than the manual demands. The drivers on the mobiles didn't register the sensory input of people on the simulators.

They also figured the increase in gridlock over the past few years is at least in part attributable to mobile phone talking: if every tenth driver is on the phone, their reactions and attention divided, traffic will be slowed significantly.

Fascinating subject: yahoo doesn't do it justice. globeandmail.ca, about two months ago. They followed the researcher as he refined his study over months, controlling for different variables.
posted by philfromhavelock at 8:26 PM on March 24, 2002


Then you have body english and turning to look at the speaker to factor in.
I understand the human desire to make eye contact while conversing, but I wonder why so few people can control the urge when their eyes really need to be focused elsewhere. I usually just explain that I can hear them fine when their eyes are on the road.
posted by HTuttle at 8:45 PM on March 24, 2002


I tried to have a driving-while-while-talking cell-phone ban instituted in our town. I gave up after finally being convinced that such a ban could only be implemented on a state level.

I don't want a nanny state. I don't want to spend my money and yours on state, federal or local workers coming around to see how often we all brush our teeth (dental hygiene is important, you know! do you know how much it costs all of us to take care of your teeth?!?)

Cell phones, though, are different. It doesn't take too much observation to note that when one is talking on a cell phone, one is a lot less likely to pay attention to what is going on around them - and that when one is tooling around a full-ton of mini-van (or the equivalent) in a parking lot or a narow suburban street, a lot of damage can be done in less time than it takes to say "no, honey, don't wear the pink dress".

I'm glad that there may finally be some quantitative results to back up what most of us accept as the reality of this phenomenon. It's always a damn shame when any government needs to legislate common sense - I don't want a local by-law about "residents shall not stick forks, knives, or other metallic objects into electrical outlets" or "laying outside in the rain with your mouth open shall be punishable by a fine not to exceed fifty dollars", but sometimes common sense is so blatantly and uniformly disregarded that we unfortunately need a governmental dictum to remind us to pay attention to it.
posted by yhbc at 9:05 PM on March 24, 2002


All it will take is one SUV-driving-and-yakking-on-a-cellphone moron rolling through a stop sign into your car, as happened to a neighbor of mine, to convince you that talking on a cellphone and driving is a very bad idea. Myself, I've had enough close calls with them to wish driving and dialing were outlawed. Scary, scary, scary.
posted by Lynsey at 9:24 PM on March 24, 2002


EDUCATION KILLS IDIOTS DEAD

Common sense isn't quite as common as us mefiers would like to think. When you go to California, or visit Fark.com, you'll observe behavior which at first seems odd and later seems alarming. Please be nicer, patient people, who concentrate on driving the best that you can, not being distracted by anything. That way, the government won't have to become a nanny state.
posted by Settle at 9:28 PM on March 24, 2002


Of course, the real bad part of drunk driving is the impared judgement, not the impared reaction time. Talking on a cellphone may make you a sluggish driver, but being drunk makes you a bad driver. To me, that's an important difference.
posted by Ptrin at 9:50 PM on March 24, 2002


Most people talk on the cellphone in the car for basically the same reason most people buy SUVs or start smoking: they think it makes them look cool, sophisticated and more important than everyone else.

If you think it's bad in the US (and I'm sure it is), try coming to Taiwan and seeing all of the scooter/motorcycle riders talking on their cellphones, smoking, etc. It's really quite amazing.
posted by Poagao at 10:16 PM on March 24, 2002


Poagao: "Most people talk on the cellphone in the car for basically the same reason most people buy SUVs or start smoking: they think it makes them look cool, sophisticated and more important than everyone else."

Wow, any evidence to back up that blanket generalization? I don't smoke, but do occasionally make calls while driving. I also sing at the top of my lungs in the car and pick my nose in traffic (that deep picking, not just the scratches around the rim). In short, I don't think that I make calls on my cellphone to look cool.

Back to an earlier thread in this conversation: If it can be conclusively shown that motorcycle riders have a significantly higher rate of injury and death than people in cars, then why is it so repugnant to suggest banning motorcycles? As both a cellphone talker and a licensed motorcyclist (no, I don't talk and ride), I don't see why it's acceptable to tell people they can't talk on the phone while driving, but they can ride a motorcycle.

