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Cell time for cellphone drivers?
July 19, 2009 10:33 AM   Subscribe

“We’ve spent billions on air bags, antilock brakes, better steering, safer cars and roads, but the number of fatalities has remained constant,” said David Strayer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah and a leading researcher in the field of distracted driving. “Our return on investment for those billions is zero,” he added. “And that’s because we’re using [cellphone and messaging] devices in our cars.”

Despite an estimated death toll of up to 2600 each year, attempts to ban device use has made little headway. Regardless of how you feel about cellphone bans, Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman had this insightful comment : “There are so many things that can be forbidden. The stranger thing is that we believe everything that isn’t forbidden is allowed.”
posted by storybored (179 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Dutch traffic engineer Hans Moderman sounds like a dick.

In other traffic accident news people infected with brain-control parasites from cat poop 6 times more likely to get into a traffic accident then those without the infection.
posted by delmoi at 10:40 AM on July 19, 2009 [15 favorites]


What about insurance? Why not reduce coverage if a cellphone is cited as a cause in the accident?
posted by Brian B. at 10:44 AM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


MY CAT'S POOP SAYS TO PAY NO ATTENTION TO DELMOI

NOW LET US ALL CHANGE THE KITTY LITTER
posted by Flunkie at 10:45 AM on July 19, 2009 [40 favorites]


Um, I don't think Strayer understands return on investment. The ROI on those innovations and regulations is substantial, the overall fatality rate is unchanged because of other factors which would have occurred independently of the investment. Unless, of course, he believes in risk substitution to the point where he thinks that people use cellphones because they feel artificially safe in the cars due to investments in safer technology. Which means, of course, that we should put a giant spike on the steering wheel such that any slight error in driving ability causes instant and painful death. That'll fix everything.

Yes cell phone use and texting is a problem. To ignore the gains made by safer cars and roads is a mistake.
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:46 AM on July 19, 2009 [16 favorites]


According to the report it gave me, I was equally bad at the flash-based driving simulator that goes along with the article, regardless of whether I was texting or not. However, I had just had a few shots of bourbon just before I tried it last night.
posted by ubermuffin at 10:47 AM on July 19, 2009


Ironically, I just cleaned 4 cat boxes....

I think I'll go driving for a while...I've got a couple of calls to make....I'll let y'all know how it turns out...
posted by HuronBob at 10:49 AM on July 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


In other traffic accident news people infected with brain-control parasites from cat poop 6 times more likely to get into a traffic accident then those without the infection.

Quote from link:
"However, infected people have impaired reaction times [6] and about 2.6 times higher risk of traffic accidents [7,8], possibly as a result of manipulation activity of Toxoplasma aimed to increase the chance of transmission from the intermediate to the definitive host, i.e. from any bird or mammal species to any feline species, by predation."
posted by Brian B. at 10:49 AM on July 19, 2009


Many things distract one while driving: fiddling with the radio controls, billboards, uncomfortable seats, a can of soda. I think talking on a cell phone, though, has a higher level of distraction, more so than talking to someone sitting next to you.

People say "But talking is talking, how can it be any different?" I think a couple of factors are at work. First, talking with a physically present passenger has some measure of compensatory vigilance from the additional observer, who might say "Look out!"

However, and I think some money could be invested in a study for this, it requires more processing power to understand someone on a cell phone. Most especially if the person with whom you are speaking is also on a cell phone. I can tell when someone is using a Bluetooth headset. It requires more attention, a noticeable amount, to translate those watery noises into words. I've got great hearing, but damn if it isn't distracting.

I generally do not support preventative measures for entities which are not corporations; I'd rather just have, after the cell phone records were checked, some additional fine imposed on people who have accidents while driving. "You were on the phone at the time of the accident, you were driving impaired, you're at fault. Here's your fine." I think texting would be more impractical to track — what percentage of people, post accident, are going to finish their text message and send it? It's at least as impractical as trying to figure out who is texting before an accident.

Insurance companies do not seem to have absorbed the idea, at a deep level, that talking on the cell phone while driving is bad. I recently had to tell my insurance agent that I was not going to talk to them while driving, twice.

Oh, and do some reading on Monderman. He's actually a cool guy with a lot of insight.
posted by adipocere at 10:50 AM on July 19, 2009 [6 favorites]


I found myself incredibly furious about halfway into the second page of this article with the nonchalant way they just casually interviewed Mr. Hill and his "lessons learned" after he fucking killed someone. He killed a person with his car and he "doesn't want to bother his friends" when he sees them using a cell phone when driving?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:55 AM on July 19, 2009 [12 favorites]


First, talking with a physically present passenger has some measure of compensatory vigilance from the additional observer, who might say "Look out!"

This is why when I am on the phone with someone I know is behind the wheel, I just shout "Look out!" and "Whoa!" now and again.

Y'know, the first time I got hit by a car, the driver was on her cell phone. And even after there was suddenly a guy on the hood of her car, she did not hang up. I did see her mouth the words "Oh my god!" through the windshield, though, so it's not as though she didn't notice.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:58 AM on July 19, 2009 [31 favorites]


People say "But talking is talking, how can it be any different?" I think a couple of factors are at work. First, talking with a physically present passenger has some measure of compensatory vigilance from the additional observer, who might say "Look out!"

Absolutely. Anyone who argues this point doesn't understand driving. Period. When you're driving a motor vehicle, you have a few tons of metal etc and whole lotta velocity at your fingertips. The degree to which you are not focused on what you are doing is the degree to which you really ought to take up walking, sitting etc.

Seriously. It's 21st century psychosis to argue otherwise.
posted by philip-random at 10:59 AM on July 19, 2009 [8 favorites]


Which means, of course, that we should put a giant spike on the steering wheel such that any slight error in driving ability causes instant and painful death.
This reminds me of the old Idiots Guide to Volkswagon vans, which rebutted the idea that having the driver sit ahead of the front wheels was dangerous. It said that being strapped to the front of the car "like an Aztec sacrifice" kept you extremely aware of the road. Good theory, I guess.
posted by bitslayer at 11:00 AM on July 19, 2009


Anyone that can say "the first time I got hit by a car", is either very lucky, or very unlucky...I'm not sure which...
posted by HuronBob at 11:01 AM on July 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


First, talking with a physically present passenger has some measure of compensatory vigilance from the additional observer, who might say "Look out!"
Do people driving with blind people as their passengers (and conversing with them) get in accidents at the same rate as people who drive while speaking on the phone?
posted by Flunkie at 11:03 AM on July 19, 2009 [6 favorites]


Many things distract one while driving: fiddling with the radio controls, billboards, uncomfortable seats, a can of soda.

Actually, IIRC studies also show, I believe that drinking a beverage while driving also as dangerious as being drunk while driving. It's hard to Google though :P
posted by delmoi at 11:03 AM on July 19, 2009


i fully agree that cell phone jammers should be installed in a vehicle before it can be registered. this should be implemented worldwide, immediately. almost head-on collision yesterday with driver doing 45 in a 35 with iphone perched on top of steering wheel, fully covering his field of vision (could not see his eyes), fully halfway into my lane. use the phone at all while driving? then you are an arrogant loser douchebag and i hate you.
posted by sexyrobot at 11:04 AM on July 19, 2009 [14 favorites]


Zero RoI? Is that a dumb joke? According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, total traffic fatality numbers are at their lowest point since 1961, because during that time traffic fatality rates per 100 million passenger miles traveled have dropped by nearly 80%.

Traffic accidents continue to kill roughly a hundred people every day in the US, and reducing distracted driving would probably save many of those lives, but perhaps the Times could have found a less innumerate person to help make that point.
posted by roystgnr at 11:06 AM on July 19, 2009 [17 favorites]


What about insurance? Why not reduce coverage if a cellphone is cited as a cause in the accident?

Yes, that's a great idea, because giving insurance companies a big fat weasel clause to get out of paying claims isn't EVER going to be abused. No sirree, that wouldn't happen here in America!
posted by deadmessenger at 11:08 AM on July 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


I just returned to the world of driving after a 10 year hiatus. It's been an interesting experience because so much has changed (and so little has changed as well.) The modern car is full of distracting bells and whistles before anyone even feigns to dial your number. Being a bit out of practice, and driving a stick, I've elected to not drive and talk on the phone at the same time. When it comes down to it there is nothing I have to say that is so important it can't wait for a few minutes. It's just that simple.
posted by elwoodwiles at 11:08 AM on July 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


Also the argument that "All the money we spent on car safety was wasted" doesn't make any sense, presumably, if we hadn't spent that money the situation would be far worse, if what he was saying is true. And I don't think it is anyway.
posted by delmoi at 11:08 AM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I can say from my own experience that my driving is significantly and noticeably worse when I'm having a conversation with a passenger. I'm a much better driver when I'm silent.
posted by Malor at 11:09 AM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is a peculiarly American variety of lunacy; here in the UK, using a cellphone while driving is illegal unless you're using it through a hands-free kit; you'll get a £60 fine and three penalty points on your license for each offense. In event of a fatal accident they now routinely check phone usage logs and if you've been texting you can expect a prison sentence.
posted by cstross at 11:09 AM on July 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


cell phone jammers should be installed in a vehicle

but passengers using cellphones in a car is probably not very dangerous and can be helpful.
posted by snofoam at 11:10 AM on July 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Here in the UK last year we had the lowest number of road deaths since records began... so we're doing something right. It's illegal to use a mobile phone in a car though. Yeah, for regulation!
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:12 AM on July 19, 2009


Many things distract one while driving: fiddling with the radio controls, billboards, uncomfortable seats, a can of soda. I think talking on a cell phone, though, has a higher level of distraction, more so than talking to someone sitting next to you.

One reason to be hesitant about this equivalency line of defense for cell phone use while driving (and Brian is being skeptical; I'm just elaborating) is a series of recent studies suggesting that parts of the brain used in conversation strongly link to the visual cortex. Whether hardwired or acquired, using language communicatively seems to be a process that integrates those faculties, such that you are hunting for a conversational partner in your visual field when you converse with them in real time. (You may also be imagining them, or recalling images of them. The studies there can't disrciminate among those possibilities, as far as I can tell.) And having you eyes ope and pointed towards the road doesn't entail full attention or optimal response, nor does it entail no attention and no response, but may make enough of a difference to impede reactions at crucial moments.

[speculation]
More speculatively, having a disembodied conversation like that might promote a false sense of confidence that fiddling with the radio or grabbing a soda doesn't. If one of those other distractions pops up, I recognize it as such and take care of it quickly. Having my eyes open but my processing of those perceptions being impeded doesn't register in the same way and I talk for much longer, increasing chances of accidents etc.
[/speculation]
posted by el_lupino at 11:12 AM on July 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


I will not talk on my cellphone while driving on city streets or in heavy traffic. I don't like to talk on it at all while driving but there is this expectation that everyone is available all the time these days. It's often a condition of being employed in some fields, especially technical fields. On a related note, I wonder if anyone has ever charted traffic accidents against the number of fast food drive throughs in an area. When did it become the norm to eat while driving? When you think about how large cars have become and all the crazy things people try to do while driving it's a wonder more people aren't killed.
posted by Tashtego at 11:13 AM on July 19, 2009


Or what Stross said.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:13 AM on July 19, 2009


NYTimes driving while texting simulator
posted by acro at 11:13 AM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I doubt really the return is zero. Let's all drive 50's era cars, on 50's era roads, at 50's era intoxication levels, with today's increased traffic level, then throw in cell phones & texting on top of that. You'd have three times as many fatalities.

