By on April 19, 2009

I oppose driver cell phone usage bans on principle. It is already against the law to drive while distracted in every State of the Union. Even so, several states and many cities have enacted wholesale bans on the use of hand-held cell phones by drivers. Other states and local governments ban teenagers from using the devices or prohibit their use in school zones. So what’s the harm? The additional legislation is surely no worse than wearing a belt and suspenders—by itself either will keep your pants up, but it’s nice to know that there’s a backup in case one of the modesty preservation systems fails. Comforting, isn’t it? NO! It makes my liberty loving soul retch. I say, down with the tyranny of the Nanny State! Nonetheless, the more time I spend outside of my ivory attic and driving America’s highways and byways, the harder it is for me to maintain this ideal.

I must confess that I occasionally talk on the cell phone when I drive. I commute nearly twenty miles to my office each day. I probably average one brief cell phone conversation a day while at the helm. Doing so has never impeded my ability to maintain my lane, react to slowing traffic ahead, or otherwise lose track of where I am or where I’m going. How can I be sure that I’m not making a nuisance of myself while I obliviously chat away on my phone? Call it the finger test; I don’t see any more of them with the cell phone than I do without.

I’m not alone. Four out of every five drivers surveyed by Nationwide Insurance in 2007 admitted to driving distracted. Their list of 26 distractions includes fiddling with the radio (82%); drinking a beverage (80%); operating a cell phone (73%); snacking (68%); and eating (41%). Personally I’m guilty of doing everything on the list except smoking (21%); applying make-up (12%); driving with a pet on my lap (8%); reading (5%); driving while intoxicated (4%); and shaving (2%).

Lest we lose perspective, some of the Nationwide Insurance survey’s write-in responses make it clear that drivers can become seriously distracted even without a cell phone.  “Peed out the window while going down the road. Well, you asked.”—Baby Boomer male, Sacramento [Ed.: Welcome to Sacramento!]. “I wear sandals or slip on shoes 90% of the time. So I always take my left shoe off and put my foot up in the seat. I have a drink in one hand, smoke in the other hand, and drive with my left foot.”—Gen Y female, Memphis. “Shaved legs, eaten a taco, put on make-up and drank alcohol at the same time.”—Gen Y female, San Antonio.

Yet somehow cell phone distracted drivers seem to be causing all of the noticeable problems. I used to presume that people were drunk when I saw an idiot driver cut cross two lanes to turn right from the left lane, meander off the road, drive obnoxiously slow, or make any number of obvious driving errors. Now I think (sometimes out loud), “I’ll bet that jackass is talking on his cell phone!”  I can’t remember the last time I was wrong.

Science bears this out. Multiple studies show that reaction times in drivers using cell phones are as much as a quarter second longer than non-distracted drivers. Hands free phones aren’t much better. The worst results are among elderly cell phone users and multitaskers who try to drive, talk and do something else like eat or paint toenails. A driving simulator study at the University of Utah found that test subjects with 0.08% blood alcohol content performed better than sober subjects yapping on cell phones.

So, there ought to be a law . . . Right? If only it were as simple as passing a law to create our own nirvana. Just when I am ready to break with my libertarian proclivities, I find this headline in the Dallas Morning News: “Study: Cellphone bans in school zones have no effect on drivers’ behavior.” Speed Measurement Laboratories, in a study commissioned by “several law enforcement publications,” monitored school zones in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. They found that as many drivers, about 1 in 10, used their cell phones in school zones during banned hours as they did during non-banned hours. They also found no difference in drivers between these school zones with bans and zones without them. Still, Speed Measurement Laboratories’ front man Carl Fors maintains his support for the National Safety Council’s recommendation for a comprehensive ban of all cell phone usage by drivers, including hands free devices.

Unfortunately, laws can’t always fix things. A constitutional amendment banning booze could not excise America of the moral turpitude of alcoholism. If drivers are going to ignore cell phone driving prohibitions, what’s the point?

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103 Comments on “Editorial: The Truth About Cell Phone Bans...”


  • avatar
    Brian E

    The point is to be able to issue higher fines by tacking on multiple offenses, similar to how a drug dealer who has a gun with him while selling is charged with a gun crime even if the gun had nothing to do with anything. Improper lane usage due to talking on a cell phone is two tickets now.

    Virtually all of these laws exempt drivers using headsets or handsfree kits. If your car doesn’t have built-in Bluetooth, a $50 speakerphone gadget can save you a $200 ticket. If it does have it, spend an hour with the manual and learn how to pair it up. You’d think drivers of Bluetooth enabled cars would do this automatically, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen drivers of cars I KNOW have standard cell phone integration (newer Acuras and Infinitis mostly) with their right hands glued to their ears.

  • avatar
    dwford

    It’s the distraction of talking to another person that causes the accidents. Similar to graduated licensing for teens, which prohibits teens from driving with other teens for a time, cellphone bans seek to keep people more focused on the road. Too many people can’t seem to drive and carry on a conversation at the same time. How many times have you been made nervous as a passenger riding with a driver that had to look at you in the passenger seat in order to talk to you? I know I can talk to someone and look straight ahead, but so many cannot. Unfortunately you can’t outlaw stupid.

  • avatar
    improvement_needed

    well put:
    “Unfortunately laws can’t always fix things. A constitutional amendment banning booze could not excise America of the moral turpitude of alcoholism. If drivers are going to ignore cell phone driving prohibitions, what’s the point?”

    I imagine that what Brian E states about multiple offenses has significant weight to the legislation.

    Also, it’s just ‘easier’ to see somebody on a cell phone.

  • avatar
    lw

    I saw an article about a guy inventing a device to block cell signals inside of a car. Should be required for people convicted of harming others while talking on a cell.

    CNN.com this morning.. Driver (likely drunk) takes cell call and kills 4 of his children and a 5th child from another family.

    http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/04/19/texas.car.drowning/index.html

    If you must take calls by 8AM, then be at your office by 7:45.

  • avatar
    shaker

    I occasionally get calls while driving – I ignore them and get the message when at a stop light or I pull over.