Sure, take the easy shot and tell me that motorcycle accidents are caused by stupid car drivers, but how is that actually relevant? If every car driver finids it more difficult to drive safely when having to contend with a different kind of vehicle on the road, one that is smaller, often doesn't move with the flow of traffic, and has decreased visibility, is there a difference between the imparement of the car driver's ability to react appropriately to the motorcycle and the imparement of talking on the cellphone while driving?

Of course there is: the cellphone-talker or drunk driver is making the conscious choice to impair their ability, while the driver on the road with a motorcycle didn't ask to be thrown this difficulty.

Just something to think about, and, of course, flame against.
posted by kfury at 11:28 PM on March 24, 2002


What I find quite amazing is the number of people who think they know better than properly qualified researchers. If someone does a properly controlled, peer-reviewed study, I'm inclined to believe the results.

In the UK, I think it's already illegal to use a mobile phone in a car, unless it's a hands-free one.
posted by salmacis at 12:39 AM on March 25, 2002


Did they mesure the reaction time of someone driving while talking to a passenger?

Just wondering.

Also, are there any actual accident statistics for driving with a cellphone vs. driving drunk?
posted by delmoi at 1:24 AM on March 25, 2002


All it will take is one SUV-driving-and-yakking-on-a-cellphone moron rolling through a stop sign into your car, as happened to a neighbor of mine, to convince you that talking on a cell phone and driving is a very bad idea.

Well, if that convinced you, you possess pretty poor reasoning capabilities. Observe:

"All it take is one black person to mug you to convince you that all those darkies are evil."

See?

Anyway, just for the record, I drive and talk on my cell if someone calls me, and I don't notice any lack of attention on my part. That's not very useful, but I'm saying it just as a counterpoint to those who say they feel like they are worse drivers when talk on the phone. If you don't feel like you can drive as well talking on the phone, pull over and leave the rest of us the hell alone.
posted by delmoi at 1:46 AM on March 25, 2002


This debate is just a distraction from the real issue, which is that people should not be driving. You should not be allowed to take the wheel on a public road.

Even when you are traveling in a car -- and that should be much less often, you lazy bastard -- the car should be automatically navigated. It should accelerate and decelerate and pass rationally (not competitively). It should travel at or below the safe speed limit for the route, weather, and traffic. It should leave you free to talk, sing, read, eat, sleep, and screw, all at once if you care to try. It should have emergency systems that make its failure much less likely than your failure.

This is not Jetsons crap. Cars could do this with fairly cheap current technology. If they did do this, commuters would regain hours and hours of their lives, live longer, and be much less stressed. Given that stupid driver actions probably screw up traffic far more than anything else, you would also get there faster.
posted by pracowity at 4:40 AM on March 25, 2002


A real cost/benefit analysis of in-car cell phone use.

The ratio is favorable of keeping the phones. Dramatically.
posted by NortonDC at 4:59 AM on March 25, 2002


I have a simple solution to this problem: pull over erratic drivers and ticket them for reckless driving (or the local equivalent). We DO NOT NEED more legislation for this cell-phone nonsense, which is what I fear this study will cause.

I can worry about people on cellphones, or I can worry about the fundamental problems I see everyday. These include but are not limited to: failure to yield, failure to take the right-of-way when it is yours, a seeming inability to use turn signals, tailgating, passing at high speed on the right....

You get the picture. I sincerely wish these laws were enforced, but to do that, the cops would have to give up sitting in one place clocking speeders and attack the real problem -- the routine ignorance of the basic rules of the road.
posted by astrogirl at 6:08 AM on March 25, 2002


There's one big difference between talking on a phone and an actual conversation that would seem to affect your ability to multitask.

On the phone, there are no visual cues. Worse, the poor quality audio filters out a lot of the vocal inflections. As a result, more of your brain processing power is allocated to filling in the missing information.