That said, I abhor phone use while driving. I was an early cell-phone adopter, and noticed immediately that I drove erratically while on the phone, so I stopped doing it! Why this doesn't occur to more people is beyond me, but if the levels of incapacitation as a result of DWT are at or near the levels of DWI, as I've seen suggested, then perhaps legislation is advisable.

If we're gonna go all-out about drunk drivers, toss them in the slammer & throw the book at them, can we ignore a similarly large threat statistically? Seems arbitrary and unfair to me.

Note: I am not defending drunk driving in any way shape or form and if you kill/hurt someone while driving drunk, then g*d help you.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:16 AM on July 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


The ROI on those innovations and regulations is substantial, the overall fatality rate is unchanged because of other factors which would have occurred independently of the investment. Unless, of course, he believes in risk substitution to the point where he thinks that people use cellphones because they feel artificially safe in the cars due to investments in safer technology. Which means, of course, that we should put a giant spike on the steering wheel such that any slight error in driving ability causes instant and painful death. That'll fix everything.

You can read a far less dramatic version of this thesis in Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)—that advances in road and vehicle safety are partially offset by drivers taking on more risk because they feel safer. It doesn't go nearly so far as saying all the safety advances have been worthless, though.
posted by chrominance at 11:16 AM on July 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


NYTimes driving while texting simulator

Yee-haw! It's like the movies!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:18 AM on July 19, 2009


What's the only mammal that's immune to space brain fungus Toxoplasma? The common house cat.

What's the only mammal that never takes calls? That's right -- the common house cat.

Gentle people, I submit that the members of Felis catus are the perfect chauffeurs of our bloody great rolling death machines. We should engage their services and ever after enjoy travel free of want or worry.

Yes... a simple guidance system based on laser pointers and slinkies should suffice.
posted by Kikkoman at 11:18 AM on July 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


My father used to brag about being able to roll joints while driving his manual Bug.
posted by klangklangston at 11:18 AM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


In event of a fatal accident they now routinely check phone usage logs and if you've been texting you can expect a prison sentence.

From the article:
Lord Ahmed, 51, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving last year and was sentenced yesterday. He will serve half of his sentence, six weeks, in prison. The judge, Mr Justice Wilkie, said that the text messages had not contributed to the fatal collision.
Interesting story, by the way:
Two minutes after he sent the final message, Lord Ahmed collided with the Audi near junction 35. Its owner, Mr Gombar, had been drinking and had crashed the vehicle into the central reservation. The car had spun around and was stationary across the middle and outside lanes. Mr Gombar had left the car but was thought to be returning to retrieve his phone when the crash occurred.
posted by delmoi at 11:21 AM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


And then there are instances of subway and train operators who have been texting, in some cases causing fatal accidents:
Boston subway crash rekindles texting-while-driving debate.

Both Conductors Text Messaging In L.A. Train Crash.

DC Metro Train Operator Texting: Video.
posted by ericb at 11:22 AM on July 19, 2009


My father used to brag about being able to roll joints while driving his manual Bug

Damn. Now there's a useful skill. I'd brag too.
posted by Tashtego at 11:23 AM on July 19, 2009


"Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt, is a great read on topics like this.
Driving is an extremely complex and dynamic activity that requires the evaluation of massive amounts of information that's being delivered at high speed. Think about the complex process involved in what is essentially reading other drivers minds and intentions. Every day, we observe another motorist at an intersection or driveway and we have to infer if they're going to pull out in front of us, while we're operating a vehicle and storing a mental picture of all of our surrounding traffic. "Traffic" describes a similar study that tracks eye movement while a person participates in a driving simulator. Without a cellphone, the subject scans the whole environment, detecting more potential hazards and scoring higher on whatever test they applied. The cellphone driver seems to "concentrate" and stares intently ahead, convinced that they need to "focus extra" on what they're doing, while actually ignoring important stimuli.
And there's a big difference between the organic soundwaves coming from your passenger and the garbled, time-delayed frequencies coming from a phone.
Anecdotally, I'd have to say that about 7/10ths of my close calls on the road involve a vehicle being operated by a person on a cell phone. Even as a proponent of personal freedom, I'd support action classifying cell phone use as "impairment" while operating a vehicle. The first couple times that I ever used my phone while driving, I noticed the distraction so profoundly that I refuse to answer it while I'm driving, now. Honestly, it's hard to any complex task while talking on the phone. If I'm repairing a car while talking on the phone, I find that I invariably put down my work to finish the conversation. And, when I'm driving behind someone who's obviously on the phone, I find they do something similar. Their speed becomes erratic and usually falls below the safe speed of surrounding traffic, the vehicle wanders in the lane, and the driver makes reckless choices at the last minute in a way that's not contiguous with the usual pattern of predictable driving that we've all come to expect from our fellow motorists. Basically, drivers forget about driving while they're on the phone.
Additionally, people use safety advancements as a license to drive more recklessly. The mentality of "Oh, well my ABS and airbags will save me" is, from my experience, pretty prevalent. Well, when you're driving a 3700lb SUV with bald tires and old brakes, only dumb luck will save you.
posted by Jon-o at 11:28 AM on July 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


"To me, the death of freedom is far worse than the risk of talking on the phone while driving," said Carl Wimmer, a state representative in Salt Lake City who successfully fought a bill this year to ban talking while driving.

Motherfucker, this shit ain't Braveheart. Speaking as someone who personally saw an idiot cream a little girl on her bicycle and then -- as the little girl writhed on the asphalt, screaming, drawing a crowd of horrified onlookers -- get out of her car and, instead of approaching the child she'd run into, simply stand there, crying, and continue to talk on her goddamned phone -- fuck you, Carl Wimmer, you incredible douchebag.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:29 AM on July 19, 2009 [29 favorites]


Many things distract one while driving: fiddling with the radio controls, billboards, uncomfortable seats, a can of soda...

Yep. A friend went to retrieve a CD off of the passenger seat to insert into the console/dashboard sound system. In that brief time she misjudged her speed, the curve of the road ahead ... and ended up totaling her car in the ditch on the far side of the road. She was lucky that she was belted, the air-bags deployed and that there wasn't an on-coming car, or a brick wall, etc. in her path.
posted by ericb at 11:31 AM on July 19, 2009


Gentle people, I submit that the members of Felis catus are the perfect chauffeurs of our bloody great rolling death machines. We should engage their services and ever after enjoy travel free of want or worry.

You are not familiar with Toonces, the driving cat
posted by birdherder at 11:31 AM on July 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


Yes, that's a great idea, because giving insurance companies a big fat weasel clause to get out of paying claims isn't EVER going to be abused.

Okay then, instead they should just be allowed to toss the offender into a woodchipper while their friends are forced to say goodbye on the phone. Let'em abuse that one, please.
posted by Brian B. at 11:34 AM on July 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


Gentle people, I submit that the members of Felis catus are the perfect chauffeurs of our bloody great rolling death machines. We should engage their services and ever after enjoy travel free of want or worry.

Are you sure about that?
posted by ford and the prefects at 11:34 AM on July 19, 2009


I've never quite understood why people think they can drive and talk at the same time. I can't walk and talk on the phone at the same time; I can barely smoke and talk on the phone.
posted by Electrius at 11:38 AM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


You are not familiar with Toonces, the driving cat

Are you sure about that?

Jinx. One of 'ya owes the other a Coke®!
posted by ericb at 11:38 AM on July 19, 2009


This is a peculiarly American variety of lunacy; here in the UK, using a cellphone while driving is illegal unless you're using it through a hands-free kit; you'll get a £60 fine and three penalty points on your license for each offense.

That's the law they have here in California--which, last time I checked, was in the USA. Most scientists say that there's very little distinction, however, between using a cellphone and using a hands-free kit in terms of driver distraction.
posted by yoink at 11:42 AM on July 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


roystgnr: Absolutely: Fatalities have dropped enormously since 1961. At the same time, medical care for serious injuries has improved enormously, highway|motorway† road standards have improved and (I believe) increased congestion has reduced mean off-highway|motorway speeds.

You can't just look at the raw death rates and conclude that it was expenditure on car safety features that produced that drop.

delete as appropriate
posted by pharm at 11:48 AM on July 19, 2009


The NYT simulator instructs you to "answer in the same words that appear in bold on the phone's screen". Not "with one of the words in bold". So when the phone asked a question and listed three options in bold, "beach", "road" and "trip", I thought, well, that's strange, and responded "beach road trip".

It then said "Huh? I don't understand you", and again asked me the same question, with the same options bolded. I again responded "beach road trip".

And a third time.

It had said that it was going to ask three times, so I was then surprised when it asked a fourth time. At this point, I was annoyed at NYT's poorly phrased instructions, and answered "beach". It then moved on to a different question, and then a third.

My results: 0.28 seconds slower and 3% more gates missed.

I then tried again, this time understanding the (poorly phrased) instructions before going into it. My new results: 0.02 seconds slower and no more gates missed.

From this, I conclude that driving while given poorly phrased instructions is significantly worse than driving while texting, and therefore significantly worse than driving drunk.
posted by Flunkie at 11:51 AM on July 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Chances are very good that you're not so important that you can't wait to call someone back in a few minutes.

If you, for some reason, *are* the important, pull over and call them right back. That's what hazard lights are for.
posted by Cyrano at 11:53 AM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


From this, I conclude that driving while given poorly phrased instructions is significantly worse than driving while texting, and therefore significantly worse than driving drunk.

While not the NYT game's point, of course, that's actually a pretty good demonstration of the worst possible risk scenario with texting and/or cellphoning while driving: having a frustrating, angry, or confusing exchange with someone will really take your mind off the road. I've noticed this sometimes driving behind people who are clearly having a heated discussion in the car (hand's gesticulating wildly etc.)--the car starts to weave, the speed varies erratically and so on. Think how much worse it is if you get into an argument with someone on the phone, or if you're trying to follow someone's texted directions but can't understand them or what have you. I'll bet those are the real killer situations.
posted by yoink at 11:56 AM on July 19, 2009


a series of recent studies suggesting that parts of the brain used in conversation strongly link to the visual cortex. Whether hardwired or acquired, using language communicatively seems to be a process that integrates those faculties, such that you are hunting for a conversational partner in your visual field when you converse with them in real time.

I had an aunt who used to turn around and look at the people she was talking to in the back seat. While driving. Fucking terrified me, even when I was a kid. Yeah, they ought to crack down on this, but they won't, because the legislators themselves love it:

“I’m on the phone from when I leave the Capitol to when I get home, and that’s a two-hour drive,” said Tad Jones, the majority floor leader in the Oklahoma House, who helped block the legislation. “A lot of people who travel are used to using the phone.”


Also, I'm glad other people remember Toonces!
posted by languagehat at 12:04 PM on July 19, 2009


I've taken to randomly flipping-off the fuckwits driving while using their cell phones. Even if I didn't actually see them do something stupid, they may take a moment and wonder why they just got birded and look at the traffic around them. I ratchet up my message when someone actually does do something stupid... I may even curse and give them two birds with a horn toot. Selfish, self-centered pricks.
posted by Mojojojo at 12:04 PM on July 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


@NYT Simulator
"We're going to make pizzas tonite, what's your preference PEPPERONI, MUSHROOM or PLAIN?