    Many people are already at the limit of their competence behind the wheel; allowing unlimited cell-phone usage can only turn out badly.

  • avatar
    Bill Wade

    Must not ride motorcycles do you?

    Cell phones are one of the worst threats I’ve ever seen. It’s one of the major reasons I rarely ride in town any more.

  • avatar
    Ken Strumpf

    About a year ago I was driving in the highway when a woman entered from the onramp talking on her cell and totally oblivious to her surroundings. She was clearly driving directly toward my car. Fortunately at the very last moment I noticed a brief opening in the lane to my left and managed to move over there. She entered the road precisely where I would have been if I hadn’t been able to change lanes and would have clearly smashed into me. She then proceeded to blithely drive away, yakking on her phone totally unaware how close she had come to killing us both. I still get the shakes when I think about it. There is no conversation so important that it can’t wait until you pull off the road.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    The point of cell phone bans is to keep the driver focused on driving. Fiddling with the radio certainly is a distraction, but should be a short lived one. Phone conversations may go on for miles. Then add in the people who are dealing with emotionally charged conversations – wife/relationship problems, issues with their kids, etc and you end up with a rolling accident waiting to happen. The purpose of a regulation like this, or any regulation really, is to try to minimize behavior that has been deemed to be hazardous to society as a whole and is likely to continue without some kind of persuasion to follow it. Seat belt laws are be a perfect example. Without them, usage was, and would be, far lower than it is today. For those who say, my car, my life, my business, fair enough. However, once you decisions seriously affect others, it is no longer just your call (no pun intended). As Mr. Spock stated: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” That is what should drive the need to “intrude” on people. All that said, unlike seat belt laws, the cell phone ban is a failure. Virtually everybody I know uses them without any sort of hands free feature. And Brian E is correct – most people I see with Bluetooth enabled cars don’t use the feature.

  • avatar
    Jimal

    The sad truth for law makers is you just cannot legislate common sense. Like seat belt laws and helmet laws, the passing of these hand-held cell phone laws have turned people into scofflaws with the stroke of a pen.

    Unless they start pulling over people and writing tickets (which they won’t, considering I see more state and local police talking on their cell phones while driving) it will be another ignored law that further erodes society. First the inane laws are ignored, then the less inane laws. I have a heck of a time explaining to my young nephew why you should obey stupid laws, and it gets harder and harder the more stupid the laws become.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Cell phone usage while driving is danger to everyone on the road. Making an argument that it cannot be completely eradicated or that drivers will be reluctant to change their habits could have also been made about drunk driving and wearing seat belts. Part of the issues is that most people are too comfortable with familiar risks (no matter how dangerous) – which is why to many the death of 3,000 people by terrorism seems worse than 43,000 people dying on the road each year.

    Road safety is improved by incremental gains in both car technology and driver behavior and I don’t see any reason to stop the quest for either.

    And just in case you’re wondering; your constitutional liberties do not extend to endangering my family’s life with either distracted, reckless or impaired driving.

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    There is a difference between “distracted” driving : a sneeze, looking in your mirror at the wrong time etc etc etc and being intentional preoccupied.Changing a station on the radio is distracted driving.

    But it doesn’t go on for 15 minutes while being engrossed in some silly converstion that “just won’t wait” does. Meanwhile cars are backed up behind and frustrated drivers are whipping around so they can just get the fuck where they’re going.

    I’ve never been nearly sideswiped by someone eating a hamburger or been behind some asshole going 10 miles slower than the speed limit in the left lanes by someone lighting a cigarette.

    Every time it’s been some self absorbed idiot on a cell phone or texting [for which there had to be to ban it in CA.].

    I see it on a daily basis. Only one other time did I see some moron eating a bowl of cereal while driving early one morning.The rest have been cell phone related.Like the girl in the Isuzu Trooper, on the cell, shifting and merging left onto the freeway with her right turn single going [it never did get turned off]the entire time, completely oblivious to the cars behind her

    My favorite: dillweed in a 60′s era VW merging onto the Hollywood 101 Freeway talking on the cell phone with his right hand and juggling the it to his left when he had to shift. In rush hour traffic.

    Again,that isn’t “distracted” driving. It’s being intentionally preoccupied. Not the same thing. To call it distracted driving is to fall in with the cell phone lobby and attempt to diminish the depth of the problem.

    People can defend it all they want as “multi tasking” or something they [but not the other guy are capable of, but the act of driving is in itself a multi tasking effort.

    Nothing anyone has to say is that important.

    Except by the B&B on TTAC.

  • avatar
    William C Montgomery

    The point of cell phone bans is to keep the driver focused on driving.

    What a law intends and what a law accomplishes are frequently two different things. Sadly, the latter is often far worse than the ill the law intended to remedy.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Signs…

    Put signs up that have a pic of a cell phone… a circular cross out sign… and ‘$500 fine’. Give folks a warning a mile before the no cell phone area and proceed accordingly.

    I have noticed a serious decline in driver’s attentions since the late 1990′s. Most folks do NOT need a cell phone. But then again, I do not want to ever have the government dictate terms in that matter.

    I would definitely be in favor of lw’s idea… but I also believe that in order for anything driver safety related to work in society, you need to have laws that are based on common sense.

    Most of the ones that apply to speed and safety are based on the wants of insurance companies and government revenues. The citizens of this country are routinely screwed by these folks and until that’s dealt with, I wouldn’t promote more government intrusion.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    +1 as a Motorcycle rider. I see how people drive on the phone and while you may be a wonderful exception the rule is distracted drivers on the phone are a menace.

    They drive too slow , sometimes 10 or more mph under the posted speedlimit. This aggravates other drivers who fight to get around them. maybe slow driving is not a violation but it clearly causes problems.

    CPD (Cell phone drivers) meander in lanes and from lane to lane. They sometime reach for things while on the phone. Not good. They could do this while not on the phone but being in touch amplifies it.

    Tailgating. Usually acceptable as long as they are ready to react, on the phone they are clearly distracted and could not hope to stop in time.