I've tried talking on the phone while driving, and it just doesn't work for me. This is from a person who has no problem drinking coffee, eating a sandwich, or reaching for my son's crayon that just rolled under the seat. The big difference is that taking a sip of coffee or a bite of a sandwich require a moment's attention. A 10-minute phone call equals a 10-minute period of half-assed driving.

I agree with fff suggestion for driver training. Not necessarily on motorcycles, but SOMETHING would have to help. I spent most of my 20's driving tiny cars, and it does hone your sense of self-preservation.

pracowity - you may be right, but they'll have to pry my cold, dead fingers from my steering wheel first.
posted by groundhog at 6:13 AM on March 25, 2002


> The ratio is favorable of keeping the phones.

I just gave it a quick read, NortonDC. Let me know if I got it wrong, but I think that article said something like this:

Their argument was in dollar terms. In strictly dollar terms, you might also argue that it makes sense to whore out your kids, but you wouldn't want pimps setting up stands on career day at school. In dollar terms, it might also make sense to execute the least productive members of society, but I suppose it would suck for the long-term unemployed.

And the author is counting potential dollars, money that cell phones in cars would generate if you charged what people would be willing to pay instead of what they currently pay for such access. The author say that you could confiscate that extra money and use it for something nice: raise cell-phone costs a lot and use the money thus raised to buy emergency vehicles and the like. Is that what you mean to argue?

The author also doesn't dispute these figures: "The researchers estimate that in 1999, driver use of cell phones caused about 300 fatalities, 38,000 nonfatal injuries, and 200,000 damaged vehicles." That's painful, expensive gossip.
posted by pracowity at 6:33 AM on March 25, 2002


pracowity - That's painful, expensive gossip.

How you use cell phones is not how I use cell phones.

And what I meant to argue is what the article argues and what the study it draws from shows--the value to society dramatically exceeds the cost to society.
posted by NortonDC at 7:10 AM on March 25, 2002


> How you use cell phones is not how I use cell phones.

I don't use them at all. Ever. But that's how most people use them.

> the value to society dramatically exceeds the cost
> to society.

In dollars, if calling costs were raised, taxed away, and used for something good:

"Then what would the Tappets' cherished ban accomplish? Drivers would give up $10 billion in benefits to prevent 300 deaths (plus some injuries and property damage). That's a lousy deal. The same $10 billion invested in, say, firefighting equipment would save substantially more than 300 lives—conceivably (using Viscusi's numbers) about five times as many. Instead of taking away drivers' cell phones, we could confiscate $10 billion, use it to buy fire trucks, and do the world a lot more good."
posted by pracowity at 7:31 AM on March 25, 2002


pracowity, you're showing that you've failed to understand the framework of the analysis. The gap that exists between A, the dollar cost of the calls, and B, the dollar value people would pay, is the source of the value to society.

The net societal worth of in-car cell phone use is what people would pay minus what people do pay (in both direct dollars and increased risk expressed as dollars). The study shows that net worth to be positive, and dramatically so.
posted by NortonDC at 8:19 AM on March 25, 2002


> The study shows that net worth to be positive

When calculated as dollars. They say it's worth killing X dollars worth of people, maiming Y dollars worth of people, and wrecking Z dollars worth of cars to allow unrestrained cell-phone chat in cars.
posted by pracowity at 8:38 AM on March 25, 2002


Task switching? Like changing gears? Better ban manual transmission cars. Having to look through one or more rear-view mirrors before changing lanes, while still keeping an eye on the guy in front of you in your own lane? Multi-tasking. Perhaps we should only have one-lane roads.

Perhaps Americans should learn to drive better? I got my license in the UK before moving over, and all of those things are taught over weeks and months so that they become integral to driving safely and well. And we learn in manual cars. (I should know: I failed my test twice because of insufficient attention to mirrors.) Instead, it seems as if teenagers get into a car at the age of 16 thinking that being able to drive is as natural as being able to breathe, and so everything is acquired haphazardly rather than engrained by qualified instructors. It would certainly explain why people drive so erratically here. That's why I took a couple of lessons when I first started driving in the US, just to adjust to being on the other side of the road.

