Phone home on the road: GO TO JAIL.
June 26, 2001 5:32 AM   Subscribe

Phone home on the road: GO TO JAIL. In New York it will soon be official - dialing and driving don't mix. Thirty-nine other states may also follow suit.
posted by ZachsMind (76 comments total)

 
SWEET!!!!! I can totally get behind this law. I hope it comes to Mass ASAP.

And for the record, I have a cel phone. Of course, I use it to cut back on my long distance bill, and generally don't carry it with me, so I admit I'm not a "normal" cel user.
posted by J. R. Hughto at 5:37 AM on June 26, 2001


While we're at it, let's ban everything else that distracts drivers more than cell phones:

1.) Car stereos
2.) Food & Drink
3.) Passengers
4.) Things that happen outside the vehicle.

That way we can all finally be safe.

This is yet another law that's long on emotion and short on common sense.
posted by ljromanoff at 5:44 AM on June 26, 2001


Clearly you're not almost wiped out on a daily basis by some tranced-out dipshit with a phone glued to it's ear.
posted by dong_resin at 6:09 AM on June 26, 2001


If people can't regulate themselves, then either the government or big corporations seem to have to step in. It's clear from past studies (not to mention personal experience!) that a significant number of drivers who use cell phones can't handle both tasks adequately.

I say: good law.
posted by hijinx at 6:12 AM on June 26, 2001


It's clear from past studies (not to mention personal experience!) that a significant number of drivers who use cell phones can't handle both tasks adequately.

Which is even more the case in everything I mentioned above, statistically speaking. So, let's start banning.
posted by ljromanoff at 6:17 AM on June 26, 2001


While we're at it, let's ban everything else that distracts drivers more than cell phones:

Can you provide some proof? I'd like to see studies that show passengers, foodstuffs and radios are more distracting than cell phone usage. Thanks.
posted by hijinx at 6:22 AM on June 26, 2001


distractions that cause auto accidents -

something outside the vehicle - 29.4 percent
adjusting car stereo - 11.4 percent
talking with passengers - 10.9 percent
adjusting climate controls - 2.8 percent
eating or drinking - 1.9 percent
cell phone use - 1.5 percent
smoking - 0.9 percent

statistically, ljromanoff's about right on this one.
posted by dogmatic at 6:27 AM on June 26, 2001



1.) Car stereos
the car stereo does not demand anything from you. Bon Jovi does not ask you talk back to him. You may sing back to him
but he doesn't care.

2.) Food & Drink
Its not good to be doing this either -- and maybe this could show up in ordinances, but your soda is not going to ring when you are making the lane change - presumably you'll grab a swing when you are best able to do it.

3.) Passengers
Don't tie up your hands, unless they are very needy people.

4.) Things that happen outside the vehicle.
#4 was not well thought out and deserves no response.
posted by brucec at 6:28 AM on June 26, 2001


Maybe it's time to require that the cell phone manufacturers include a "hands-free" set with every phone. They have no right to sell phones whose basic use is now illegal.

But still, I think that two (or more) screaming kids in the back seat are way more distracting than dialing 10 numbers on a keypad.
posted by panopticon at 6:29 AM on June 26, 2001


dogmatic,

the use of cell phones in cars is recent and the ownership of cell phones is increasing.

The fact that other things cause accidents is not an argument against this law. Anything that causes accidents should be reduced. Unfortunately, other than smoking, none of the other distractions on your list could be legislated at all. They are not visible from an officer's observation.
posted by brucec at 6:32 AM on June 26, 2001


But still, I think that two (or more) screaming kids in the back seat are way more distracting than dialing 10
numbers on a keypad.


Its a debatable point. Dialing really takes a lot of mental concentration on those tiny buttons. I am not trying to belittle the plight of the parent, but I think there's more control when the passangers are in the vehicle and you can tell them to hush for a second while Mommy changes lanes. Your phone conversation partner is not aware of the driving situation and can demand your attention at the worst moments of driving.

Which brings up a good point that the "hands-free" sets do not fully address the issue, although it helps to at least elimnate the strained neck position and phone fumbling. You still have to dial, and Its the conversation that distracts.
posted by brucec at 6:37 AM on June 26, 2001


I don't own a cellphone. I'm too busy singing at the top of my lungs to my favorite music while driving to bother with phones while driving. Come to think of it, I'm too busy singing at the top of my lungs to bother driving. I'd stop, but it's the only time I can sing - provided there's no one in the car with me.

Seriously, the intent of this law is to prevent accidents. Not punish people who cause them. The drunk driving laws were designed the same way. Get the drunks off the streets and we'll have less people dying. By any chance, anyone know if there's laws about carrying a gun while intoxicated? I'm sure the politicians are working on writing up that law even as you read these words. How about drinking while cooking? A stove is pretty heavy machinery to operate while under the influence, isn't it? I'm sure that'll save a lot of lives.