    CPD are not alert to signals from other drivers to proceed, or wait. Maybe the “half piece sign” is a barometer of quality for you but when you are faced with a situation where you need to get their attention, you need their phone number to do so.

    Take this simple test. Drive a fairly complex route of signs and traffic for a few miles and write down what you saw, did and noticed. Take a route with the phone going on your head the entire way and see if you remember anything.

    As a motorcycle rider I see more CPD today because the rates are so cheap. Years ago I counted 15 drivers in 15 miles of commuting on the phone. I took this informal survey 2 years later and it was up to 30. Recently I counted 40 along the same commute, talking instead of driving. The scary thing was almost EVERY car had a CPD.

    I’m for assigning blame to anyone who is on the phone and causes an accident, including ticketing. If you knew your right to sue was canceled you would pull over and finish the call.

  • avatar
    michaelC

    One reason cell-phone use is different is the nature of the impairment. (And I am not defending the other activities — I am still amazed at what people will do while driving.)

    Cell-phone use while driving causes a well-known cognitive phenomena called attentional blindness. The effect is that visual information critical to driving is never consciously processed, so the person never ‘sees’, literally, the car they are about to T-bone. As noted in the article, science shows cell phone conversations are a significant safety issue with a level of impairment similar to DWI. Interestingly, studies also show in-car conversations and other split-attention activities (e.g. tuning the radio) are not like cell-phone conversations in this regard. TTAC readers might want to read some of the research cited above: http://www.psych.utah.edu/AppliedCognitionLab/

    Given this, I think it is misdirected to place cell-phone laws as just another step in a slippery slope of the state regulating personal responsibility. This issue is different in kind from the other examples of inattention, unless one thinks DWI laws should be dropped and enforced under inattentive driving statues.

    The issue of people ignoring cell-phone bans is another matter. Of course they should be enforced (if you accept the material nature of the safety issue.) I think a key problem, however, is a lack of awareness of the reasons cell-phone conversations are dangerous. Few people have any understanding of what is known about cognitive processing. Associating this issue with libertarian politics is not helpful.

    Even at TTAC I suspect it is widely believed cell phone use is OK if one is a ‘good’ driver. Good driver in this context seems to mean ‘attentive’. The problem is that everyone needs to realize it is _impossible_ to be as attentive as a good driver needs to be and use a cell phone. This is not a matter of skill, age, or discipline. It is a fact about the way humans process visual and other information to make it available for conscious attention and decision making.

    So cell-phone use is a real menace to you and yours and the first step in dealing with it is to have people understand why cell phone conversations are drunk driving dangerous. Amongst reasonable people voluntary compliance will increase. For others, treating cell-phone use as akin to DWI (which it _is_ with respect to the ability to detect and react to driving conditions) may be necessary to underline the seriousness of the issue.

    BTW, in the not-so-long-run cell phone bans will be everywhere because of the science. And that is a good thing.

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    I attempt not to use my cellphone while I am driving, but sometimes it is a must. When I do I keep the conversations short and do it at a stoplight whenever possible. While I have seen drivers distracted by cell phones, as well as numerous other activities, driving in general carries certain risks, and all drivers need to accept those risks whenever they venture onto the roads.

    While there may be some validity in the argument that talking on the cell phone endangers not only yourself but other drivers, seat belt laws and helmet laws only serve to protect those that wish not to wear a seatbelt or helmet, and personally I see no reason to legislate that you can’t risk your own life if it doesn’t hurt anyone else.

  • avatar
    lw

    NulloModo:

    What car do you drive? I’ve never seen an owners manual that required a cell plan to make the car work.

    A Fiat maybe?

  • avatar
    William C Montgomery

    And just in case you’re wondering; your constitutional liberties do not extend to endangering my family’s life with either distracted, reckless or impaired driving.

    I don’t presume that they do. The state is fully within its mandate to license and regulate drivers on public roads. My angst stems from the fact that is that it is already against the last to drive distracted or impaired making cell phone bans redundant and unnecessary.

    Also, the effectiveness of laws is dependent upon voluntary compliance by the majority of citizens. The double-nickel national speed limit was an abject failure because no one really wanted it despite promises to reduce fuel consumption and highway fatalities. Resentment grows as such laws become inconsistently and capriciously enforced (usually by towns/cities/counties looking to levy tribute from travelers).

  • avatar
    michaelC

    Sorry to follow up with another post.

    I just wanted to emphasize the nature of the problem is such that you will ever notice it. So your own experience using a cell phone is not reliable in judging the risk.

    This is a perverse effect of the lack of cognitive processing that takes place. So you can say: “I used a cell phone and didn’t notice I was any less attentive about traffic conditions etc.” The truth is, you were lucky. The science shows in an emergency situation you would have not noticed anything either. That’s the problem.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    personally I see no reason to legislate that you can’t risk your own life if it doesn’t hurt anyone else….

    Except that when you get into an accident without a belt, you injuries are, statistically speaking, going to be much more extensive. Which means you are going to burden your health care provider with much bigger bills. Which just means higher rates for everybody. If you want to go beltless and write a check for your injuries, than go for it. At least that way nobody can say you are being a hypocrite.

    It is a shame that many speak of liberties and rights but when it comes time to take responsibility for their actions, they fall silent. Under ideal conditions, these type of laws shouldn’t be necessary. But they have become a necessary evil. And with that will come the “enforcement Nazis” in certain towns and areas that, as the original author states in the comments, will extract fines out of people solely for the revenue. I guess staying off the phone is one answer. But I have to ask: are we really “safer” hands free or is just the act of being on the phone too much of a distraction. (maybe we should all drive manual cars…I tell my wife I was too busy shifting in traffic to pick up!!)

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    I enjoyed reading this article because it is as well-written as most by WCM. But I disagree with most of the arguments.

    I don’t understand the libertarian slant. The state has no business in regulating behavior? So we should de-ban drunk driving and legalize hard drugs, right?