Responding to a mobile phone isn't something that's taught, and I don't think you can even teach it. People who say that it doesn't affect them are kidding themselves, and drivers with a false sense of their own abilities are probably the greatest threat of all on the roads.
posted by quirkafleeg at 9:03 AM on March 25, 2002


aaron - I'm generally sympathetic for arguments that individuals should be allowed to take risks without too many limitations from a nanny state. However, the equation changes somewhat with automobile drivers because when you do stupid things in a car, you're not just risking your own life - you're putting innocent people at risk that you don't even know. I'm much more likely to support laws that limit your right to take stupid risks with other people's lives.

NortonDC & pracowity - We do, in fact trade off the value of people's lives against money & convenience all the time. If we made the national speed limit 20 miles per hour, we'd eliminate most traffic deaths, but as a society we're not willing to make that trade-off. The problem with explicitly calculating a dollar value is that it's way too arbitrary for a meaningful calculation. How many dollars is a life worth? a crippling injury? how much monetary value actually comes from a cell phone call? You can plug in the values you want to get the end answer you want, thereby creating the illusion that your position is "proven" by math. (Upon examination of the article above, it appears that the authors of the Brookings study calculated the value of the cell phone call by what users were willing to pay for the call. By that logic, the way to determine if drunk driving is a bad thing would be to calculate the retail cost of all the booze the drunk drivers drank & compare that to the cost of the damage done by drunk drivers.)
posted by tdismukes at 9:10 AM on March 25, 2002


pracowity:
> The study shows that net worth to be positive

When calculated as dollars. They say it's worth killing X dollars worth of people, maiming Y dollars worth of people, and wrecking Z dollars worth of cars to allow unrestrained cell-phone chat in cars.


Yup.

tdismukes - By that logic, the way to determine if drunk driving is a bad thing would be to calculate the retail cost of all the booze the drunk drivers drank & compare that to the cost of the damage done by drunk drivers.

Nope. By their logic the way to calculate the societal worth is to compare how much people would pay to drive drunk versus the cost of damage by drunk drivers.
posted by NortonDC at 9:17 AM on March 25, 2002


NortonDC - "...how much people would pay to drive drunk versus the cost of damage ..."

In the absence of drunk driving laws & penalties, that would be the price of the booze they drank. I don't expect many drunk drivers are planning on getting into an accident that paralyzes them for life when they get into the car, so that probably wouldn't be considered part of "how much they're willing to pay."

One big flaw I find with this logic is that even if you have a really good method for calculating the benefit people think they're getting from the cell phones, you're comparing it to potential costs for someone else. I might feel that the benefits for dumping my waste in the river are worth paying x dollars per month, but the real costs are hitting the folks downstream from me - and they're not getting the money I pay for the privilege of polluting. If I pay party A for the privilege of screwing over Party B, then the difference between A's profit and B's loss, doesn't really add up to a gain for society.
posted by tdismukes at 9:40 AM on March 25, 2002


They say it's worth killing X dollars worth of people, maiming Y dollars worth of people, and wrecking Z dollars worth of cars to allow unrestrained cell-phone chat in cars.

And yet not one of "them" would willingly choose to be one of the poor schmucks who falls into categories X or Y.

Assigning dollar costs is all well and good in a hypothetical exercise. Real life begs to differ.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:22 AM on March 25, 2002


But that's exactly what insurance companies do. There is a cost/benefit analysis done for EVERYTHING.
posted by groundhog at 10:43 AM on March 25, 2002


tdismukes - You've got it backwards. The value of driving drunk is reduced by the cost of alcohol, not increased.

(Worth of driving drunk) - (costs associated with doing so) = net worth

The cost of alcohol would be associated with the cost side, oddly enough.

five fresh fish - And yet not one of "them" would willingly choose to be one of the poor schmucks who falls into categories X or Y.

Actually, I'd say at least half of "them" did choose to assume the additional risk.

And avoiding dealing with dollar costs hardly qualifies as "real life."
posted by NortonDC at 10:49 AM on March 25, 2002


NortonDC - "Nope. By their logic the way to calculate the societal worth is to compare how much people would pay to drive drunk versus the cost of damage by drunk drivers."

"The value of driving drunk is reduced by the cost of alcohol, not increased."