Trying to steer (how fast am i going? looks like 200 km/hr) and type I click "PEPPRONI"

"Huh, I don't understand you"

"PEEPR"

"Huh I don't understand you"

"PEEPPORNI"

"Huh I don't understand you"

"OF COURSE U DON"T UNDERSTAND ME U R TRYING TO GET ME KILLED"
posted by storybored at 12:08 PM on July 19, 2009 [7 favorites]


Apparently, I'm the only one on Metafilter who actually does this. Well, fair enough. I'll take my "Arrogant Douchebag" T-shirt in extra-large, please.

I'm way less distracted talking on my cell phone while driving than I am talking to a passenger. Talking on my phone, I can at least be trusted to keep my eyes on the road.
posted by webmutant at 12:13 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Talking on my phone, I can at least be trusted to keep my eyes on the road.

Everybody thinks that. Accident statistics say otherwise.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 12:14 PM on July 19, 2009 [8 favorites]


So I guess texting Sarah Palin while driving would be, like, an instant death sentence.
posted by darkstar at 12:16 PM on July 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


About 6 months ago, my daughter spotted a woman diving while on the cell phone, and pointed out her "Hang Up and Drive!" bumper sticker. It sure emphasized the exceptionalism of "Everyone sucks at this but me" that seems so... American.
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:17 PM on July 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


In America, we're very good at exceptionalism. Exceptionally good at it.


"Exceptional fast food and exceptional dance moves..."
posted by darkstar at 12:20 PM on July 19, 2009


I'm way less distracted talking on my cell phone while driving than I am talking to a passenger. Talking on my phone, I can at least be trusted to keep my eyes on the road.

Turns out that people are really, really bad at rating their own level of distractedness.
posted by yoink at 12:20 PM on July 19, 2009 [16 favorites]


Before cellphones when I was 17 I had a courier route in a downtown area that was very routine. I read Breakfast of Champions cover to cover in the van while driving. Thankfully, I didn't kill anyone.
posted by swallow at 12:21 PM on July 19, 2009


If you're doing anything else while you're driving, then you're not driving, asshat.
posted by yesster at 12:21 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't like to talk on it at all while driving but there is this expectation that everyone is available all the time these days. It's often a condition of being employed in some fields, especially technical fields.

If it were illegal to gab on the phone while driving, they couldn't very well make it a job requirement.

And if it can be shown that phoning and drinking are equally dangerous while driving, one of two things should be done: make phoning and driving illegal (and have insurance companies and police and the courts treat you like a drunk driver if you are caught doing it, especially if there's an accident), or make drinking and driving legal.
posted by pracowity at 12:23 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


since the advent of cell phone technology

1) auto fatalities would be higher without the safety improvements that have been developed

2) they have remained constant because it has become acceptable to use cell phones in cars - and this distraction cancels out the other improvements

So what will it take to ban cell-phone/blackberry use in cars? There's a law forcing me to wear my seat-belt - which amounts to a law to protect me against myself - but no law to protect me against the substantial increased risked that other drivers pose when using cellphones/blackberries?

ban the motherfuckers already
posted by sloe at 12:24 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm just going to be amazed that someone else came up with the 'if you're driving with someone who is blind,' discussion point. One of my friends works in legislature and we discussed this around the time of the local handsfree bill.
posted by cobaltnine at 12:27 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hmm... 0.15 seconds slower while not texting, 7% more gates missed while not texting...
For me the biggest challenge was hitting the right numbers without looking at the keyboard. The simulator was let down by the fact that if you move into the correct lane quickly enough, you have time to enter a couple of letters before the next lane number shows. That led to me selecting lanes more quickly to compensate for the texting... and then looking away from the road.

While texting or using a phone without hands-free while driving is illegal here in the UK, plenty of people do it; I've learned to look out for the telltale shirtsleeve up against the driver's window - it's a sign to keep well away because you don't know what the stupid fucker is going to do. The driving pattern is very similar to that of a drunk: changes of speed for no obvious reason, ignoring speed restrictions, changing lanes at the last moment without a signal, etc.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 12:28 PM on July 19, 2009


People say "But talking is talking, how can it be any different?"

I think the difference between talking to someone in the car and someone on the phone is that the mental task of a phone call is made more consuming by our tendency to construct the other person in our minds, by imagining them responding in a conversation face to face. Obviously, this is a task we don't need to do when we are conversing with a passenger. We may underestimate the mental resources needed to do this construction of imagination when we dismiss the notion that we are impaired when we drive and talk on the phone.

That's my theory and I'm sticking to it. Unless and until someone comes up with a better one, of course.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:29 PM on July 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


Look, some people can separate the motor skills and language functions of their brain and some can't.

You can't say everyone shouldn't talk and drive, because some folks are just fine at it. Really. Zero difference between silent driving and conversational driving at all. Outliers on the studies for sure, but they do exist.

On the other hand, you can't say cell phone use is OK in moderation for everyone because some people can't even say "Hello" without swerving the vehicle into the next lane.

I'm looking at you, college buddy who would _literally_ turn around in his seat to address people in the back while driving.

It really does come down to trusting people to be aware of and to work within their own limitations.

(Yes, I know that's never going to happen with some people. Sigh.)
posted by Aquaman at 12:31 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


You can't say everyone shouldn't talk and drive, because some folks are just fine at it. Really. Zero difference between silent driving and conversational driving at all. Outliers on the studies for sure, but they do exist.
How do you know this?
posted by Flunkie at 12:32 PM on July 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


If you, for some reason, *are* the important, pull over and call them right back. That's what hazard lights are for.

This is so very dangerously wrong it should be in ask metafilter where it can get a best answer.
posted by srboisvert at 12:34 PM on July 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


Make cars out of bubblewrap. Problem solved.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:35 PM on July 19, 2009


I recall Mythbusters actually tackling this one. They tried to drive through an obstacle course while having a cellphone conversation and then tried it again while drunk (cops were there to supervise and test his BAL). They found that, yep, talking on the cellphone is about as damaging to your driving skills as being illegally DUI.

And that's a pretty sobering thought, really.
posted by darkstar at 12:38 PM on July 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Us humans probably aren't the great multitaskers we think we are. I regularly see bizknobs downtown step blindly into traffic as they type furiously on their crackberries. Maybe it's time we started taking driving (and walking) more seriously again.
posted by Go Banana at 12:38 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think the problem isn't the driving...It's the cellphone. There's a portion of the cellphone using community who are ruining it for the rest of us. These people talk on their phones as if they're trapped underwater and oxygen is coming out of the damn thing.

These people are in restaurants and can't stop talking long enough to engage with the waiter properly, screwing up service for the rest of the patrons. They're in grocery stores and can't put the phone down long enough to properly swipe their debit cards, slowing up the line for everybody else. Or simply standing there, in the way, oblivious to whatever is going on around them. I swear, it's a freakin' mental disorder.
posted by billyfleetwood at 12:40 PM on July 19, 2009 [7 favorites]


Let me expand a bit more on my theory. Good, safe driving requires building a mental model of the road situation and constantly updating it as you move down the road and new parts are added and old parts drop off, and relative positions of you and other traffic change. You can't constantly stare in all directions at once, but you can check your mirrors and look to the sides frequently to update and correct your mental image of what's happening around you. When you are conversing with a passenger, that person is part of the mental model and a minor one at that. Your model is as complete as your brain can produce under the circumstances. Although this may vary by individual, when an individual devotes their brain to this activity fully, they are as safe as they can be given the technology of their car and others and the built environment.

When you talk on the phone, you have a mental model of that person and try to guess the non-verbal cues based on that mental model. It is work, because the number of verbal cues are small and can usually be neglected in a face-to-face conversation. This mental model of the phone call is disconnected from the model of the road that is needed to drive, so it takes away some of the capacity for the road model. This means that there are lapses or holes in the driver's mental model of the road, making it easier to get in danger's way.

The other evening, while walking through a large suburban shopping mall parking lot, there was a car that was swiftly backing over Ms Wimp and me, and after we jumped out of the way, I moved to catch the driver's eye. That's when I noticed she was chattin' away, nice as you please, on the phone and literally jumped when she saw how close she had come to us. We were not part of her world until then.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:41 PM on July 19, 2009 [13 favorites]


"To me, the death of freedom freedom of death is far worse than the risk of talking on the phone while driving," said Carl Wimmer, a state representative in Salt Lake City who successfully fought a bill this year to ban talking while driving.

I think this is what he really meant.
posted by furtive at 12:44 PM on July 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


I've had this idea for a while. Everything thinks they're the only one who can drive safely while talking on a cell phone. Fine. Since you are brilliant and can actually pay attention to the road while having a conversation, go ahead and show us how you can do it and you can have a license that allows you to talk on the phone.

So if you'd like a -C(ell) license, you can opt when you renew your license to have your reaction times tested. Of course if they're unusually slow you lose your license all together since people who can't react to things shouldn't be driving. You can have your license back when your times improve. When you're done driving there's a short quiz about what you saw along the way. Again, you have to do decently well on this to keep your license. Ok, now you have normal reaction times, those are your baselines.

Now we put you on the phone. You have to answer a few questions/engage in a basic conversation. We measure your reaction times again while you're doing this. And then a short quiz on what you saw while driving. If your scores are the same as they were before (you know, cause you're the one person who doesn't let the phone distract them), then you can have your -C license. If they're not, you can leave with your regular license and you can't talk while driving. Give drivers with a -C license a sign to put in car windows to identify themselves (like you used to get for disabled parking) and the cops will leave you alone.

Since you're the one who wants this license you can pay for the cost of all this testing. If your employer requires you to be answer the phone (really? They won't let you call back in 10 minutes after you exit, pull over and find a place to park? I'm guessing they will and you just can't be bothered), then they can pay for you -C license testing, or someone to drive you while you talk on the phone.

Oh, and of course your insurance company already wants to know what kind of license you have and they'll want to know if you have a -C license. They may find that even though their reaction times were testing people with -C licenses have higher accident rates in which case they'll charge more, just like they do for other categories of people who are higher risk. That's fine and fair; no reason others should subsidize people who choose to make themselves high risk.

I'm guessing not many people would bother to go for a -C license and not many who tried would pass. But if lots of people get them, well if they people driving and talking have demonstrated they really can pay attention and react then I don't see the problem. But until you prove it I have no reason to believe you're the superhuman exception to the rule.

So that's my idea. Tell your elected representatives!
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:47 PM on July 19, 2009 [21 favorites]


The other evening, while walking through a large suburban shopping mall parking lot, there was a car that was swiftly backing over Ms Wimp and me, and after we jumped out of the way, I moved to catch the driver's eye. That's when I noticed she was chattin' away, nice as you please, on the phone and literally jumped when she saw how close she had come to us. We were not part of her world until then.

This. This is the reason everyone thinks they're the exception who can talk and drive at the same time. When I lived in the Boston area it happened at least weekly that I was nearly hit by someone talking on the phone. I'm sure every one of those people who nearly hit me thinks that they're brilliant drivers who can pay attention while talking on the phone and who pay attention and react appropriately. They go home and tell people over dinner what careful drivers they are. And they do this because they never noticed that they almost hit me. They really believe they're reacting to everything they need to react to because they never see the the things they don't react to!
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:51 PM on July 19, 2009 [9 favorites]


I quit driving a few years ago, after 20 years on the road.

Even though I have never been in an accident, it seemed to me that it was the most dangerous thing I did, took me all kinds of places I didn't want to be, cost a fortune, financed wars, and was a massive waste of time and resources.

For a while I rode my bike everywhere, until I had bottles thrown at me, was nearly sideswiped by a cell-phone-using shithead, and was targeted for death by a group of college kids in their daddy's SUV. "HIT HIM! HIT HIM!" they yelled to the driver as he swerved towards me.