    In addition, I would say the comparison to eating or shaving while driving is flawed. Numerous studies say that the human brain is just not wired for this specific kind of multi-tasking. It is extremely hard to concentrate on a risky task like driving, while at the same time talking with a non-present person. In comparison, it’s easy to drive and tune the radio, or drive and eat ice cream. The cell phone bans reflect the singular difficulty of cellphone yakking while driving. It’s more and worse than being distracted, just as being drunk is more and worse than being inattentive.

  • avatar
    William C Montgomery

    MichaelC, I read the University of Utah material prior to writing this. One thing I didn’t cover is that some of their studies show impairment with hands free devices as well as hand held, so I expect safety NAZIs to start going after them as wells.

  • avatar
    lw

    An idea for those addicted to cells in cars…

    Change your ringtone to say:

    “If you take this call you will drive no better than a drunk driver. Wouldn’t it be better to be drunk when you kill a family?”

  • avatar
    davey49

    Nanny state away, driving is too dangerous to have freedom.
    “I attempt not to use my cellphone while I am driving, but sometimes it is a must.”
    You are who these laws are written for, it is never a “must”. It is always possible to stop your car and make a call.

  • avatar
    lw

    Golden2Husky:

    I’m all for that. Anytime the responsibility can be limited to the individual.

    Say you want to drive without a seatbelt. You sign a DNR or set aside $500K for medical bills. If/when the $500K runs out the DNR can kick in or you can drink hamburger thru a straw for the rest of your “life” because you couldn’t afford that one last operation.

  • avatar
    michaelC

    @ Mr. Montgomery,
    I read the University of Utah material prior to writing this. One thing I didn’t cover is that some of their studies show impairment with hands free devices as well as hand held, so I expect safety NAZIs to start going after them as wells.
    ——

    You are correct. The research shows hands-free systems have the same impact on attention. If you accept the science, they should be banned as well.

    But what is your point? It particular, your suggestion (again) that such laws are examples of state interference on personal liberties is hard for me to understand.

    Do you accept phone conversations while driving are inherently dangerous because they impact the basic capacity of the driver to process road conditions and drive safely?

    If so, for everybody’s safety shouldn’t that be addressed?

    Again, I think association of the cell-phone conversation issue with politics is well off the mark here.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    If these phones were so problematic, we would have seen accident rates skyrocket, but they didn’t. We would also see differences in the trends in accident and fatality rates in locations where the laws are in place versus others where they are not, but there is no difference there, either.

    There’s no real world evidence to suggest that the phones are causing accidents that would not have occurred, anyway. There are laboratory studies that suggests that there is a problem, but if the conclusions were accurate, then the real world data should have changed significantly.

    I have read some of these lab studies. I would suggest that they don’t deal with the fact that most drivers moderate their behavior when using the phone — they slow down. Slowing down offsets the slight increase in reaction time. Accordingly, the long-term trend of declining fatality and accident rates continues unabated, and the world hasn’t ended, despite the hype.

    This comes down to the old 80/20 rule. A minority of drivers are involved in most of the accidents. These people will have collisions whether they have phones or not. Even if they are using phones during accidents, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they would not have more collisions over the long run than the norm.

    In an ideal world, authorities would remove the worst 10%, as accident rates would decline sharply with their exit from our highways. But in practice, these people are difficult to identify, and you can’t just train them out of existence — they tend to be apathetic, wreckless or self-centered, not necessarily lacking in technical ability.

    You also have to remember that law enforcement and the justice system have limited resources. If there is a decision to start enforcing one law, then other enforcement has to give. Focus on phone tickets, and you pull resources away from illegal behaviors that really are a problem. Since you can’t have a cop on every corner, priorities are necessary, and there is no reason to make phones a priority.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    I don’t understand the concept of a no-cell phone area on public roads any more than I understand the concept of a no-peeing area in a public swimming pool. It’s not ok, anywhere.

    I agree with those who’ve said that cell phones are a greater tax on attention than some other sorts of distractions.

    I’ll go a step farther than anyone else has – only half in jest – I think cell phones should be banned period. Everywhere. From existance. Most cell conversations are inane chatter that can be dispensed with altogether. And you businessmen, don’t give that baloney about making deals on the phone. Deals were made long before cell phones existed. Take your deals out to the links where they belong.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    My angst stems from the fact that is that it is already against the last to drive distracted or impaired making cell phone bans redundant and unnecessary.

    +1.

    In NY State, you don’t even get points unless it’s your 3rd offense. It’s just a fine.

    What’s sad is that given current advances and cost reductions in mobile video, enforcement of distracted and dangerous driving practices could be much more robust. But the 10 percent of drivers who are chronic problems have whiny, political defenders.

    Pch101:
    But in practice, these people are difficult to identify, and you can’t just train them out of existence — they tend to be apathetic, wreckless or self-centered, not necessarily lacking in technical ability.

    The 10 percent you mention contain many Morlocks who are incorrigible in their habits and attitudes.

    However, there is a group that could benefit substantially from better training: Easily intimidated (sorry about this – but it’s mostly women) types who were poorly taught to initially drive. They would benefit from the confidence boost that comes from a solid, professional driver skill course.

    My thinking on this begins with data from marksmanship training in mixed sex military support units. Almost all women arrive having never fired a rifle in their lives. Initially, they are intimidated and uninterested in shooting excellence, often because they lack confidence and experience. But they’ve also never picked up the crap habits of many male shooters.

    But women pay attention more to marksmanship basics (breathing, concentration) and lack males’ distracting attitudes and smack-talking need to put others down. The end result is that while the best shots are often men, the average women shoots better than the average man. What’s even more significant is the improvement from initial to final shooting.

    I think the same results would occur in a professional driver course. My apologies to the fairer sex for any offense.

  • avatar
    obbop

    Have you noticed that the self-centered just-have-to-yap cell phone buffoons (can you determine my sentiments regarding cell phones and driving?) who are the worst drivers while yapping away tilt their vacuous befuddled heads in the direction wherein the cell phone is clamped to their head?

    Their appears to be a correlation between lousy inattentive driving and those whose head tilts when babbling on their phone.