It's like the speed limit law, to which most people driving seem to NOT pay attention. Since my last speeding ticket, which was expensive enough to actually hurt, I've been trying to go the speed limit. Even in the far right lane, I become the obstacle. I become the potential cause for an accident, because there's twenty cars behind me that have to drive around me to avoid an accident. Whereas if I'm driving at the same speed as the other cars on the road, even if we're averaging ten or fifteen miles over the speed limit, there's less of a chance of everybody dying. Still, I can't afford another speeding ticket, so I'm just gonna go the speed limit from now on, wait for somebody to rear-end me, and make their insurance company buy me a new car.

Provided they're insured. Which is yet another law I don't think other people pay any attention to...
posted by ZachsMind at 6:41 AM on June 26, 2001


Question: Why do they have to make a separate law addressing mobile phones? Aren't there laws that already address doing unsafe activities while driving that could be cited?

Also, this statement probably was made by someone without children:
I think that two (or more) screaming kids in the back seat are way more distracting than dialing 10 numbers on a keypad.
posted by internal at 6:44 AM on June 26, 2001


I am for this as well.

Try paying attention when you drive.
posted by a3matrix at 6:47 AM on June 26, 2001


Is this go to jail day or ice cream day? I'm so confused.
posted by machaus at 6:50 AM on June 26, 2001


Combine the personality changes that come about when people are on their mobiles, with those that appear when they're behind the wheel, and you've a recipe for disaster.
posted by holgate at 6:59 AM on June 26, 2001


It's true that the number of accidents involving cell phones in cars will undoubtedly increase as the number of cell phone users increases. But I still believe that this bill, and bills like it in other states, are being entirely reactionary by trying to legislate a phenomenon without even studying or trying to understand it.

Maybe some others may find cell-phone users a danger on the road. However, from my vantage point, and the vantage point of the study I linked, the accident-prone cell-phone using driver is a straw man.
posted by dogmatic at 7:01 AM on June 26, 2001


I suspect this law comes mainly from people who are just fed up with people who blab incessantly into cell phones. Can't blame them. I keep hoping that that cancer story has some truth to it.

Not that I wish cancer on people just because they can't stop talking for five minutes.

No, wait. Maybe I do.

No, I don't. But if cell phones turned out to make frequent users sterile, I'd laugh for days on end.
posted by pracowity at 7:25 AM on June 26, 2001


Question: Why do they have to make a separate law addressing mobile phones? Aren't there laws that already
address doing unsafe activities while driving that could be cited?


Debatable. Careless driving (no points) or Reckless Driving (ouch ..points) could possibly be used, but usually these are used for what you do with the vehicle. So they are too late to prevent accidents.

I suspect Pataki wanted a specific law so that behavior might change. I think also Pataki wanted to organize what had been dozens of individual town's legislation, so that people would not be violating the law in some towns and not in others. BTW, a $100 fine and no points is for the most part a slap on the wrist.
posted by brucec at 7:42 AM on June 26, 2001


Will the police pull me over if I'm driving along just holding my left hand up to my ear and talking to the air (or a passenger)? hmmm.... this will have to be experimented with...in an automatic transmissioned car...
posted by andrewraff at 7:43 AM on June 26, 2001


i don't see why this law is neccesary. if you're driving recklessly, you can be already be pulled over for that. it shouldn't matter if you're eating a burrito or combing your hair or talking on a phone.... if it's causing you to drive recklessly you can be ticketed.
posted by ignu at 7:56 AM on June 26, 2001


I'm torn on whether cell phone use in cars should be banned. While of course driving should be the focus of all your attention, people do drink coffee, talk to passengers, eat dinner, and the list goes on into more wackier stuff.

Part of me agree with BruceC that you'll grab a swing when you are best able to do it, whether it applies to cell phones, coffee, radio or whatever.

But then I hear stories like this and my mind changes again.

I don't think the law is going to stop people from talking on their phones. I'd rather see a hands-free phone become the norm in a car.

But maybe we should be thinking about why people are talking on the phone in their cars so much. These phones have went from luxury, to convenience and are on their way to ubiquity. The plans that are currently offered make it just too easy to spend time on your phone blabbing about nothing in public into a machine (those one way conversations weird me out sometimes). But is that the cell-phone maker or users fault?

BTW: I used to have a cell phone, but I didn't drive much so it wasn't an issue then. But I would talk to my boyfriend constantly while he was driving. However, he would put the phone down or phone me back when things got to be too much. Hopefully most people do the same.
posted by melissa at 7:58 AM on June 26, 2001


Some more data:

"A report by the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida in 1999 found that existing studies on driving and cell phone use show accident rates increase anywhere form 34% to more than 300%"

The UK Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones made the following comment in their report:

"In addition to these general considerations, there are concerns about the use of mobile phones in vehicles. Their use may offer significant advantages – for example, following accidents when they allow emergency assistance to be rapidly summoned. Nevertheless, the use of mobile phones whilst driving is a major issue of concern and experimental evidence demonstrates that it has a detrimental effect on drivers’ responsiveness. Epidemiological evidence indicates that this effect translates into a substantially increased risk of an accident. Perhaps surprisingly, current evidence suggests that the negative effects of phone use while driving are similar whether the phone is hand-held or hands-free (paragraph 5.213). Overall we conclude that the detrimental effects of hands-free operation are sufficiently large that drivers should be dissuaded from using either hand-held or hands-free phones whilst on the move (paragraphs 5.201–5.214, 5.262–5.263 and 6.93–6.95). "

Lots more interesting stuff in that report includes references to studies which showed that risk of accidents increased by 400% if a mobile phone was used within 10 minutes of the accident.
posted by adrianhon at 7:58 AM on June 26, 2001


Cell phones do have one major benefit: Response rates to accidents have increased dramatically because of them. Also, you can call in drunk driving reports, carjackings, what have you. There have been a few studies warning against cell phone *bans* for this reason. But if you can pull over and make a call, or make a call while in stationary traffic or a stop light, a cell phone law shouldn't be a problem, should it? It's been my decidedly non-scientific observation that some folks are a bit police-calling-via-cell-happy. Maybe police will be bothered less if people have to pull over and call.

(By the way, a 1997 New England Journal of Medicine article has been the study most often cited in support of the NY law. The stat used from it is that use of a cell phone while driving can quadruple the risk of an accident, nearly to the level of intoxication. It was a preliminary report, though, and included a warning about phone benefits and the role of personal responsibility in the wake of being fully warned about the risks. Since then, a Canadian Journal of Medicine report found the NE Journal of Medicine article to have underestimated the risk.)
posted by raysmj at 8:20 AM on June 26, 2001


If we really want to stop accidents, and reduce the number of fatalities that occur during automobile collisions, why don't we simply have a federally mandated 10 mph speed limit on all roads?

Studies show that injuries resulting from accidents at 10 mph occur far less than at higher speeds. Bumper technology has improved immeasurably in the last few decades, and almost certainly could be improved more. And if you consider air bags, harnesses, and other safety measures, I would feel comfortable saying that 10 mph could feasibly reduce the amount of road fatalities to nearly zero.

Since personal freedom and responsibility has ceased to be an issue, we have to realize that cell phone bans only address a part of the problem. A 10 mph speed limit could solve it completely.
posted by UncleFes at 8:21 AM on June 26, 2001


The biggest problem I have with all these laws is that the NEJM study actually shows that hands-free sets don't decrease the risk of drivers on cellphones. It specifically addresses that issue, and specifically finds that there is no statistical difference between hands-free and held cellphones.
posted by delfuego at 8:28 AM on June 26, 2001


Will the police pull me over if I'm driving along just holding my left hand up to my ear and talking to the air (or a passenger)?

(Before you flame, I'm kidding here) This could become a huge movement - civil disobedience to tell the government to get off our backs. People should drive around with a hand near your ear, so you get pulled over by a cop - eventually the cops will tire and never pull anyone over for that.

But seriously, if they ban cell phones while driving then they better ban smoking and drinking hot liquids while driving. And sleepiness too.

Oh yeah, and bees. The presence of bees in your car while driving increases the risk of accidents by a whopping 4000%! In fact, the more bees, the more danger!
posted by panopticon at 8:43 AM on June 26, 2001


panopticon: If you admit that smoking and drinking hot liquids can cause serious accidents, just as well as cell phones can (not that you have, but others most certainly have), then why bother driving with cell phones in your hand or one hand off the steering wheel and another next to your ear? Doesn't sound like civil disobedience to me. Sounds like being an a-hole with an ax to grind.
posted by raysmj at 8:53 AM on June 26, 2001


raysmj, I don't want to argue about it, but it's sort of like a motorcycle helmet law - it could be seen as an issue of civil liberties. But what's next? will the government start mandating that cars can only attain a certain maximum speed? A hot drink is dangerous while driving, and so is eating a meatball hero - so is the government going to ban that too? And the government better ban in-dash cd players, since fiddling with a cd is dangerous....
posted by panopticon at 9:01 AM on June 26, 2001


Sounds like being an a-hole with an ax to grind.

Whereas making a law that bans an activity that is responsible for about 1/7 of the amount of accidents caused by stereo twiddling, that's just good legislation...?
posted by UncleFes at 9:02 AM on June 26, 2001


Panopticon and UncleFes: Briefly. Are you going to go twiddle with your stereo more often now, since it's dangerous too, and put on makeup, and snarf down Twinkies without a care, etc. while driving? No? Because it's dangerous, yes? Then you don't use a cell or hold your hand up to your ear as civil disobedience, since doing so could harm others (unlike, say, a refusal to wear a helmet, which is a personal or familial issue). You argue against the law in other ways.
posted by raysmj at 9:16 AM on June 26, 2001


Why is using the hands-free set such a big deal? The extra $25? You can solve the dialing 10 digits problem by using speed dial, voice automated feature, etc...
posted by kphaley454 at 9:17 AM on June 26, 2001


Oh yeah, riding a bicycle on the road in traffic is dangerous. Better ban that too.
posted by panopticon at 9:19 AM on June 26, 2001


Why is using the hands-free set such a big deal? The extra $25?