How exactly are you measuring how much people would pay to drive drunk, other than in the cost of the booze? Actually, the Brookings study was in fact basing the supposed dollar value of the cell phone calls on the actual cost of cell phone bills - precisely analogous to the cost of alchohol in my example.

"Actually, I'd say at least half of "them" did choose to assume the additional risk"

I think FFF was using "them" to refer to the people who did the study. Nevertheless you are correct that at least half of the people who pay the price were the ones receiving the benefit of the cell phone calls. My concern is with the other half.
posted by tdismukes at 12:27 PM on March 25, 2002


Indeedly-doodly, neighbour: "they" are a bunch of number-crunchers living in a world of hypothesis, and not actually connecting the fact that a good number of people who get slaughtered by careless cell-phone-using drivers did not benefit from the use of the cell phone in any way, shape, or form.

I'd like someone to please explain why the benefit they receive by using their cell phone while driving outweighs the benefit I derive by them not being distracted by it.

It certainly seems that at least with my preference, people aren't endangered.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:52 PM on March 25, 2002


tdismukes - How exactly are you measuring how much people would pay to drive drunk, other than in the cost of the booze?

Now you're getting to the meat of it.

Nobody that I can imagine would pay anything to drive drunk, at least not regularly. Nobody particularly wants to drive drunk. No benefit.

So how much would people be willing to pay to drive drunk? Very little. So then:

(the amount people would be willing to pay to drive drunk)
-(the costs of having people drive drunk)
=(some negative number)

This is the model working as intended.


five fresh fish - "they" are a bunch of number-crunchers living in a world of hypothesis, and not actually connecting the fact that a good number of people who get slaughtered by careless cell-phone-using drivers did not benefit from the use of the cell phone in any way, shape, or form.

Sure they did benefit, unless they always refuse to speak to people calling them from car phones.
posted by NortonDC at 1:22 PM on March 25, 2002


Maybe we should ask Niki Taylor how she feels about cell phones in cars?
"Taylor was a passenger in a car that lost control and hit a utility pole on a winding road. The car driver has said he looked down to answer a cell phone call and lost control of the car."
Then there's the whole Rebecca Gayheart story.
posted by 120degrees at 1:41 PM on March 25, 2002


I can honestly state that I have never benefited by a driver making a cell-phone call, Norton, because I have never received a phone call -- landline or cellular -- that was of such importance that it couldn't be put off for the amount of time it would take to pull over and park before making the call.

In other words, I've never had a phone call that, for want of thirty seconds time saved, has made me a fortune, lost me a fortune, or saved the life of someone I know.

Strangely enough, I also really doubt anyone in this thread has truly benefited by receiving a cell call from someone who is concurrently piloting a vehicle.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:53 PM on March 25, 2002


The communication itself, including its improved timeliness, is the benefit to you.

You benefited. Sorry about your guilt.

Welcome to the party.
posted by NortonDC at 4:58 PM on March 25, 2002


> The communication itself, including its improved
> timeliness, is the benefit to you.

NortonDC: Explain exactly how anyone benefits from you carelessly careening past people’s children in a big metal fleshcrusher as you devote your hand, your hearing, and your concentration to Trixie or whoever it is you're gabbing to. And explain how that remarkable benefit -- people get to hear even more of you -- outweighs the minor losses (death, paralysis, disfigurement, lifelong pain, etc.) caused by behavior like yours. Give us real facts, not something vague like "the communication itself" is the benefit. Tell us about all the wonderful benefits you have enjoyed by barreling down crowded streets while talking to someone about something earthshaking. Real facts this time. Exactly what would you tell the family of the kid you ran over while dialing a pizzeria on the way home? And will you call them from the Burger King drive-through with your condolences when they're at the kid's funeral?
posted by pracowity at 10:32 PM on March 25, 2002


No.
posted by NortonDC at 3:50 AM on March 26, 2002


So you're a McDonald's man, then?
posted by pracowity at 6:27 AM on March 26, 2002


I sure do loves me some Veggie Big Macs.

Next.
posted by NortonDC at 2:17 PM on March 26, 2002


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