    If the phone is glued to their right ear the head tilts obviously to that side and vice versa.

    There is something about that head tilt that results in even worse driving inabilty than that performed by yappers whose head remains upright.

    Additionally, I have noted that it appears females are affected in ways that male yappers avoid.

    More than the observation that the majority of cell phone droids are females, my observation is that females tend to have more difficulty than males during the driving yapping evolution.

  • avatar
    ConspicuousLurker

    I agree with Brian E. It seems like another excuse to enhance or issue a fine.

    I also believe there is an element of convenience to all these laws. In California, they can pull you over for not wearing your seatbelt, having a dead license plate bulb, and now for driving with a visible cell phone. All terrible hazards to others on the road.

    In my experience, the cops rarely use these laws to enforce compliance (they tell you they are), 9 times out of 10, they are used because they want to check your identity, search your vehicle, or simply generate revenue.

    Perhaps these are valuable tools to preserving the peace, but I think they are cheap predicates to violating our civil rights.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    However, there is a group that could benefit substantially from better training: Easily intimidated (sorry about this – but it’s mostly women) types who were poorly taught to initially drive. They would benefit from the confidence boost that comes from a solid, professional driver skill course.

    There is a significant difference between poor street driving and poor marksmanship — poor driving is fun. When learning most technical skills, doing them well raises the appeal, and improving one’s skills bring pleasure to the person learning them.

    Driving on the street is the opposite of this. Good street driving is ultimately about avoiding extremes, being defensive and going with the flow. On the whole, that’s boring. It’s just a lot more fun to do all of the stuff that causes accidents than it does to be an straight-and-narrow sort who avoids the activities that cause accidents.

    Those who lack confidence may be annoying to drive next to, but they tend not to wreck. Accidents tend to be caused by those who take unacceptable risks, not by the timid. Performance driving courses lead to higher accident rates, because confidence leads to more risk taking, which is the last thing that most drivers need.

    The technical skills that are useful on a track are often the exact opposite of what are needed on the street. You do not want street drivers rapidly passing other traffic or clipping apexes; you want them to keep a safe distance and drive at speeds that are close to the flow of traffic.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    How about this then..

    PLEASE don’t talk on the phone while driving because if something bad happens I need your full attention to the matter.

  • avatar
    frozenman

    Ok, I’m going to just come out and say it, most females take longer to come to the point and finish a conversation on any level, IMHO. Now lets have them cruising along driving the minivan/suv full of kids, cellphone glued to their ear, impeding traffic,wandering from lane to lane…. Where is the protection and rights of the child in this? When vehicles can pilot themselves from A to B using GPS we can have all kinds of fun in the car, we could even have s…..

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    In regard to seatbelt/helmet laws and increased insurance costs – just set it up such that those who chose not to use the safety systems available will not have their claims honored by the insurance company. Actually, this could even be taken further so that in states with mandatory inspections drivers who were knowingly driving with bad brakes, bald tires, or other hinderances that they had the opportunity to fix can not avail themselves of their insurance for their losses.

    Having been drunk (although not having driven drunk) and having driven while using a cell phone, I do not believe that using the cell phone is anywhere near as dangerous as it would be to get behind the wheel inebriated. However, if I, while driving while talking on the phone, perform an illegal manuver, I would fully expect to be pulled over and fined for it. Similarly, if I, while driving and talking on the phone, do not break any traffic laws, I should not be pulled over. This could actually be expanded to cover driving while under the influence as well, if you manage to drive completely within the law it shouldn’t matter if your BAC is .00 or .15, if however, you run a red light or hit another car, you should be punished regardless. Obviously, some stiffer penalties in the event of an alcohol-caused accident would be needed to discourage the practice and give incentive not to do it, and the same thing could be done for driving while talking on the cell (maybe not to the same degree) but it would get to the heart of the matter – penalizing the damaging act and not the circumstance which may or may not cause it.

  • avatar
    Wunsch

    Personally, I don’t find talking on the phone (my car has a Bluetooth system, and I use it) to be substantially different from talking to a passenger. Yes, my driving style does change slightly, but it changes in exactly the same way as when I have a passenger in the car and I’m carrying on a conversation with that person. I increase my following distance a bit, and I’m more conservative about lane changes.

    It does seem to vary from person to person, though. I’ve definitely seen people do stupid things because they were distracted by a cell phone conversation. But I’ve also seen them do stupid things because of an unruly kid in the back seat, or because the burger they were eating just slopped all over their lap.

    I really don’t see why we need laws specifically related to one particular distraction. There are plenty of other distractions (and longer-term ones, not just glancing at the radio for a few seconds). Perhaps rather than laws specifically related to cell phone distractions, we simply need to concentrate on public awareness that cell phones can fall under existing driving-while-distracted legislation, and try to encourage people to be aware of how much cell phone conversations do or don’t affect their own driving.

  • avatar
    holydonut

    I figure the EU would have unique insights into this as well. Their population adopted cell phones much more quickly than in the USA, and their dense urban centers seem to require much more concentration and driving ability in order to navigate effectively.

    I also think Europeans have more respect for their driving privileges than American counterparts. American teenagers view driving as a right. And the relatively low cost as a % of income for vehicle ownership in the USA means this sentiment is shared by other age groups as well.

  • avatar
    KnightRT

    I find extended highway runs in light traffic to be a great time to catch up with people on the phone. It’s just not that hard to stay in a lane and check your mirrors, and I’d be more than a little miffed if that was a ticketing offense where I live.

    Heavy traffic? Rapid changes in traffic conditions? Rain? Tight lanes? Construction? Lots of curves or elevation changes? Any of these will persuade me to hang up. It’s purely a question of risk tolerance. Mine is actually fairly low. I tend to drive 15 MPH slower while on the phone.