I don't even call people any more for fear they'll pick up the cell while driving.

American roads are a nightmare of chaos and hatred, and will only get worse in the future.

Best to avoid, forever.
posted by chronkite at 12:53 PM on July 19, 2009 [11 favorites]


If your scores are the same as they were before (you know, cause you're the one person who doesn't let the phone distract them), then you can have your -C license. If they're not, you can leave with your regular license and you can't talk while driving.
And if they're better, you are required to talk on your cell phone at all times when driving.
posted by Flunkie at 12:54 PM on July 19, 2009


"Cyberspace is where you are when you're on the phone." --John Perry Barlow

Which, ok, he's not a scientist. But I think he's got a point. Talking with someone in person, even someone who is blind, is not the same as talking with someone on the phone. It's more than just whether your conversation partner is also aware of what's going on outside the car and can warn you.
posted by hades at 12:56 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Driving while using a cellphone is a distraction, as is changing stations on the radio/CD/MP3 player. Distractions are not good, I think everyone can agree on that.

I've lived in several countries where cellphone use is banned or restricted whilst the car is moving. It makes sense, is not a limitation on your civil liberties (pull over if the call is that important) and benefits all the other road users if you're now more alert and actually paying attention.

Since I've moved to the US, I see A LOT more people talking on cellphones whilst driving. And they all drive with less care and attention, frequently with erratic driving behaviour. It's damn unsafe behaviour and needs to be regulated as these people clearly can't use the common sense they were born with. My wife got rear-ended last year by an idiot in a Yukon who was talking on his cellphone, and just didn't see the Toyota SUV that he rammed into my wife's car. Asshat.

My company, large global Fortune 500, makes us all do defensive driving and bans cellphone use in the car. We are explicitly told to leave the phone in the trunk if driving or pull over to answer it. If we're caught breaking this rule, they have the grounds for disciplinary action, up to termination. You know what? I agree. You're endangering other roadusers, and you deserve to get fined or your car crushed. In my book, it's the same as DUI.
posted by arcticseal at 12:57 PM on July 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


If you, for some reason, *are* the important, pull over and call them right back. That's what hazard lights are for.

I'd be willing to be being pulled over on the road's shoulder is much more dangerous then talking on the phone.
posted by delmoi at 12:59 PM on July 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'd be willing to be being pulled over on the road's shoulder is much more dangerous then talking on the phone.
Wow, the van in that video looks like it tilted to about sixty degrees or more. But it righted itself.
posted by Flunkie at 1:03 PM on July 19, 2009


By the way. They are all saying that driving while talking on a cell is the same as driving while having a 0.8 BAC. I'm pretty sure 0.8 is the maximum legal limit. Driving with that blood alchohol level is safe enough to be legal, and most DUIs are caused by people at much higher limits.
posted by delmoi at 1:12 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Er I mean most accidents caused by drunk drivers are caused by people with higher limits.
posted by delmoi at 1:13 PM on July 19, 2009


You are presenting a false dichotomy when you frame the problem as either to talk while driving or to pull over to the shoulder immediately and talk. Both are dangerous and you don't have to do either. Continue on your way until you get to a safe place to stop and check your messages. If there's an important message, respond to it before starting back on the road.
posted by pracowity at 1:15 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Now we put you on the phone. You have to answer a few questions/engage in a basic conversation. We measure your reaction times again while you're doing this.

I think this is a great idea as long as you don't lose points for giving the conversation short shrift.
posted by weston at 1:18 PM on July 19, 2009


More speculatively, having a disembodied conversation like that might promote a false sense of confidence that fiddling with the radio or grabbing a soda doesn't.

Actually, the studies consistently show that any sort of distraction is a problem. Cell phones are the most obvious example and are singled out a lot, but the situation they cause is not unique. People who are dealing with children can be much more distracted and a far bigger hazard. The law mandates hands-free cell phone use by drivers here. A passenger talking to me is more distracting, but either case are examples where my ADD actually helps and doing both tasks is not really a problem. I need to be available on cell when I'm driving due to my job, and I have an earpiece. GPS has saved my lost ass more than once, so I need that in my BlackBerry, but it's not difficult getting used to driving with it. Texting while driving is not going to work, but I don't see a lot of that here. I'm more concerned about the tourists and retirees and their driving habits, who easily outnumber any other group of drivers here, and particularly in the winter when we get a lot of snow and skiers/snowboarders at the resort.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:19 PM on July 19, 2009


Look, some people can separate the motor skills and language functions of their brain and some can't.

Now you either have to stop that car or hang up. You don't know what you are talking about. Talking is not just about language functions. Language is about something and what you are talking and thinking about affects which brain functions are also activated. For example, if you try to explain your daughter how to open a difficult door, motor functions recalled, motor functions disturbed. And furthermore, brain functions share processing power in surprising ways. Hearing a damn metaphor affects your visual processing. And one very important and specialized part of both conversation and driving is 'mind-reading', recognizing intentions of conversation partner and other road users. The more difficult it is the less you have input, and both anticipating people by movement of their vehicles and anticipating reactions on voice alone are difficult tasks competing for same resources.
posted by Free word order! at 1:20 PM on July 19, 2009 [6 favorites]


Driving in the city and driving on the freeway 5 hours through the desert are different experiences and I'm going to guess that talking on the phone is more dangerous in one of these than the other. I don't talk on the phone while I'm in complex situations but on long, boring drives I do. Blanket prohibitions seem like overkill to me.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:20 PM on July 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


Driving in the city and driving on the freeway 5 hours through the desert are different experiences and I'm going to guess that talking on the phone is more dangerous in one of these than the other. I don't talk on the phone while I'm in complex situations but on long, boring drives I do. Blanket prohibitions seem like overkill to me.

THIS THIS THIS and THIS. Thread closed, this is the answer.
posted by scrowdid at 1:22 PM on July 19, 2009


For a while I rode my bike everywhere, until I had bottles thrown at me, was nearly sideswiped by a cell-phone-using shithead, and was targeted for death by a group of college kids in their daddy's SUV. "HIT HIM! HIT HIM!" they yelled to the driver as he swerved towards me.

That last part sounds pretty familiar. I've noticed as a pedestrian, particularly in towns not built for it, that some people seem to feel this need to honk loudly for no reason other than to scare you as they pass by, or even occasionally veer a bit towards you apparently as some kind of gentle tease.

If I have the means, the next time this happens, I might take down a license plate number and make a hobby of seeing how easy it is to get the courts to treat this as a death threat if not reckless driving.
posted by weston at 1:24 PM on July 19, 2009


My uncle was killed last year by a cell phone-using driver. He was a mechanic, and a friend with a flat tire had called him for help changing the tire. They were both pulled off to the far right side of a four-lane road in Oklahoma. Both cars had their flashers on. My uncle's truck was parked 20 or so feet behind the disabled car.

The driver, distracted by his phone (I'm not sure if it's been determined if he was texting or dialing), slammed into my uncle's truck, sending it careening into the back of the disabled car. My uncle was pinned between them. The driver's car then bounced to the left, crossed the road and hit a pole on the opposite side of the road. The driver was so unaware of what had happened that he initially thought someone had hit him.

One of the most tragic things about it is my uncle was not killed instantly. He suffered significant injuries, most notably traumatic brain injuries. He lingered for a few months before dying of heart failure while being treated for pneumonia. The tragedy is that his medical care has likely bankrupted his family, despite having health insurance. They reached the limits of the insurance pretty quickly. The driver of the other car has no assets worth suing for.

I don't drive a whole lot, but when I do, taking or making a phone call is not even an option for me. Even on long boring drives through, say, Oklahoma.
posted by misskaz at 1:29 PM on July 19, 2009 [20 favorites]


Driving in the city and driving on the freeway 5 hours through the desert are different experiences and I'm going to guess that talking on the phone is more dangerous in one of these than the other.

Likewise, I'm going to guess that drinking is more dangerous in one of these than in the other. So should it be OK to drink and drive when you're out on the freeway?
posted by pracowity at 1:32 PM on July 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


There was a study that showed that airline pilots didn't have a similar reduction in driving (flying) abilities when talking to flight controllers. They believed it was training and the understanding by people at both ends of the conversation that first priority of attention is the control of the craft.

So, as others have said, if your phone rings while driving, let them leave a message. But if you must talk on the phone while driving, the very first thing you mus do is tell the other person that you are driving. Then you can say 'hold on a minute' when you approach an intersection or any other complicated driving situation and they won't get upset and say 'what's the matter?' trying to get your attention right when you need it most on driving.
posted by eye of newt at 1:36 PM on July 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


What doesn't change is human idiocy, inconsideration for other humans, and human delusions of invincibility and "rights".
posted by Nicholas West at 1:37 PM on July 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


Wow. I am amazed that people drive every day, as it is. It is the most dangerous thing you do on a regular basis. Why talk on a cell phone while doing it? I don't get it. If you have a long commute and you really can't make it without talking on the phone, do what you can to move. It could save your life (or someone else's life).

Even if you are one of the few people who can do it safely, you are frightening to other people. And for what?
posted by kathrineg at 1:47 PM on July 19, 2009


Do people driving with blind people as their passengers (and conversing with them)...

I think this misses the point that cell phone conversations and in-car conversations are fundamentally different. If I pause for five seconds in the middle of a conversation to concentrate on a lane change, the person on the other end of the cell call is going to start going "Hello? HELLO? ARE YOU STILL THERE?", but the passenger in the car is going to keep quiet because they know I'm doing something important.
posted by 0xFCAF at 1:47 PM on July 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


By the way. They are all saying that driving while talking on a cell is the same as driving while having a 0.8 BAC. I'm pretty sure 0.8 is the maximum legal limit. Driving with that blood alchohol level is safe enough to be legal, and most DUIs are caused by people at much higher limits.

That all depends on where you live.
posted by onya at 1:49 PM on July 19, 2009


Do people driving with blind people as their passengers (and conversing with them)...
I think this misses the point that cell phone conversations and in-car conversations are fundamentally different
I think this misses the point that the person I was responding to, when I asked that question, was specifically talking about the benefit gained by having another observer in the car.
posted by Flunkie at 1:49 PM on July 19, 2009


In the NYT game, the U and I are switched on the phone's keyboard. I found that alone very distracting, honestly.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 2:04 PM on July 19, 2009


My mother's car was t-boned going through an intersection by a guy driving a pickup truck loaded down with concrete going twenty miles over the limit (55 in a 35). He was looking up a number to dial on his phone and didn't notice that the light had changed. We know this because he came and visited her in the hospital and told her so. The impact pushed her car sideways the length of an entire city block, so the accident report reads that the collision took place in the next intersection, because that's where her car came to a stop.

She spent 10 days in the ICU with closed head trauma, six broken ribs, a broken scapula, a broken collarbone, 100+ stitches. She had memory loss and couldn't sleep flat on her back for four months after the accident. Personality-wise, she's never been quite the same since, but she is lucky to be alive and I am glad she's still around.

I don't use my phone while driving. Ever.
posted by ambrosia at 2:05 PM on July 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Letting drivers use cell phones while driving if long as they're using a hands-free device appears to be about as useful as letting them drink while driving as long as they're using one of those hats that allow you to drink beer through a straw from cans mounted in the hat.
posted by oaf at 2:11 PM on July 19, 2009 [10 favorites]


According to the simulator with the article:
response time 0.02 seconds slower when not texting.

So according to the New York Times, I should always be texting while I drive.