No. It's the principle of the thing. It's standing up to a government that writes bad laws that the cops can't enforce that are of dubious effectiveness because some people think all cell phone using drivers are dangerous. It's just another little tiny chunk taken out of our civil rights, another little stinker of a law that adds an infinitesimal amount of disregard for all law to our culture, detracts from our freedom and denigrates personal responsibility.

Then you don't use a cell or hold your hand up to your ear as civil disobedience

I think panopticon was making a point about the difficulties in enforcing this law. I doubt that he's going to make his entire commute with his hand up against his ear.
posted by UncleFes at 9:27 AM on June 26, 2001


...are on their way to ubiquity

Is that even in New York State?

I think it's inarguable that banning cell phones in cars will have some sort of impact on highway safety. It's also inarguable that banning all those other things (food, stereos, fast speed limits, etc.) would also have a positive impact. This legislation, like a lot of other "public safety" legislation is purely of the moment and is not really intended to do anything but placate some voter demographic. If anyone ever looked at this stuff from a real safety perspective, they'd ban cars and driving outright, along with a lot of other things in this world.

The working assumption that lawmakers do things for the purposes of the public good is deeply flawed. This legislation is not much more significant than naming the Boston Creme doughnut your official state doughnut .
posted by briank at 9:57 AM on June 26, 2001


No. It's the principle of the thing. It's standing up to a government that writes bad laws that the cops can't enforce that are of dubious effectiveness because some people think all cell phone using drivers are dangerous. It's just another little tiny chunk taken out of our civil rights, another little stinker of a law that adds an infinitesimal amount of disregard for all law to our culture, detracts from our freedom and denigrates personal responsibility.

Thank you, UncleFes. I couldn't have said it better myself.
posted by jammer at 9:59 AM on June 26, 2001


Someone on CNN just brought up a good point: If you thought racial profiling was easy before, wait till this thing becomes law. "Sorry for pulling you over, sir, but it looked to me like you had a cell phone in your hand." I guarantee that when the first enforcement statistics come out on this, they'll show blacks pulled over in grossly disproportionate numbers.
posted by aaron at 10:05 AM on June 26, 2001


[ljromanoff] Which is even more the case in everything I mentioned above, statistically speaking. So, let's start banning.

[dogmatic] [a bunch of percentages (which are really percentages of a percentage)]
statistically, ljromanoff's about right on this one.


[adrianhon] Lots more interesting stuff in that report includes references to studies which showed that risk of accidents increased by 400% if a mobile phone was used within 10 minutes of the accident.

Statistically, ljr and dogmatic may be right. But how good is his statistic? (You should always ask this question. article on lightning strikes posted by Zach.)

I believe that the article mentioned by adrianhon may be one that appeared in Chance a couple of years ago. The article controls for the probability of not having an accident when engaged in some activity. This is a better statistical procedure than just noting what a person was distracted by and then ranking the results. That is because many things can momentarily distract a person and cause an accident because of the specific driving circumstances at that time of the distraction. That is, an insect hitting a windshield does not usually distract a driver. But an insect hitting a windshield at exactly the wrong time (or right time if you are a personal injury lawyer) could cause you to react slowly to the car in front of you braking suddenly and could cause an accident. Thus, in this hypothetical (and non-emotionally charged) example, the squashed bug distraction "caused" the accident. However, we want to know if a specific behavior or event increases the risk of accident overall. (That is, whether a behavior or event increases the risk of an accident regardless of road conditions. Thus, we must introduce a control to account for this. This research study did so.
posted by iceberg273 at 10:19 AM on June 26, 2001


When I said that cell phones were becoming ubiquitous, I meant that everyone seems to have one. They may not drive and use them at the same time, but they are still there.

*off topic* Personally, I think that there should be more concern about removing them from schools - I know I've heard more than a few stories about cell phones going off in class. And that commercial where the guy gets text messages via his phone till he is busted. *end off topic*

But back to the point here. Have there been studies that show the differences between hands free and non-hands free cell phone use in vehicles. Those results would be very interesting to see.
posted by melissa at 10:20 AM on June 26, 2001


Melissa: I quoted a bit from a UK report into the risks of driving while on a mobile phone, and they found that there was very little difference in risk between normal and hands-free phones. So apparently it isn't the act of holding the whole so much as your attention being diverted that's the problem.
posted by adrianhon at 10:32 AM on June 26, 2001


One more burst of fanfare, one more law, one more regulation for us all to ignore. Five years down the road we won't even remember what the fuss was about.

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:34 AM on June 26, 2001


Thanks Adrianhon. I knew I saw it in there, and I apologize for not looking harder.
posted by melissa at 10:40 AM on June 26, 2001


The studies that show hands-free cell phone use to be just as bad as hands-on cell phone use are not proof that cell phones are inherently dangerous, they're proof that talking in cars at all is inherently dangerous. Having another human being anywhere in the car is as bad as any cell phone use. As such, the only logical law here would be one banning all speaking in moving vehicles, except in the case of emergency.