    Texting should be outlawed entirely. I watched a friend drive in a way that approximated what I’d expect her to do if drunk. When I asked what was up, she said she was texting people. A year into owning my Palm phone with a QWERTY keyboard, I still can’t text without glancing at it. Each text a minute or more to draft and send. That’s a long time to be constantly shifting your attention back and forth and taking your eyes off the road. It’s not like making a phone call or adjusting the radio.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    Pch101:
    There is a significant difference between poor street driving and poor marksmanship — poor driving is fun.

    Outside of borderline sociopaths, there’s nothing ‘fun’ for average people who are scared to drive when they have to drive.

    When learning most technical skills, doing them well raises the appeal, and improving one’s skills bring pleasure to the person learning them.

    Any skill is more enjoyable when done well.

    Those who lack confidence may be annoying to drive next to, but they tend not to wreck.

    Most don’t. Many do. Many often hurt themselves. Many could be improved.

    The technical skills that are useful on a track are often the exact opposite of what are needed on the street. You do not want street drivers rapidly passing other traffic or clipping apexes;

    Fer cryin’ out loud. I’m not talking about heel and toe techniques in an Rx8. Showing Yukon-Mom how her vehicle behaves in a skid or using pylons at slow speed to give a sense of space and vehicle awareness can be effective, confidence building tools.

  • avatar
    RNader

    God, That chick is so hot!

  • avatar
    cgd

    OK, I wonder how the gender issue always has to get into conversations about bad driving? I’m a woman, yet have seen many male drivers on phones, distracted with children in suvs, mini-vans etc. Our insurance rates are generally lower than men’s, so go figure on that.

    As for distracted drivers, I’ve seen men shaving, reading, eating, texting, and doing head/hand movements while talking on phones. You see more women with children because women end up doing that stuff more, possibly because there are more stay-at-home moms than SAH dads. Distracted driving on the whole is not just women, but someone always has to go there when this comes up in conversation. It’s a stereotype.

    Rant over, back to the main issue. Thankfully, my state has not banned cells while driving yet. I agree that the distraction factor has more to do with the conversation aspect than the phone itself as the studies with bluetooth showed. So what’s next–banning talking to your passengers while driving?

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Showing Yukon-Mom how her vehicle behaves in a skid or using pylons at slow speed to give a sense of space and vehicle awareness can be effective, confidence building tools.

    This has been studied before, and the studies indicate that drivers who have advanced training tend to have more collisions. Confidence produces more risk taking, which leads to more wrecks.

    When we measure the value of technical training in areas such as marksmanship, we are looking for positive attributes, i.e. greater accuracy. That’s easy to measure, and doing a better job makes everybody happy.

    In contrast, we measure one’s ability to drive on the street with a negative, which is by **not** having accidents. On a statistical basis, we measure success or failure by how often they don’t make mistakes, not by how polished they are. Accident causing behaviors tend to bring some perceived benefit to the person doing it, which is why education has limited value.

    Driver confidence isn’t a problem in terms of what we as a society need to care about most. A driver who lacks confidence may plod along a bit too slowly for our tastes, and they may lack finesse behind the wheel. But from a social standpoint, we don’t care about that — we are far more concerned with keeping sheetmetal from banging together. The meek don’t present a problem with this, and training them won’t do much good.

    The feds have figured out how to fix the SUV problem — stability control. Since your average person doesn’t seem to understand that laws of physics apply to their own driving (this is what happens when virtually everyone believes that his own driving skills are above average, which is a statistical impossibility), the stability control will do what the humans will not. Electronic nannies save lives, whether or not we like them very much.

  • avatar
    gogogodzilla

    Unfortunately, laws can’t always fix things. A constitutional amendment banning booze could not excise America of the moral turpitude of alcoholism. If drivers are going to ignore cell phone driving prohibitions, what’s the point?

    This bears repeating.

  • avatar
    George B

    One problem with traffic safety laws is they don’t take into account the large variation in driving conditions. Talking on a cell phone while driving isn’t totally insane on a 6 lane 40mph suburban street with light traffic. However, driving on that same street with both freezing rain and rush hour traffic requires 100% concentration plus some luck. Laws that overreach like the school-zone cell phone bans and excessively low speed limits tend to erode public respect for the law.

  • avatar
    James2

    Unfortunately, laws can’t always fix things. A constitutional amendment banning booze could not excise America of the moral turpitude of alcoholism. If drivers are going to ignore cell phone driving prohibitions, what’s the point?

    This bears repeating.

    Yes, but.

    –As someone who has almost been hit several times by cel-phone-wielding morons…
    –even if I agree with the above in principle…
    –even though I know the law will be mostly useless…

    If it deters at least some of these morons from yapping away, then legislate away. Common sense is actually not so common. I see it proved every day. If the gov’t fines these retards, maybe only then they will learn something.

    OTOH, suppose the government taxes each phone call, each text? Then cel-addicted people who just have to make/take calls that “just can’t wait” will start to decide that it can wait, after all, when they start seeing their phone bills double and triple. Cha-ching!

  • avatar
    redrum

    I probably average one brief cell phone conversation a day while at the helm. Doing so has never impeded my ability to maintain my lane, react to slowing traffic ahead, or otherwise lose track of where I am or where I’m going.

    I find this incredibly hard to believe. Just the time it takes to look down at your caller id and accept the call causes a momentary lapse in awareness. This “everyone has a problem but me” attitude is exactly what leads people to talk and drive more and more until those momentary lapses turn into long stretches of obliviousness.

  • avatar
    redrum

    So what’s next–banning talking to your passengers while driving?

    There was a study not that long ago that in part compared speaking on the cell phone vs. talking with your passenger.

    Cell phones were found to be much more distracting because a) the person on the other end of the cell phone call has no idea what you’re going doing and will not stop talking when your full attention on the road is required (which a passenger tends to do), b) the passenger serves as a “second set of eyes” on the road, which helps to mitigate the distraction the conversation generates.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    When a driver gets into a car, they are not only put themselves at risk, but also everyone else they happen to end up near on the roads.

    That is why laws limiting the “freedom” of drivers make sense as long as such laws are well correlated to reducing the likelihood the driver will do harm to other people.