Actually, it's because I know how dangerous it is to divide your attention that way when you drive and I'm super conservative about how quickly I text when I drive, to the point where I devote maybe 5% of my resources to the texting (and slow down and move to a safer lane).
posted by parliboy at 2:35 PM on July 19, 2009


Yeah, parliboy, that's exactly why I slow down and move to a safer lane when I'm driving drunk.

don't tell me you're going to use this stupid NYT flash app as a validation for your reckless behavior
posted by Flunkie at 2:43 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


On one hand, I fucking hate it when people send texts or emails with their blackberry while they're driving. On the other hand, in order to regulate something like this properly, you'd need a pretty wide-reaching and invasive surveillance system that I would probably hate even more.
posted by tehloki at 2:49 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Over a six month period a few years ago I had three very close calls while driving. Two were due to a distracted driver on his or her cellphone. I think the penalty for driving on a cell phone should be as serious as drinking and driving.
posted by zzazazz at 2:53 PM on July 19, 2009


So should it be OK to drink and drive when you're out on the freeway? You can't turn off "drunk" when things get complicated.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:58 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


it's interesting to me, who doesn't have a cellphone, how similarly those who
do use them react to arguments for stopping unfettered use as I, a long time addict, have done to arguments for quitting smoking.
posted by path at 3:07 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


You can't turn off "drunk" when things get complicated.

And when you're texting, you fail to realize quickly enough that things are getting complicated.
posted by yoink at 3:15 PM on July 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Studies show convincingly that texting and phoning are Worse than having a bit too much to drink while driving. That said, Connecticut has a no cell phone while dring law unless you are hands free. But that changes nothing, studies show. And if a cop sees you on the phone, he issues a warning. Warnings do nothing. Impound the phone till user turns up for court date, pays fine, then gets it back.
NY Times for this Sunday has article on front page about how frequent this stuff is and shows picture of very young new driver (16, male) texting. He has hands off sterring wheel but his teen friend is sterring the car from passenger seat!
posted by Postroad at 3:16 PM on July 19, 2009


One can't stop people from using their phones, but one can check the call logs if a driver has a crash of any type. If there was recent cell use, either texting or taking/making a call, the license gets suspended for a year. It's a simple rule, easy to implement, gets people who can't handle fone use while driving off the roads, doesn't crowd the jails, and with effective PSAs might get the message across.

(I'm not defending fone use while driving; I loathe the fuckers too, but one must be practical when crafting legislation. And this is eminently practical.)
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:27 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


You are presenting a false dichotomy when you frame the problem as either to talk while driving or to pull over to the shoulder immediately and talk.
Me? This was the comment I was replying to:
If you, for some reason, *are* the important, pull over and call them right back. That's what hazard lights are for.
With respect to Air Traffic controllers, studies also show that if you talk about driving while on the phone, like if you're getting directions or something you actually pay more attention to the road and are less likely to get into a crash in a simulator. So it actually depends on what you're talking about.
posted by delmoi at 3:29 PM on July 19, 2009


Studies show convincingly that texting and phoning are Worse than having a bit too much to drink while driving.

"Studies?" "Convincingly?" I'm sold!!

I can't believe a professor of anything would claim the "field of distracted driving" exists, let alone associate himself with it. Sad anecdotes aside, the police have more than enough leeway to pull people over already. Every state has a "reckless driving" law. We don't need more laws. We don't need more witchhunts or less personal freedom while driving, or doing anything else. We don't need another MADD to doctor statistics out of all relationship to reality (I drink one beer, a guy runs a red light and hits me as I drive completely safely = OMG ALCOHOL RELATED CRASH!! I am incredibly goddamn sure the same type of doctoring is going on with any and all stats related to "cell phone related crashes").
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:32 PM on July 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


> airline pilots didn't have a similar reduction in driving (flying) abilities when talking to flight controllers

In addition to training, it may be because the "conversations" between pilots and flight controllers are formalized, constrained, and short - they only talk about flying and the weather, basically. If you're expecting to hear certain phrases you don't have to work quite as hard to make out what the other person is saying. In contrast to a normal conversation, which can range all over and might get into some emotionally charged territory, flight communications are terse and unemotional (barring emergencies). Pilots don't yak the way drivers do, and I get the impression that being too chatty on the radio is actually scorned.
posted by Quietgal at 3:38 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


C'mon Ethel!

Chances are very good that you're not so important that you can't wait to call someone back in a few minutes.

Yeah, exactly. Also, if you're so bored in traffic that you're texting, perhaps you should consider taking the bus or train so you can amuse yourself without killing anyone.

One of the more horrifying aspects of rising a motorbike is that the extra height if affords allows me to see what people are doing in their cars, and it's so rarely paying attention to their one and a half tonne death machine.

But rational behaviour is always in short supply behind the wheel. Consider the number of people who tailgate - you know what, champ, if your reflexes are really that good, maybe you should get a job with Williams or McLaren that earns millions, instead of McDonalds.

And spare me the people who complain about getting speeding tickets; "I was driving safely, catch the REAL CRIMINALS". Really? You were driving safely? You were driving so safely that you failed to notice the white car with day-glo reflective stickers and lights on the roof sitting in plain sight in time to slow down? And I'm supposed to believe you'd notice a kid crossing the road why, exactly?

There was a study that showed that airline pilots didn't have a similar reduction in driving (flying) abilities when talking to flight controllers. They believed it was training and the understanding by people at both ends of the conversation that first priority of attention is the control of the craft.

The average pilot, is, of course, a more highly selected for position than the average driver. If we handed out driver's licenses like we handed out commercial pilot's licenses we would have a lot fewer crashes, but probably only a tenth of the number of cars on the road. If that.

On the other hand, in order to regulate something like this properly, you'd need a pretty wide-reaching and invasive surveillance system that I would probably hate even more.

Not really. You just let cops issue tickets when they see people texting when driving, or set up the seriousness of offenses when people are found texting and driving and cause a crash.
posted by rodgerd at 3:53 PM on July 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sunday is a slow day at the deli where I work, so we employees often end up standing around, discretely reading the Sunday Times that we're supposed to be selling. Today I was working with a teenage girl who just finished high school, comes from a prominent local family, and is leaving soon to attend a well-ranked out-of-state university.

She picks up the paper, looks at the horrifying picture of teenagers texting on the highway, and points at the kid's phone. "Ooh, I think that's the phone I want."

"Mmmhmm, just don't do that with it."

She smiles, tosses her hair. "Oh, I have friends 'lend a hand' sometimes. Only on straight roads like [BUSIEST STREET IN TOWN]."
posted by bookish at 3:54 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Texting and talking don't belong in the same category, either.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:56 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am a pretty attentive guy. Good with names, good with spelling, that kind of thing. I know the bus leaves at 12:32, not "around 12:30". I moved to a new town where I've never been before today, and after taking a walk around the neighborhood, I could draw you a map of the area with bus stops, corner markets, kiosks, distinctive stuff I saw. And the NYT simulator told me this, which is scary:

0.76 seconds slower while texting
32% more gates missed

I assumed I'd get, like, 10% more gates missed. Maybe a 1/4 second slower. I'm pretty shocked.

And no, I didn't see the Gray Lady at all.
posted by mdonley at 3:58 PM on July 19, 2009


Ban the fuckers.

Give the cops to pull over and fine the hell out of anyone using (even with the hands-free set) a cell phone while driving. And, of course, consult call logs after every crash.

It's really just not worth it. The only reason this isn't law (yet) is that cell phone users are such a huge proportion of the population at this point, and the Kongress Kritters don't want to piss off their constituents. I live in California and see people making terrible traffic decisions while using their cell phones every day. And it's more-or-less already illegal here. We need to make it massively illegal to use a phone while driving, and create a culture that persecutes anyone who would even think of doing it. This issue right now is something like drinking and driving in the 70's; a good number of people do it constantly, and need to be persecuted and prosecuted for it before the behavior is going to change.
posted by kaibutsu at 4:00 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


tehloki: The surveillance is the cell phone itself. If you aren't aware that your every movement can be tracked by an active cell phone, you probably shouldn't try breaking the law this century.
posted by kaibutsu at 4:04 PM on July 19, 2009


The worst driver in this part of town is a teenage girl or soccer mom, wearing huge Hollywood-celeb sunglasses, yakking into a cellphone, driving an SUV, and not looking at the road. As a short pedestrian, I have taken to avoiding SUVs, even avoiding crossing behind them in parking lots, since the idiot drivers do not know what is behind them. The drivers using cell phones don't know what is in front of them, either.

If you want to talk on your cellphone constantly, take public transportation, especially the bus; that's what many of the bus riders do. Now I no longer need to be annoyed with them, just grateful that they're not driving cars.
posted by bad grammar at 4:38 PM on July 19, 2009


If you aren't aware that your every movement can be tracked by an active cell phone

What are you talking about? Cellphones don't track movement by default, they can if you call 911, and they certainly keep track of when you make calls and texts, but they don't track your movement 24/7
posted by delmoi at 4:40 PM on July 19, 2009


I can't believe a professor of anything would claim the "field of distracted driving" exists, let alone associate himself with it. Sad anecdotes aside, the police have more than enough leeway to pull people over already. Every state has a "reckless driving" law. We don't need more laws. We don't need more witchhunts or less personal freedom while driving, or doing anything else. We don't need another MADD to doctor statistics out of all relationship to reality (I drink one beer, a guy runs a red light and hits me as I drive completely safely = OMG ALCOHOL RELATED CRASH!! I am incredibly goddamn sure the same type of doctoring is going on with any and all stats related to "cell phone related crashes").

Wow. That's pretty convincing. I mean, I know the argument from personal incredulity is a fallacy and all, but you're REALLY incredulous. Just a few more exclamation points and you'll seal the deal.
posted by yoink at 4:49 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


> airline pilots didn't have a similar reduction in driving (flying) abilities when talking to flight controllers

Because you get a pilot's license after a fifteen-minute test you trained for with your dad's Oldsmobile, thus making this not a completely fucking stupid analogy.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 4:57 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


People who are on the phone while driving are just as dangerous as people who have been drinking. Anybody here who says they can do either is just lucky they haven't killed anybody yet. And an arrogant asshole to boot. Think about it: the very fact that you;'re on the phone is an indication that you don't know how to prioritize. Is your conversation really so much more important than the safety of other people on the road? I don't care if you're driving in Manhattan or in Oklahoma -- if you're not paying sole attention to the road, you're a danger to me and my loved ones. And I for one would not mind at all to see you have your license taken away.
posted by monospace at 4:58 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't really have a horse in this race, not owning a car and I largely decline to take incoming calls, let alone while driving. Still, it seems like there's an obvious elephant in the room. Driving a car is always an ultrahazardous activity. Banning people from talking on the phone while driving is like banning serial killers from using certain types of ammunition. Why aren't people strictly liable for all injuries that they cause while driving? You kill someone with your car it's second-degree murder, plain and simple, none of this vehicular manslaughter stuff. Anyone who causes an accident is liable for criminal battery at the very least.

I know we pull over drunk drivers before they actually harm someone, because we are concerned with the heightened risk of future injury. Perhaps prevention with regard to cell phones would save lives, but I suspect that it'd largely impossible to enforce. It makes more sense to just hold people 100% liable for the injuries they cause, and let those who assume a higher risk be forced to pay for it through incarceration and fines. Society would figure this out pretty quickly. Otherwise someone's going to have to come and take our cars away from us until we're old enough to use them responsibly.
posted by allen.spaulding at 5:07 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]



When someone tells you their driving skills do not diminish while they are text or talking, give it up. You are wasting your time. They are in the same phase of denial that alcoholics are in when they say they can give up the bottle any time they choose.
posted by notreally at 5:15 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thinking about what you will be doing at your destination is just as dangerous as talking on a phone while driving.
posted by wierdo at 5:54 PM on July 19, 2009


it's a derail, but here's some relevant information from those tin-foil hats over at wikipedia:

"To locate the phone, it must emit at least the roaming signal to contact the next nearby antenna tower, but the process does not require an active call. GSM localisation is then done by multilateration based on the signal strength to nearby antenna masts."