How many of you would support that law?
posted by aaron at 10:56 AM on June 26, 2001



Dogmatic: You didn't report the 95% confidence intervals for the statistics cited. The plus-or-minus 7.2% next to the bothering with cassette/CD, etc., leaves an awful lot to be desired.
posted by raysmj at 11:02 AM on June 26, 2001


Bad logic, aaron. The big difference: if you have a passenger with you, he or she can (and will) shut up if it's a distraction. A phone doesn't have this power of discretion: it will ring (hands free or not) without warning.

It's not the talking that's dangerous, it's the interruption.
posted by holgate at 11:05 AM on June 26, 2001


More bad logic, Holgate. A passenger may not shut up if they're being a distraction, even if told. (Screaming children, a bickering SO, someone who just doesn't have a clue.) A phone may ring, but that doesn't mean that a driver has to answer it if they don't think that they can do so safely. (When I had a cell) I let my phone ring into voicemail all of the time.

The biggest change that a ban is going to bring about will be the additional revenue in the state coffers from the added charge on citations given after accidents have already taken place, and the additional money in the pockets of trial lawyers who will take advantage of the ban by doubling and tripling the damages sought in post-accident civil cases if there is a hint of suspicion that a handheld phone was in use. But the idea of mass enforcement, police pulling over scores of drivers who seem to be using handheld phones, is ludicrous. It's just not going to happen.

Moreover, this law has huge loopholes, and I'd love to see a test case that shows how faulty it is. Phones are small, getting smaller every day. (The eminently popular Nokia 3390 is less than 5" X 2") Someone driving with their arm against the door, hand up against their head and seemingly talking might be using one of the new breed of tiny phones. But they may also be resting against their hand and having a conversation with a passenger, singing along with the radio or talking to themselves, none of which are illegal.

Are people now to be pulled over because of their posture? Or will cops need to see something that might "reasonably" be presumed to be a phone (impossible if it's a tiny phone in a large hand) to justify a stop? How does one prove or disprove a negative? How does the accused get a fair shake in court when it's a he said/he said driver vs. cop?

The concept is rife with problems. Nice salve, but ultimately too troublesome to be a real fix to any (supposed) problems.
posted by Dreama at 11:12 AM on June 26, 2001


The big difference: if you have a passenger with you, he or she can (and will) shut up if it's a distraction.

For this to be true, the passenger has to know s/he is being a distraction. Usually, neither the passenger nor the driver realizes how distracting the conversation truly was until after the accident has occurred. (It also requires the passenger to be actively worried about how much of a distraction s/he is causing by speaking, which is rarely the case.) Also, by this logic most cell phone-related accidents shouldn't be happening in the first place, since the driver will realize how distracting the call is and will stop speaking to reduce the risk, or else the caller on the other end will refuse to continue the conversation as soon as he realizes you're driving.)

A phone doesn't have this power of discretion: it will ring (hands free or not) without warning.

You're presuming all cell-related accidents are caused by unexpected ringing. That's not anywhere near true. A few, sure, but not most.
posted by aaron at 11:21 AM on June 26, 2001



But they may also be resting against their hand and having a conversation with a passenger, singing along with the radio or talking to themselves, none of which are illegal.

Yet.
posted by aaron at 11:23 AM on June 26, 2001



I'd guess, as far as enforcement goes, that it's simply going to be the sort of thing that turns an everyday prang into a court case, rather than a reason for people to be pulled over.

And suspicion doesn't come into it: I can well imagine people being convicted by an itemised copy of their phone bill.
posted by holgate at 11:31 AM on June 26, 2001


> The studies that show hands-free cell phone use to be
> just as bad as hands-on cell phone use are not proof
> that cell phones are inherently dangerous, they're proof
> that talking in cars at all is inherently dangerous.

Don't worry, aaron, when they make me emperor of the universe you're all going to be walking anyway. Buy your sensible shoes now.
posted by jfuller at 12:11 PM on June 26, 2001


I have to say when I first read this link and subsequent thread, I was fully in support of the ban on cell phones in cars. It's hard to drive one handed, and the less distractions while operating a giant, fast moving killer hunk of metal the better.

I think it was Dreama's comment that convinced me otherwise:

Phones are small, getting smaller every day. (The eminently popular Nokia 3390 is less than 5" X 2") Someone driving with their arm against the door, hand up against their head and seemingly talking might be using one of the new breed of tiny phones. But they may also be resting against their hand and having a conversation with a passenger, singing along with the radio or talking to themselves, none of which are illegal.

I've recently had cause to drive long distances about once a week, and sometimes during the boring stretches I'll rest my head on my left hand or prop my right elbow up on the passenger seat back.