    From this perspective, cell phone bans are very reasonable just as prohibitions against drunk driving are reasonable. It isn’t a case of the “Nanny State” trying to protect people from themselves, it is a matter of trying to protect innocent bystanders from the irresponsible actions of others.

  • avatar

    The cops need to start ticketing people on cell phones. What’s even worse is texting. I’ve seen people texting while driving, weaving in and out. Texting is worse than being on the cell phone because it takes your eyes off the road (the cell phone DOES take your mind off the road, as th e studies at U of Utah have shown.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    First, we need to put people in jail who drive after their licenses are taken away. Once we see how that looks, then we take it one priority at a time.

    By the time we get to the cell phone, driving will have turned out to be safe.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    cgd:
    OK, I wonder how the gender issue always has to get into conversations about bad driving? I’m a woman, yet have seen many male drivers on phones, distracted with children in suvs, mini-vans etc. Our insurance rates are generally lower than men’s, so go figure on that.

    Pardon my lack of clarity. I agree, women are safer drivers, especially starting out.

    My point was that with better training, poor female drivers would tend to improve more so than poor male drivers.

    Pch101:
    This has been studied before, and the studies indicate that drivers who have advanced training tend to have more collisions. Confidence produces more risk taking, which leads to more wrecks.

    Do ‘studies’ show that less training produces safer drivers?

    I think there’s a subset of poor drivers who’d benefit from some training. The only problem is that most extra “driver education” has attendees sitting in class watching car wreck videos followed by a State Drone reciting DWI statistics.

    In contrast, we measure one’s ability to drive on the street with a negative, which is by **not** having accidents.

    Shooting and driving are coordination skills that can improve with training, especially if you’re poor to begin with. And marksmanship can be defined by **not** missing the target.

    Accident causing behaviors tend to bring some perceived benefit to the person doing it, which is why education has limited value.

    Those willfully ignorant and malicious will always be problem.

    Landcrusher:
    First, we need to put people in jail who drive after their licenses are taken away. Once we see how that looks, then we take it one priority at a time.

    +1, but it’s not gonna happen anywhere I know.
    Jailing != revenue
    Jailing = costs

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Landcrusher, do you care to quote any published statistics about the fraction of accidents which are caused by people who are driving without a proper license? Traffic accident reduction is a multi-dimensional problem, and taking issues “one at a time” is a poor way to address problems which have multiple causes.

    But following up on your thought: I’ve long believed that a good and more agressive way to punish repeat and/or egregious offenders is to simply confiscate their vehicles. That way we don’t spend the money to put them in jail, and putting a person in jail just for being a bad driver is likely to have the side effect of turning a person with one bad behavioral problem into a well trained criminal.

    As you note, pulling a piece of plastic out of someone’s wallet doesn’t really keep them from driving. Taking their car away would be more effective. Sure they might try to borrow cars from friends or family, but who is going to lend a car to the buddy who just got his own car yanked for repeated drunk driving convictions?

  • avatar
    amca

    You listed:

    fiddling with the radio (82%);

    drinking a beverage (80%); operating a cell phone (73%);

    snacking (68%);

    eating (41%);

    smoking (21%);

    applying make-up (12%);

    driving with a pet on my lap (8%);

    reading (5%);

    driving while intoxicated (4%);

    and shaving (2%).

    YOU FORGOT spankin’ the monkey (61% (male respondents));

    and orchid grinding (68% (female respondents)).

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    JH,

    No, I don’t care to quote statistics, and I don’t care if they are not the worst offenders. That’s not the point. The point is twofold. One, in the end we really do nothing that seems to work because they all know that. All confiscation will do is get them to drive old wrecks (which I believe you will find is already being done where it is tried). It may scare a few people, but I am not a fan of it. As soon as they start making money or press on those cars, the next step will likely be to take cars all over. People with no shame will just keep driving, especially the drunks.

    Second, cost would be good. As much as I want to avoid the cost, the governments are simply unwilling to do their jobs on this issue. However, THEY LOVE MY MONEY MORE THAN I DO! As soon as the mayor, council, legislatures, etc. start having their costs aligned with ours, they will put their heads together to do what it takes (which in my opinion is to be more sparing on who gets a license to begin with). So yes, some sort of jail is what it will likely take.

    Don’t get me started on our present jail/mens clubs either. What a joke. I lived worse most of my time in the Army, and I was an officer!

  • avatar
    galaxygreymx5

    I’d like to chime in as another motorcyclist who sees far, far worse driving from those on the phone.

    If ever someone does something completely retarded on the road around me it’s almost always a driver yakking on the phone. Worse, they generally seem to have no idea that they’re driving very poorly.

    I agree with others that equate cell phone driving with drunk driving, and I think the author is 180 degrees from reality. I’d be willing to bet reasonable money that Mr. Montgomery is indeed less prepared to deal with a sudden change in his surroundings when he’s on the phone, even if he thinks otherwise.

    I feel this way because I have friends that yap on the phone while driving and the practice turns these otherwise excellent drivers into complete stuttering morons behind the wheel. Yet, when I suggest that they refrain from talking on the phone while they drive they look at me like I have three heads; they seem to have no idea that their driving skills are diminishing so severely.

    I think this habit would be easy to curtail if every violation was two points on one’s license. Given that there’s ample evidence to show that talking on the phone while driving (headset or otherwise) is very similar to drunk driving in reaction times, the punishment should be similar. If getting a cell phone ticket jacked up one’s insurance rates dramatically I doubt it would take much time for everyone to leave the damned things in the console until the vehicle is parked.

    I don’t have any evidence handy but I’ve read that the vast majority of drunk drivers make it home safely without crashing into anyone or anything. If that’s indeed true, should we get rid of that nanny law too?

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    galaxy,

    Anecdotally, you are correct, but we know the perception is wrong. We have been down this road already, and the stats show that cell phones are not worse than drunks.

    There are more cell users than drunks. And, we can prove cell phone use even better than we can drunkenness. However, the drunks are still killing many many more people.

    Michael C.