Those bars that show up on your cell phone are the result of communicating with nearby tower(s), so that the network knows where to send the signal that sets your phone to ringing. If you are near at least a few towers, this provides enough information to approximately locate you. So long as your phone is ON, your movement can be tracked.

Here's a fun fact I didn't know about until today:
"The FBI appears to have begun using a novel form of electronic surveillance in criminal investigations: remotely activating a mobile phone's microphone and using it to eavesdrop on nearby conversations. This works with or without locating. The technique is called a "roving bug," and was approved by top U.S. Department of Justice.[4] A judge ruled that police use of such tracking in the USA will require a warrant showing probable cause."

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that the exponential spread of information technology isn't increasing opportunities for government surveillance.

posted by kaibutsu at 6:07 PM on July 19, 2009


to webmutant, krinklyfig, and smallruminant: you are an arrogant loser douchebag and i hate you.

OK, that's fine.

I need my job, I'm on the road a lot, and I cannot set policy for my company. I only answer calls in the car when I have an important client or my boss calling, but I do have to answer it. Call my boss if you have a problem with it.

You wouldn't hate me if I had three kids in the back seat who were all creating chaos in the car and caused an accident. But I've learned that cars stir up great passion and create a platform for moralizing for a lot of people here, so I'll let you at it to stir in your juices or whatever makes you happy.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:17 PM on July 19, 2009


There seems to be a lot of confirmation and selection bias in most of the anecdotes being presented. We aren't hearing any stories about accidents occurring without attendant cell phones.

The whole cell phone use while driving being dangerous is a red herring but it's popular because everyone thinks they are a safe driver. And we get to call people assholes in a socially acceptable context. Driver licences in general are way to easy to get and keep. Follow anyone for more than 10 minutes in city driving and you'll see something stupid a quarter of the time easy. Not signalling, driving in the rain without lights being on, erratic lane control, speeding (especially in school and playground zones), following to close, erratic speed, not noticing overtaking emergency vehicles (sometime until they've already passed), yellow light running, leaving insufficient space when merging and changing lanes (the reason you're hearing air horns is you pulled in front of 53K kgs of rolling death while only leaving 3/4rds of a car length you daft moron but thanks for flipping me the bird), etc.

The standard for getting your licence should be much higher (graduated licencing is a good start) and you should have to retest (both written and road) every 5 years when they make you renew your licence. Plus they should test special circumstances like night or reduced traction driving and enforce restriction on those without the appropriate endorsement.

"And then there are instances of subway and train operators who have been texting, in some cases causing fatal accidents:"

This is meaningless unless they never have accidents while not on the phone. Correlation does not equal causation.

"I recall Mythbusters actually tackling this one. They tried to drive through an obstacle course while having a cellphone conversation and then tried it again while drunk (cops were there to supervise and test his BAL). They found that, yep, talking on the cellphone is about as damaging to your driving skills as being illegally DUI."

The mythbusters are sloppy experiments (EG: they thought the way to get a rich gas mixture to explode is to pour on more gas) in pursuit of good television ratings via blowing shit up. This episode is nothing more than another anecdotal data point.

"I'd be willing to be being pulled over on the road's shoulder is much more dangerous then talking on the phone."

Holy hand grenade is this ever true IMO. People routinely hit cops that have pulled people over and I've seen a guy make a double S swerve around two cruisers and a fire truck before slamming into the back of my father's wrecker instead of stopping as instructed by the flag person. Admittedly it happened at night but all the vehicles had their emergency lighting on including the beacons on my father's truck.

seanmpuckett writes "If there was recent cell use, either texting or taking/making a call, the license gets suspended for a year. It's a simple rule, easy to implement, gets people who can't handle fone use while driving off the roads, doesn't crowd the jails, and with effective PSAs might get the message across. "

You should need more proof that the driver was the one talking on the phone than the fact it was in use.

rodgerd writes "You were driving safely? You were driving so safely that you failed to notice the white car with day-glo reflective stickers and lights on the roof sitting in plain sight in time to slow down? And I'm supposed to believe you'd notice a kid crossing the road why, exactly?"

Even with my low opinion of the skills of the driving public I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess the vast majority of speeding tickets aren't handed out after a motorist passes a plainly visible, marked cruiser. Ghost cars (often intentionally hidden on limited access freeways), long distance hit with radar or even aircraft and pacing from behind probably occupy the top three slots because cops pursue low effort:reward ratio enforcement. Much better to work as a team getting people speeding from the comfort of a freeway overpass netting a dozen of tickets per hour than patrolling a school zone.
posted by Mitheral at 6:36 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd be willing to be being pulled over on the road's shoulder is much more dangerous then talking on the phone.

Posting a video like that as a rebutall is the mindset of The One Percent Doctrine at work. Low-probablility, high-impact (literally in this case) in an attempt to make a point. Remember that when you see the GOP trot out stories of mangled single-payer health care in the coming months.

Ideally, yeah, you want to find a parking lot or something. But, you know, if you and the call are really that Goddamn important I still want you off the road taking it. Don't want to risk pulling over? Fair enough. Then call back later.
posted by Cyrano at 6:44 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Talking on my phone, I can at least be trusted to keep my eyes on the road.

Everybody thinks that. Accident statistics say otherwise.


This.
posted by agregoli at 6:48 PM on July 19, 2009


I first read this as "massaging" and was about to get annoyed at the crazy Mormons with their crazy fantasies about people talking on the phone and getting foot massages while driving, and then I was going to say how that's such a small segment of the larger non-foot-massaging population of drivers, anyway.

But it actually said messaging, which is very different.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:59 PM on July 19, 2009


Call my boss if you have a problem with it.

What's his/her number?
posted by abc123xyzinfinity at 7:02 PM on July 19, 2009


What's his/her number?

I don't think so.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:08 PM on July 19, 2009


Damn, almost had you!
posted by abc123xyzinfinity at 7:16 PM on July 19, 2009


You kill someone with your car it's second-degree murder, plain and simple, none of this vehicular manslaughter stuff. Anyone who causes an accident is liable for criminal battery at the very least.

That's silly. Drivers are not always to blame for the accidents they are involved in, even when there's blood on the road. Speaking as someone who can't drive, who walks everywhere, and who hates and fears bad drivers as much as anybody, pedestrians (and other road users) have responsibilities too and sometimes we don't live up to them.

Really, talking on a cell phone while driving is only one of a large number of dangerous things people do, on the road or anywhere. It's true, and very frightening, that almost no one seems to realise how serious a responsibility it is to be in control of a vehicle. But I don't think all the severe rules and punishments people are suggesting are the solution. As Mitheral was just saying, people treat the whole institution of driving too casually. We have to find ways to change our various systems, to construct them so that people respect the road as a condition of learning to drive and have more sensible expectations about what they should be able to do in a car (watching DVDs??), and so that the people who don't don't have a chance to do any damage. I think a big part of that is making it so that public transportation becomes/feels like an option in a lot of places where it isn't yet. Then we can start thinking about driver's licenses as what they are, a privilege, and then we can start talking about taking them away if we have to.

But then I don't know. Unfortunately, I'm friends with some absolutely disgraceful drivers and sometimes even I think the only thing to do is to lock them all away, forever. But what's needed is a change in attitudes, and maybe there's a way?
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 7:27 PM on July 19, 2009


cstross: "This is a peculiarly American variety of lunacy; here in the UK, using a cellphone while driving is illegal unless you're using it through a hands-free kit; you'll get a £60 fine and three penalty points on your license for each offense. In event of a fatal accident they now routinely check phone usage logs and if you've been texting you can expect a prison sentence."

It's illegal in Chicago but I'll be god-damned if I've talked to a single person who has ever, ever, ever, ever, ever gotten a ticket for it. I can stand on any given corner here in the city and tell you that at worst, 75% of the drivers are on cell phones. At worst. Cell phone violations just aren't given the proper attention they should.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:28 PM on July 19, 2009


rodgerd writes "You were driving safely? You were driving so safely that you failed to notice the white car with day-glo reflective stickers and lights on the roof sitting in plain sight in time to slow down? And I'm supposed to believe you'd notice a kid crossing the road why, exactly?"

Even with my low opinion of the skills of the driving public I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess the vast majority of speeding tickets aren't handed out after a motorist passes a plainly visible, marked cruiser. Ghost cars (often intentionally hidden on limited access freeways), long distance hit with radar or even aircraft and pacing from behind probably occupy the top three slots because cops pursue low effort:reward ratio enforcement. Much better to work as a team getting people speeding from the comfort of a freeway overpass netting a dozen of tickets per hour than patrolling a school zone.


Well, since the whole world isn't the United States, your guess would be wrong - the majority of tickets in New Zealand are a result of static, often advertised speed cameras, which you'd think would be pretty trivial to avoid. If you were paying any attention.

And as far as school zones go, you could sample the local paper where I am, which has had a number of letters from people complaining about being ticketed by officers ever since the speed limits were lowered in the last year.

While there are certainly unmarked cars and mobile cameras, they're pretty rare.

For reference, this is a specialised traffic patrol car, while this is a regular patrol car. They're hard to miss if you're paying any attention at all.
posted by rodgerd at 7:31 PM on July 19, 2009


The only devices available to a driver should be the radio/player, CB or two way radio, and hands free telephone. Ford's having hands free, voice activated web surfing.. that's insane!
posted by vvurdsmyth at 7:33 PM on July 19, 2009


Shortly, like within a day or two, after New York instituted its ban on holding a phone while driving, a Long Island guy pulled over to make or answer a call and was almost immediately struck by an errant Newsday newspaper delivery truck and killed.

As far as phoning and texting while driving, both of them sort of take you out of your environment and seem entirely unsafe. Only two or three times have I used the phone while driving while tracking the teenager and each time, felt that I was driving unsafely. I felt mentally somewhere else.

I don't feel as if I'm an exception. Every single time I've seen a car driving extra erratically and I able to look into that vehicle, that driver is on the phone.

Without fail. I sort of like the idea of adding a test for cellphone use, but one that would show people how dangerous it is.

I have already told teenager that, once she gets her license, I will be checking her phone/data use and if there is ANY overlap with driving time, that's the end of her phone and car use for a long time.
posted by etaoin at 7:42 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


The people I see in midtown Manhattan can't even walk properly when talking on their cell phones. They block the sidewalk, they stop short, they bump into you - I can't imagine what they're like when driving.
posted by Evangeline at 8:07 PM on July 19, 2009 [6 favorites]


The people I see in midtown Manhattan can't even walk properly when talking on their cell phones.

Ain't that the truth.
posted by borges at 9:05 PM on July 19, 2009


Heh, I must really have wanted "Whipped Cream" since I told the damn thing 3 times that I wanted "Ice Cream" with my pie.
Wouldn't take it until I said "Whipped Cream"

0.04% seconds slower and 0% more gates missed.. When cars are redesigned so you drive with the keyboard, it's straight to Formula 1 for me!

I do agree, though, with some of the posters before.
Getting a license should be a whole heck of a lot harder than it is now.
Graduated licensing, mandatory drivers education, a real "road test" not just once around the parking lot.
I'd also support required retesting of anyone involved in an accident.