I've also had the pleasure of having my car searched after a routine traffic stop three times because I look to all the world like some one who would be giddy with joy to find three tons of pot on my front doorstep. (It goes something like this: I pulled you over for going 10 miles over the speed limit. When I asked for you license I smelled marijuana smoke coming from your car. I'm going to have to ask you to step out of the vehicle...) As it is, I'm just low-maintenance with my personal grooming.

With the statistics indicating at this point that cell phones are no more a cause of car accidents than any other distraction, I hereby change my opinion and am now opposed to this legislation, since I really don't think the cops need another excuse to have olfactory hallucinations about the air quality in alleged cell phone users' cars.

I would encourage those who do chose to talk on the phone while driving to limit calls and use hands free devices whenever possible, because you've got to admit, it's a lot easer to drive with two hands on the wheel.
posted by jennyb at 12:31 PM on June 26, 2001


jennyb: Said it once earlier, but once stats are printed three or four times as the truth they become the truth (sort of how the NEJM study noted here is so often used in a selective fashion). The statistics printed here prove nothing in re to cell phones being more or less dangerous. They are extremely tentative, with higher statistical errors (way outside normally accepted range for social science research) for everything but cell phones, smoking and screwing around with the air conditioner or heater (and think how many more people have climate controls in their vehicles than cell phones). The seven percent for car stereos, and six percent for "unknown distraction" make them not even worth printing. You can't make a blanket statement pro or con re cell phones v. everything else until the research is reliable and valid, which at this point it isn't.
posted by raysmj at 12:43 PM on June 26, 2001


raysmy: I understand the need to take statistics on anything with a grain of salt. In searching for numbers to back up various claims of my own, I have often found I could back up either argument with numbers from relatively reliable sources.

My change of heart is less due to the safety statistics, and more due to the understanding that the police don't need more randomly enforcible laws they can call on when they decide a motorist fits their profile of choice. (Which would go something like: I pulled you over because it looked like you were talking on a cell phone while driving, which is illegal in this state. When I asked for you license, I smelled marijuana smoke coming from your car. I'm going to have to ask you to step out of the vehicle...)

If more refined statistics can prove that talking on a cell phone while driving really is more dangerous than changing the radio station, I'll give my viewpoint some more consideration. For now, I prefer to err on the side of the issue that is less likely to get my car searched again.
posted by jennyb at 1:07 PM on June 26, 2001


why not test people for ability to drive and talk on the phone, it's just a similar concept to testing to see if they need to wear glasses to drive. i'm sure somebody can device something.

meanwhile, still can use handsfree sets and car sets.
posted by elle at 1:18 PM on June 26, 2001


raysmj - if there are conflicting numbers (and studies, as adrianhon notes), they are only an indication that this is a social phenomenon to be studied. And it should be studied until such time as those studies show reasonably and without a shadow of a doubt that an overwhelming number of traffic accidents are indeed caused by cell phone usage.

When this occurs, then legislation should be passed, not before. The NY bill smells of shooting first and asking questions later, and that is why I'm opposed to it.
posted by dogmatic at 1:24 PM on June 26, 2001


dogmatic: Agreed, but with a caveat. As usual, might the better response be to continue to look for alternative means of transport, encouraging (or at least not discouraging through too incentives to maintain the status quo) the use of new technologies to make vehicles and driving safer and so forth?

Please recall, stats are not what primarily drives legislation, ever. Someone mentioned here that auto safety laws are not passed for safety, or all cars would be outlawed, but instead by demographics. The "demographics" part is too broad, but he almost had it right. The drinking age law and DUI enforcement crackdown in the mid-1980s? That was driven largely by an interest group, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. Drunk driving was no less dangerous in the 1970s than the 1980s. But just a few years before, "Arthur," a movie starring Dudley Moore as a drunk who drives a lot while intoxicated, was considered riotous.

It's good that societal attitudes changed. But are the roads really that much safer now? And if not, what is the solution? Simply to point out that auto safety laws of any sort don't ultimately solve our problems? Wow. That's productive.
posted by raysmj at 2:18 PM on June 26, 2001


Try paying attention when you drive.

Perhaps the larger issue is that there are a lot of bad drivers on the roads. Maybe requiring more thorough drivers' training that emphasizes how paying attention to one's driving over other things can benefit not only oneself and a system that punishes people properly for not driving responsibly would be a better solution.

I know in Germany, for example, the laws that allow citizens to drive are pretty strict. You have to be 18 to be eligible and must attend a driving school outside of the regular school system to do so. It takes longer and is more difficult to get a license than in the US, so people have to put forth a good effort to get one. I believe they also have harsher punishments for people not driving responsibly. For example, if you drink and drive and are caught, you will most likely get your license taken away permanently. (For what it's worth, it's also illegal to use a mobile phone while driving there.)

After having moved to California and experienced how awful people out here drive, I'm all for stricter programs like this ;)
posted by valerie at 5:11 PM on June 26, 2001


valerie makes a really good point: I joke to my driving instructor about the fact that nobody in the US tends to take formal lessons, and that the driving test pretty much involves parallel parking and not much else. (I've been taking lessons since the end of February, and won't have my practical test until August.)