And hey, with less drivers, maybe we can get some decent public transportation. At the very least, there'd be more car-pooling as the bad drivers need to find alternate transportation to work.
It'd be a win for the environment as well, since the less than skilled operators seem to go for the biggest vehicle they can find. I think deep down inside, they _know_ they suck.
posted by madajb at 9:25 PM on July 19, 2009


If cell phones/cameras are, in fact, responsible for a certain percentage of car accidents, that would merely be one of many ways in which they have demonstrably made the world a much worse place:

Driving: More death.
Public transit: Yak, yak, yak.
Pretty much any public space, now that you mention it: Yak, yak, yak.
Movies: If there's a way to make characters speaking on cellphones cinematically compelling, I have yet to see it. Seen The Departed? I swear to God at least 50% of that film is people shouting into cellphones or texting. And then there's the whole issue of people taking calls during the film...
Conversations: Almost impossible to have free of interruption.
Privacy in public areas: A thing of the past.

And so on. But on the plus side, everyone can call their S.O. to tell them they'll be home in fifteen minutes. FIFTEEN MINUTES! I'm on Main St., just passing King. KING. Yeah, sure, Chinese would be fine for dinner. Yeah, my day was alright. He did? No WAY! I can't fucking believe it. Wow. No fucking way. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Yeah. Yeah. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. No. Yeah. No. Yeah. Uh-huh. That's cool. No. Thanks. What? WHAT? Just a sec, you're fading out. Shit. Fucking phone. Wait, I'm back. Uh-huh. Wow. Fucking-A. Who, her? No way. Uh-huh. Yeah, no, you know. Listen, I gotta go. I got another call. You too. I said YOU TOO.
posted by you just lost the game at 9:45 PM on July 19, 2009 [9 favorites]


Well, since the whole world isn't the United States, your guess would be wrong - the majority of tickets in New Zealand are a result of static, often advertised speed cameras, which you'd think would be pretty trivial to avoid. If you were paying any attention.

What on earth are you talking about? How is not noticing a cop car hiding behind some bushes equal to not noticing something that's not purposely trying to hide from you? If you live in a country where cops don't do that, then good for you, but obviously that's not most people's experience.

And besides the cop can measure your speed as soon as they see you, which would be about the same time they see you. Why would you assume that they would have time to slow down before the cop can measure their speed?
posted by delmoi at 10:28 PM on July 19, 2009


It just blows my mind that people need to talk to other people literally their entire waking life.

It's just alien to me, not foreign, actually alien, like a different species exists that does nothing but talk or text on the phone until they collapse in exhaustion somewhere.
posted by dirigibleman at 10:52 PM on July 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


BTW, actual overheard cell phone coversation:

"This is just between you and me, right?"
posted by dirigibleman at 10:53 PM on July 19, 2009


So, all this holds for CB radio? Police radios? Kids in the car (or other non-helpful talkative passengers)? Other communicative distractions? What is it specifically about cell phones that make them different from other forms of communication that require exactly the same process?

Cars are dangerous. You're already engaging in a system wherein we've said pretty plainly "X" amount of deaths are acceptable for this form of transportation.
I'm not a big fan of driving in the first place, I'd really much rather have a widespread public transportation system because I like reading/thinking/etc. But enforcement of cell phone law is going to be like seat belt enforcement.
Now, that might be fine for some of you, but I don't much like being pulled over to have to prove I'm a responsible individual.
I sympathize. There are a lot of idiots on cell phones out there. Of course, I've seen people eating, drinking (spilling coffee in your lap a distraction?), shaving, reading, jerking (or jilling, really) off - I don't see how using a hands-free voice dial phone is more of a distraction than masturbation. Tough to prove if there's no nudity as well.
So, what if it *is* an emergency? Or not an emergency per se, but personally important - what if someone just called to tell me a family member is in the hospital? The cop is going to follow me to the hospital? We're going to use public money to investigate my phone records or do I pay for that? And if I'm right, how am I compensated for being detained while I miss my brother's final breath by 10 minutes because dammit, you just can't talk into the air in a car. Or at the radio.
And hell, what if I am talking to myself? No cell phone anywhere near me? Cop is going to write me a ticket for looking like I was on a cell phone?

Bottom line has to be result oriented. If being on a cell is a contributor to a crash, then yeah, I'm all for a penalty. But I don't see any practical method of enforcement that isn't discriminatory. Cell phones aren't the only distractions. And cell users aren't the only distracted drivers. If I'm distracted by talking into the air, then the guy with the jelly donut and coffee driving with his knees next to me is subject to the same penalties.

That's given hands free, voice dialing, etc. that doesn't apply to texting, et.al. I think texting is more of a distraction than reading. And holding a phone to your ear has got to be on par with shaving.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:13 PM on July 19, 2009


XKCD makes comic about cellphoning while driving, shockingly lacking in condemnation
posted by delmoi at 11:37 PM on July 19, 2009


People lose all sense of decency and common sense when they're on a cellphone in public. Coming home on the commuter train one night last week, we were all treated to a loud, dual discussion of insurance problems, Crestor prescriptions, the pain of losing a job at 72 years old, the need to switch quickly to Medicare and which plan to choose, etc. I say dual because one was the wife of the just-laid-off guy and was busy calling the AARP, her doctors' offices to get exact prescription details and prices, etc., and the other was her pal who was determined to help her by calling all of her friends to seek their insurance advice. This went on for more than 40 minutes. No number of glares or mumbled curses would shut them up. In fact, they seemed to be enjoying their role in their perceived state of emergency. So, if anyone wants to know more about the health history, job status or precisely what milligrams of Crestor gets the best coverage or other family matters of Robert K. of Mineola, N.Y., drop me a note.
posted by etaoin at 12:17 AM on July 20, 2009


"To me, the death of freedom is far worse than the risk of talking on the phone while driving," said Carl Wimmer, a state representative in Salt Lake City who successfully fought a bill this year to ban talking while driving."

You know, that's a great sentiment when applied to yourself only.

But when you run ME over while talking on your #$&*(#$(*& cell phone, then that's both the death of my freedom and my actual death.

Feel free to kill yourself as often as you like, but when it comes to doing things that greatly endanger other people, well--that's exactly where your "freedom" needs to end.
posted by flug at 12:40 AM on July 20, 2009


So, what if it *is* an emergency?

Same as with drunk driving. Maybe you'll be stopped for crazy driving and you'll have to convince the cop that you aren't drunk and you really are trying to get to your mother's deathbed right now before it's too late. But governments can't stop making rules governing 99.999 percent of the cases just because 0.001 percent are valid exceptions. Also, you can't stop making rules against detectable dangerous behavior just because some equally dangerous behaviors are hard to detect.

For a start, phoning behind the wheel needs to at least be considered reckless driving: maybe you aren't driving drunk, but you are acting like an idiot behind the wheel and you need to be discouraged from doing it. For successive offenses, you ought to get a fine, then a much more painful fine, and then a suspended license.
posted by pracowity at 12:55 AM on July 20, 2009


Well, since the whole world isn't the United States

Now you take that back!
posted by Wolof at 1:04 AM on July 20, 2009


In furtherance of two or three cars parked under the stars last point how many of you have an aquaintence, coworker, family member or friend who they rode with once and will never ever do so again even if it means walking 20 miles up hill at night in a blizzard? I've got two friends like this. One who is crazy aggressive and the other who just nods off after any time of constant motion.

rodgerd writes "Well, since the whole world isn't the United States, your guess would be wrong"

Well I'm in Canada but the enforcement is quite similiar. It gives me a warm feeling that cops some places are more honest about enforcement. They almost never advertise specific enforcement here. In contrast to your well marked police cars cruisers here are identified by being white sedans with a stripe and a light bar. Even then most of the newer cars have interior light bars as a supposed fuel economy measure. Many highway patrol cars have everything hidden including the until recently visible radio antenna. At least those ghost cars are all police package base cars. A not insignificant portion of the fleet are special purpose ghost cars designed not to tweak police spidey senses. Unmarked minivans, decoy taxis, SUVs, and pick ups.

My favourite ghost car experience is from 20 years ago. A guy in some euro sports sedan blows by us and the vehicle we're following when the road widens from two lanes to four. The guy in front is driving a dirty import pick up with sleeper style 1/4 canopy, boat on overhead rack and big hairy dog in the bed. All the world like some dude heading out fishing. Right up until that sedan sucked his mirrors and the lights started flashing from in the window of the sleeper. Best ghost cruiser ever and the dog was the over the top accessory that would make one never suspect.

Smedleyman writes "So, all this holds for CB radio?"

There were calls all over in the '70s to ban CB radio use (or require hands free mics) while driving because just like now with cell phones it seems no one could ever remember having a close call where the driver wasn't using a CB. Of course you never hear about it now despite practically every highway tractor being equipped.

Smedleyman writes "Police radios?"

Don't be silly, they're above the law.
posted by Mitheral at 1:13 AM on July 20, 2009


There's a comment in another of the photos of the decoy NYC taxi, but it's obviously fake because the license plate and medallion don't match.

And I'd be more inclined to take driving advice from truckers if they didn't routinely drive in the left lane or (even worse) in multiple adjacent lanes and at exactly the same speed.
posted by oaf at 4:56 AM on July 20, 2009


Last year my home town instituted a cell phone ban in school zones. Police officers were posted at the intersections bracketing the school, looking at each driver. I approved of this example of Big Brother watching over me.

Apparently, this ban resulted from several instances of distracted drivers right next to the school, as students were flocking to class, which resulted in near misses. I had the impression that the distracted drivers were actually parents who were doing business while taking the kids to school.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 6:09 AM on July 20, 2009


A long time ago I had a macroeconomics class, and we were discussing unintended effects of artificial market controls, and the professor proffered this anecdote:


Nader promised that seatbelts would save lives, and he was sort of right. The problem was that car SPEEDS kept increasing, especially accidents where the driver was SPEEDING. Also, pedestrian deaths went up up up disproportionally to the increase in the number of drivers. The conclusion was that a) drivers felt artificially safe in their new "safe" cars and acted more recklessly, and that b) protections for pedestrians were 0, and as drivers behaved more recklessly, pedestrians were who took the brunt.

His suggestion was awesome: Remove the airbag and implant a spear into the steering column. If there is a front-end impact at a speed greater than 15mph, the same propellant used for the original airbag would propel the the spear into the chest of the driver, if not killing then wounding him permanently, certainly making him unable to drive ever again.

That, he said, would create safe drivers.
posted by TomMelee at 6:50 AM on July 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


So economists are even more stupid and worthless than we thought?
posted by Crabby Appleton at 6:57 AM on July 20, 2009


Remove the airbag and implant a spear into the steering column.

The Corvair was criticized for a steering column that essentially impaled the drived at low speeds (see link). This apparently hurt its image, and probably sales. I'm not sure if it created safer drivers.
posted by Brian B. at 7:02 AM on July 20, 2009


I imagine no one reads all the way down here but anyway, here's my 2p.

I'm a motorcyclist. I ride a big yellow motorcycle through the roads of London twice a day. A lot of drivers are idiots and just don't look regardless of whether or not they are on the phone.

The drivers which are on the phone I often pull up along side and honk my horn at to alert them, and other road users to the very present danger of a distracted driver. Usually this results in them looking guilty and hanging up. Sometimes it results in getting chased down the road by an angry Bentley Continental GT driver honking his horn back at me while still chatting away on the phone. I do think that unless people are harassed for driving stupidly they probably won't stop driving stupidly until they've had an accident. And even then they might not be willing to tell other people to pay attention.

From experience I actually think the most real danger on the roads is simply drivers not paying attention because they are forgetful or arrogant rather than specifically being distracted by a phone call or other gadget. People are terrible at even just staying in their lane while going round a corner. They are even worse at remembering to check mirrors and blind spots when changing lanes.
posted by public at 7:23 AM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Something I noticed years ago when driving was that I automatically turned the radio / CD player off if it began to rain or snow heavily. I guess I realized that concentrating on two things at once in those situations was impossible.

As far as the comment about airline pilots being able to talk to air traffic controllers, I would imagine it would be slightly different story if there were 100 planes or so passing within a few feet of his plane at varying rates. I doubt if the Blue Angels or Thunderbirds do much texting while in the air.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 7:53 AM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


People who operate cell phones while biking...I don't think I really need to go into that.
posted by saysthis at 8:21 AM on July 20, 2009


Smedleyman: So, all this holds for CB radio? Police radios? Kids in the car (or other non-helpful talkative passengers)? Other communicative distractions? What is it specifically about cell phones that make them different from other forms of communication that require exactly the same process?

Don't know. Doesn't matter that much given what we do know about the risks of Cell Phone use while driving.

Now, that might be fine for some of you, but I don't much like being pulled over to have to prove I'm a responsible individual.

Well I'll certainly agree that I'm skeptical as to the benefits of traffic stops for things like random breath-checks, and seatbelt use.

On the other hand, it seems like we have a perfectly fair method of enforcing such a law. If you are in an accident or ticketed for breaking a traffic law, your phone records are legal fair game. If texting or talking on the phone was a factor behind your infraction, expect more points on your record and your insurance dropping you like a hot potato as a high-risk driver.

So, what if it *is* an emergency? Or not an emergency per se, but personally important - what if someone just called to tell me a family member is in the hospital? The cop is going to follow me to the hospital? We're going to use public money to investigate my phone records or do I pay for that? And if I'm right, how am I compensated for being detained while I miss my brother's final breath by 10 minutes because dammit, you just can't talk into the air in a car. Or at the radio.

Um, why should you be compensated because you broke the law in your grief putting other people at risk? The myth of getting a free pass from a ticket and police escort because someone was about to give birth is something that only happens in the movies.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:40 AM on July 20, 2009


"I'd be more inclined to take driving advice from truckers if they didn't routinely drive in the left lane or (even worse) in multiple adjacent lanes and at exactly the same speed."

This is directly because of a safety "feature" not a desire by the drivers to be assholes. Here's how it works:And then if they come on a guy travelling 99 kilometres per hour and there are three lanes of travel it repeats and if there are only two lanes the total passes take twice as long. And for some icing on the cake in a lot of places more than two or three vehicles (of any type, not just trucks) travelling together is classified as a convoy and you can be ticketed for it. So you can't just line up behind the guys in front of you.
posted by Mitheral at 8:57 AM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


There is a lot of validity to the comments above about constructing the speaker on the other side of the phone in your mind. I've always described this place as one's "phone-space".

Because I've worked in a call center and have trained myself to use a headset while typing on a computer and performing other feats of multi-tasking, I always assumed that I was capable of separating myself from that phone-space and not having my conversation affect my driving.

I then watched a program that tested drivers in a novel way. They had people sit in a simulator and drive while talking on their phone. They were then asked to identify how many emergency vehicles (ambulances, fire-trucks, etc) that were parked on the shoulder as they passed them on the interstate. Without fail, something big and, by definition, highly visible, went completely unnoticed by drivers on the phone; in most cases the people taking the test hadn't seen them at all.

I applied that metric to my own experience, and I realized that often I couldn't have related a single detail of a trip where I was on the phone with someone.

That scared the shit out of me, because I take driving pretty seriously, it's something I actively enjoy so I try as much as possible to be present in the experience, on top of that, my phone center training should have made me a great candidate for someone who could pull of the safe driving-and-talking trick.

I can't, and to my mind, if I can't I have to doubt that most other people can either.

An interesting side effect of this was that I now use my horn a lot more. I never used to, thinking it was unnecessarily rude, but I now find that it serves as a useful reminder to people on their cell, that in 65 miles an hour traffic, it's beneficial to everyone around them if they pick a lane and stick with it.
posted by quin at 10:06 AM on July 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


Sure you can do what you like in the privacy of your own car! However, if you crash my car while you're doing it and hurt me and/or my kid, I will make your life a living fucking hell! Have a good day!
posted by PuppyCat at 11:02 AM on July 20, 2009


I applied that metric to my own experience, and I realized that often I couldn't have related a single detail of a trip where I was on the phone with someone.

I'm not sure this has anything to do with cellphones. It's pretty common for people to go on "auto-pilot" while driving, and later suddenly realize that they remember nothing about the previous hour or two of driving. Don't worry, your unconscious is in charge, and it will alert you if your services are required.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 11:04 AM on July 20, 2009


“Um, why should you be compensated because you broke the law in your grief putting other people at risk?”
Um, there isn’t a law in the first place. If there were, and I was pulled over for using a cell phone – or appearing as though I may be using a hands free voice activated cell phone - as opposed to reckless driving, I see that as a problem. So yeah, if I’m pulled over because I’m talking to myself, and I’m on my way to something personally important, I’d want it redressed.

“If texting or talking on the phone was a factor behind your infraction, expect more points on your record and your insurance dropping you like a hot potato as a high-risk driver.”
I don’t have a problem with that at all.

“maybe you aren't driving drunk, but you are acting like an idiot behind the wheel and you need to be discouraged from doing it.”
Exactly my point. Why not pull over people who are acting like idiots behind the wheel regardless of whether they’re using cell phones or not? If they are, ok, whatever penalties there might be for that, I’m fine with. If they’re driving just fine – whether they’re eating a sandwich or talking – why only pull them over for the latter?
posted by Smedleyman at 12:03 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm sure most people who saw my original comment have already judged me and moved on, but just in case anyone is still reading this:

I never meant to imply that I didn't think talking on a cell phone while driving was a distraction -- sure it is. As are many, many other things others have listed here.

What I'm saying is that, for me, having someone actually in the car with me is way more distracting than a cell phone conversation, because during a conversation with a passenger, I will inevitably, at some point, turn to look at them while I'm talking to them. I know this is unsafe and I've tried and tried to train myself out of it, but there it is.

I'm also not saying, by the way, that my individual anecdotal experience in any way outweighs any research that's been done. Me, I'm just making conversation, here. I'm not arguing it shouldn't be illegal. But on the other hand, lots of things I do on a regular basis are illegal. You, too, probably.

-----

Wanted to comment on this, by the way:

But if you must talk on the phone while driving, the very first thing you mus do is tell the other person that you are driving. Then you can say 'hold on a minute' when you approach an intersection or any other complicated driving situation and they won't get upset and say 'what's the matter?' trying to get your attention right when you need it most on driving.

Whether or not I've mentioned to the person I'm talking to the fact that I'm driving -- and I usually have, because 90% of my phone-calls-while-driving are "Okay, I'm almost there, come meet me out front" types of conversations -- when I approach a complicated driving situation, I say "Hang on" -- takes less than a second -- and I take the phone away from my ear. If the person on the other end is somehow upset or confused by my sudden absence from the conversation, I'll make it up to them later.
posted by webmutant at 12:39 PM on July 20, 2009


Anyone that can say "the first time I got hit by a car", is either very lucky, or very unlucky...I'm not sure which...

Well, technically, I have only been hit once. However, the number of people above who have posted the "Pshaw! I can drive and talk/text/download new ringtones just fine!" defense means it is inevitable there are more collisions to come.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:55 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Smedleyman: Officers can't spot DUIs or driving without insurance either. But both are cases in which a $40 traffic stop for not using a turn signal or drifting across lanes can turn into a major headache.

But in this case, we are talking about a behavior that A) undeniably (at least to people with a lick of sense using some very basic standards of knowledge) increases risk by an unacceptable amount B) has become ubiquitous in recent years and C) is fairly easy to confirm with minimal impact on due process.

And of course, I strongly disagree with the notion that our abilities to reduce this behavior necessarily center on traffic stops by a patrol officer catching a fleeting glimpse of the inside of your vehicle.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:26 PM on July 20, 2009


"But both are cases in which a $40 traffic stop for not using a turn signal or drifting across lanes can turn into a major headache."

Exactly. People aren't pulled over for driving without insurance, they're pulled over for driving in a dangerous manner.

"And of course, I strongly disagree with the notion that our abilities to reduce this behavior necessarily center on traffic stops by a patrol officer catching a fleeting glimpse of the inside of your vehicle."
Then you strongly agree with me. I'm addressing this "arrest people for driving while using cell phones" idea as silly. Reduction of the behavior I don't have a problem with. I'm talking people at their word that when they say people driving while talking on a cell phone should be arrested, this is what they mean. Want to reduce accidents, dangerous driving and cell usage as connected to that? Ok. But it's going to necessarily be connected to the end result - that is - poor driving, some sort of accident, etc. Not, as you say, spotting a guy using one inside their vehicle. But we do have seat belt law that is predicated on exactly that. And yet, its devolved, in practice most places, to an additional charge rather than the primary.
(Unless your quota is low or the department is having some sort of publicity drive motivated by additional funds from the state or some such).
posted by Smedleyman at 2:40 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't think anyone's mentioned yet the bugaboo of the driver's emotional responses to the person they're talking to. If someone's important enough to be on the phone with or have a text conversation with while driving (a boss, a family member, a romantic interest, etc), or if a situation urgent enough arises for one to need use the phone while driving, then surely this adds to the driver's involvement in the conversation, and makes him pay more attention to it than the road and the periphery. This needs to be taken into account in contrast to speaking with a passenger with whom a whole array of nonverbal cues can be conveyed without the driver having to be too involved, or communications over CB radio where conversations are terse and detached.
posted by Lush at 3:18 PM on July 20, 2009


Uh, break 19, break 19, I'm sleeping with your wife good buddy, c'mon back. Over.
'Uh...what? 10-37 Over.'
This is Dale the Pale. I'm nailing your old lady as we speak. Over.
'...what's your 20? Over.'
Negatory. Out.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:02 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


From today's New York Times: U.S. Withheld Data on Risks of Distracted Driving
"In 2003, researchers at a federal agency proposed a long-term study of 10,000 drivers to assess the safety risk posed by cellphone use behind the wheel.

They sought the study based on evidence that such multitasking was a serious and growing threat on America’s roadways.

But such an ambitious study never happened. And the researchers’ agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, decided not to make public hundreds of pages of research and warnings about the use of phones by drivers — in part, officials say, because of concerns about angering Congress.

On Tuesday, the full body of research is being made public for the first time by two consumer advocacy groups, which filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for the documents. The Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen provided a copy to The New York Times, which is publishing the documents on its Web site."
posted by ericb at 8:04 AM on July 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


Just an odd note - I actually have an easier time talking on my cellphone than talking to a passenger, because I'm nearly deaf in my right ear. So, for me, it's actually more dangerous to drive with someone in the car than it is to talk to them on the phone. Which is why I'm nearly always the passenger when I'm with someone else.

This article has really made me reconsider my cell phone usage, especially now that I'm driving the insane Chicago highway system.
posted by desjardins at 5:55 PM on July 21, 2009


In Study, Texting Lifts Crash Risk by Large Margin
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:17 PM on July 28, 2009


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