It's part of a culture in which every American's car is his castle: that driving (and the ability to do what you want within the confines of your car) is a right, not a privilege or a responsibility, to be assumed at the age of 15 or 16. (What were the statistics about the number of Americans whose first sexual experience took place in the back seat?) Of course, that has a lot to do with the terrain of the place: a car really does mean freedom to a kid growing up in rural Georgia. But I see a greater willingness to drink and drive, and a lack of respect when on the road, that makes me wonder whether people have been spending too much time watching Vanishing Point.
posted by holgate at 5:50 PM on June 26, 2001


hmm.. the statistics quoted earlier (radios causing more accidents than phones, etc.) "used data from 1995 through 1999". stereos, climate controls, food, and distractions have always been there, but how many people had cell phones in 1995? or even 1999?
posted by antispork at 8:00 PM on June 26, 2001


I like this law, but it's not going to do any good when cops don't even bother to obey traffic laws or enforce them. Law aside, what's never been explained to me is why all of these idiots with cell phones seem compelled to jabber on them on them constantly for no apparent reason? I mean, how much could they possibly have to talk about? It's not that their lives could possibly be that interesting. All I can figure is that's it's another way to shut out the outside world, which people seem to get more and more desperate to do every year.
posted by dr. zoidberg at 9:05 PM on June 26, 2001


> As such, the only logical law here would be one
> banning all speaking in moving vehicles, except
> in the case of emergency.

I'm glad I don't live in Republicanville, where all the slopes are slippery.

The law passed in New York is part of a general, long-term, ongoing, worldwide effort to get people to drive more safely. Driver education. Mandatory safety inspections. Lower speed limits. Speed cops. Speed bumps. Traffic lights. Stop signs. Lines painted on the road. Now, because it didn't matter before, one state has examined the case of cell phones and decided that telling drivers not to fumble with hand-held phones makes safety sense. The legislators were overwhelmingly for it.

Setting a speed limit of 55 or whatever never caused speeds to go to 10. Painting lines on the road didn't lead to the painting of exact little parallel lines upon which drivers must keep their wheels. Speed bumps never led to the building of speed-reducing brick walls through which all cars must crash. And preventing drivers from dialing the pizzeria while merging with thruway traffic does not lead logically, and is not going to lead in reality, to a ban on talking while in a car. It's just going to save some lives.
posted by pracowity at 11:32 PM on June 26, 2001


Never mind the stats - how about the facts?
posted by jonathanbell at 4:31 AM on June 27, 2001


I'm glad I don't live in Republicanville, where all the slopes are slippery.

All slopes are slippery. It's only in Democratville that the villagers don't bother to notice.

The law passed in New York is part of a general, long-term, ongoing, worldwide effort to get people to drive more safely.

Bull. 1.) It's already illegal to drive recklessly regardless of the reason. This law does nothing to improve driver safety. 2.) Cell phones have been been shown in study after study to be a very minor factor in driving accidents. If the issue was truly safety, then the other, more dangerous distractions would have been banned.

The reason this law passed is because most legislators will pass any law that they think they can sell to the public as a good idea and will increase govt. power. If the state of New York thought they could sell the public on passing a law banning car radios, they'd do that too, but that would never fly. So, rationality aside, they've banned something that they could get away with banning.

If you think I'm wrong, ask yourself why pot is illegal, but alcohol isn't? Which is more dangerous? Yet, one is illegal and the other isn't because the government can get away with one being illegal while outlawing the other caused too much public outcry, despite the fact that we would most likely live in a safer country if pot were legal and alcohol wasn't.

It's all about power, it's not about safety.
posted by ljromanoff at 7:44 AM on June 27, 2001


The reason this law passed is because most legislators will pass any law that they think they can sell to the public as a good idea and will increase govt. power.

Oh, horseshit. Most legislators will pass any law that they reasonably think will make their constituents happy. This is an issue du jour, a hot-button item that certain politicians and pundits can make some serious headlines with while not expending much effort. Arguing that legislators go around banning anything "that they could get away with" is a lot like arguing that the Men in Black are coming to raid your zucchini garden.

Hearing the right jabber about the bloated government feeding itself off of the slack-jawed populace is about as fun as listening to the left maunder on about how the same government is supposed to solve all of our problems, like, right now.
posted by Skot at 8:32 AM on June 27, 2001


Arguing that legislators go around banning anything "that they could get away with" is a lot like arguing that the Men in Black are coming to raid your zucchini garden.

Oh really? Can you then explain why there are federal and state regulations that reach into every nook of our lives, including, for example, the amount of water our toilets are allowed to flush? Do you really think all this regulation makes the constituency happy?
posted by ljromanoff at 12:44 PM on June 27, 2001


I'd say that the constituents that happen to care about water conservation might be appeased, yes.
posted by Skot at 12:53 PM on June 27, 2001


I'd say that the constituents that happen to care about water conservation might be appeased, yes.

People, who could have taken such a measure on their own without forcing under penalty of law the rest of us to adhere to their views.

And like that regulation, this cell phone law will do nothing to actually improve the supposed problem it's meant to fix.
posted by ljromanoff at 1:26 PM on June 27, 2001


I assume you smuggled your high-flush cistern over the Canadian border, then?

Anyway, more entirely unstatistical and anecdotal evidence on how it might just be worth getting the idea into people's heads that, y'know, having the mobile switched on in your lap might now be a good idea when cruising down Peachtree.

And perhaps you're right: Niki Taylor's career as a model may not have been ended by the injuries she suffered, but she'd make a good poster child to scare the fuck out of people, just as Christy Turlington spoke of giving up smoking after her father died from lung cancer. Better than any law. A shame, though, that you need victims to get the message across.
posted by holgate at 1:43 PM on June 27, 2001


"might not", damn you keyboard.
posted by holgate at 3:00 PM on June 27, 2001


A shame, though, that you need victims to get the message across.

And a shame that people will look to her for this when the only message that she can legitimately get across has nothing to do with cell phones specifically at all. The reason that Niki Taylor was injured was because the idiot driving her looked away from the road and lost control of the car, which is something that he could've been doing for any number of reasons. The cell phone was peripheral.
posted by Dreama at 3:37 PM on June 27, 2001


... which is something that he could've been doing for any number of reasons. The cell phone was peripheral.

But in this case, it was undeniably the immediate reason.

I don't normally do this, but there's a post on FreeRepublic.com (I looked, just because I guessed this wouldn't be the usual dull rantings) which shows up the logical conclusion of autolibertarianism:
Re:If a cop sees a driver eating a watermelon and playing the banjo, then by all means pull him over and get him off the road.

Why? What is the charge? Reckless driving? Charging someone for driving recklessly is opiniated, over-regulated unenforceable drivel. This kind of thinking eats away at our liberties just as surely as banning the use of cell phones.

It is my right to drive however I want. If you think I'm being reckless, too bad. Your definition of reckless is no more valid than my assertion that I'm not being reckless. Who's supposed to be making/enforcing these definitions.

Unless I cause an accident, I'll play the banjo, eat watermelon, talk on the phone, turn around to yell at the kids, read a paper and put on makeup however and whenever I want, simultaneously if I deem fit.

How couuld a Freeper think a cop has ANY right to butt into my personal freedom while driving?
posted by holgate at 5:52 PM on June 27, 2001


holgate said: "It's part of a culture in which every American's car is his castle: that driving (and the ability to do what you want within the confines of your car) is a right, not a privilege or a responsibility, to be assumed at the age of 15 or 16."

I remember being told once during a defensive driving course that driving is a privilege.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, the pursuit of Happiness, and drivin' down main street in a Lamborghini drinkin' beer! Whoo! HIGH FIVE ME BENJI! YEAH!"

Had the opportunity been there while they lived, Tommy Jefferson would have found driving 120 in a Lamborghini definitely falls in the "pursuit of happiness" category. John Hancock wouldn't agree though. The loudmouth was always such a sourpuss.
posted by ZachsMind at 12:00 AM on June 28, 2001


The statistics quoted earlier do not prove the point they were intended to prove.

They said that, of all accidents caused by distractions, most were caused by a distraction outside the car, etc. That's got nothing to do with how dangerous it is to make calls while driving because it doesn't correlate the number of calls to the number of accidents, the number of CDs changed to the number of accidents, the number of outside distractions to the number of accidents, etc. There are far fewer calls made than there are distractions outside the car, so it is not very surprising that there are fewer accidents caused by cell phones than are caused by outside distractions.

Per distracting incident, making a phone call could still, by these statistics, be much more distracting (and therefore more dangerous) than the average outside distraction.
posted by pracowity at 8:13 AM on June 28, 2001


Per distracting incident, making a phone call could still, by these statistics, be much more distracting (and therefore more dangerous) than the average outside distraction.

You can't deliberately remove one statistical factor and expect to make a point. Regardless of however many calls are being made versus the number of radio knobs twisted, the percentages are what they are. Let us say that cell phones are twice as distracting then a radio when in use. If the radio is used twice as much they are an equal dsitraction. These statistics corrolate with the average amount of use for each item. If cell phone use goes way up in the next five years, perhaps these statistics will change - but since they are fairly ubiquitous now I doubt that will happen.
posted by ljromanoff at 11:12 AM on June 28, 2001


> Regardless of however many calls are being made
> versus the number of radio knobs twisted, the
> percentages are what they are.

And what they are is meaningless in this context.
posted by pracowity at 10:56 PM on June 28, 2001


> Regardless of however many calls are being made
> versus the number of radio knobs twisted, the
> percentages are what they are.

And what they are is meaningless in this context.


Wrong. Your false constrution about risk levels is what's meaningless. The actual percentage shows the relevant risk level of various distractions. You can't dismiss that merely because it doesn't fit with your agenda.
posted by ljromanoff at 4:20 AM on June 29, 2001


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