    In addition to the above, I would tell you that it is NOT impossible to talk on the cell and drive, but that most people are simply not capable of it. Pilots often fly aircraft while talking to passengers in person, ATC on the radio, and doing all this while keeping the plane on a very accurate course and descent slope without being able to see outside the plane at all. They are of course trained on how to divide their attention, and to prioritize it.

  • avatar
    Gunit

    Liberty isn’t about the freedom to put other people at risk, it’s about being able to put yourself at risk. Ingest, smoke and do all the dumb, damaging things you want, just don’t do any of them in a way that will harm others.

  • avatar
    BlisterInTheSun

    (1) Chick is hot – she gets a pass
    (2) Never a good idea to wear suspenders if you wanna meet girls like the one in (1), above. Might as well hike your pants up ala Fred Mertz, move to Florida and spend all day complaining about the government

  • avatar
    windswords

    redrum:

    ” ‘I probably average one brief cell phone conversation a day while at the helm. Doing so has never impeded my ability to maintain my lane, react to slowing traffic ahead, or otherwise lose track of where I am or where I’m going.’

    I find this incredibly hard to believe. Just the time it takes to look down at your caller id and accept the call causes a momentary lapse in awareness. This “everyone has a problem but me” attitude is exactly what leads people to talk and drive more and more until those momentary lapses turn into long stretches of obliviousness.”

    Well you can say the same thing about tuning the radio, putting a CD in the changer, eating or drinking, programming your GPS. The time it takes to look and do these things causes a momentary lapse in awareness. So how far do you want to go with this?

  • avatar
    frizzlefry

    Mythbusters did a test on this…their results showed that they drove the same when talking on a cell phone as they did when they were legally drunk.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Do ’studies’ show that less training produces safer drivers?

    Academic research — no quotes around it, legitimate research — about the real world effects of driver education is consistent, and the results tend to make auto enthusiasts unhappy.

    The consensus is that training is useful for imparting basic technical skills, such as teaching novices how to steer, but it is not useful for creating better behavior. Performance training varies from being neutral to making things worse, because training encourages higher risk taking and because most real world accidents don’t bear enough resemblance to the training in order to make the accident avoidance tactics useful in the real world.

    Enthusiasts tend to exaggerate the technical skills of driving on the street. In practice, it isn’t difficult. The skills needed to drive on the street are limited, so training isn’t useful because there isn’t that much to learn, and personality traits tend to negate the lessons that training attempt to impart. Driving well enough isn’t difficult, either, as it involves behaving civilly and soberly enough that you don’t bang into other people, not precision or artistry.

    If you look at the body of real world data available to us, a couple of things becomes obvious. Firstly, the best way to avoid accidents is to drive defensively, more so than it is to drive proactively with a heightened skill set. Instead of trying to push the envelope with some sort of well-honed precise driving skill, laying back and avoiding risk creates much better results. The best accident avoidance tactic is keeping your distance and moderating your speed, not learning fancy techniques that are highly unlikely to be useful in a real-world accident situation, and that tend to encourage unnecessary risk taking.

    A second point is that accident rates are not evenly distributed. Some people crash far more than others. Again, a lot of that difference is attributable to attitude, not technical skill. It’s easy to say that everyone sucks behind the wheel, but statistically, most of us are fair and a few of us are a menace.

    There is no easy answer to this, but this tendency to single out bogeymen and seek out easy solutions leads us astray. If phones were really similar to DUI in their impact, then we should have seen accident rates skyrocket in recent years. In fact, the opposite has happened — those rates continue to fall, just as they were falling before, and just as they are generally falling around the world. There is no evident correlation between accident rates and phone usage, so it’s difficult to argue causation when we don’t even have data correlation.

    The wide gap between what happens during controlled tests and what happens in the real world suggests that the academic studies about phones are flawed in some way. Simulator studies are not a good way to compile data about real world behavior, but that’s what have been used for these anti-phone research pieces.

    If driver education teaches us anything, it’s that people don’t drive on the street in the same ways that they behave in a fake car in a laboratory. And if you look at the U. of Utah study cited here and quoted frequently in the media, you’ll see that the median age of the test subjects was 20 years old, not exactly representative of the driving population at large, but a very close approximation of the age group that includes the worst drivers on the road.

  • avatar
    tedward

    We should just ban the automatic transmission. The truly incompetent will have no wait until they reach a cruising speed before picking up that phone. No more on-ramp/residential neighborhood horror stories.

  • avatar
    TaxedAndConfused

    Having had a load of near misses with mobile phone muppets I am totally opposed to people using hand-helds whilst driving. If you have time to concentrate on the phone or PDA then you do not concentrating on driving. Its not just the device itself, or the use of one hand (ahem).

    Research recently showed that the issue was not totally with the person in the car but with the other person on the phone. Often an argument against a ban is that other distractions (kids, nice ladies to stare at, sat nav and so forth) are just as distracting.

    The difference is that if, for example you have someone talking with you whilst sitting in the car, they share your experience. So they know when they need to be quiet and let you get on with the job of driving.

    Someone on the other end of a phone doesn’t, and doesn’t know when to shut the f up.

    There is a total ban in the UK but I still see people using them every day. Unfortunately as our enforcers (soon to be out hopefully if the political winds continue to blow the right way) have a fixation on the use of speed cameras which don’t catch anyone.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    WCM, Public roads are shared. My life is partly in your hands, as I can’t predict the all the potentially dangerous things you might do. It’s not unreasonable for me to want you to be focussed on the road.

    A cell phone ban (with or without hands-free waiver), is a way of pointing out that attentive driving is important and it may be somewhat enforceable.

    You can’t legislate common sense but you can improve the odds that people will do common sensical things with certain laws. This is one of them.

  • avatar
    JPMotorsport

    Yeah, whatever. Let’s talk about that chick in the stock photo, eh?

  • avatar
    bfg9k

    As a frequent cyclist cell phones in the hands of drivers are quite terrifying.

    The problem here is that while cell phones may be scientifically proven to be a worse distraction than other in-car activities, is that people’s behavior is unlikely to change from a few new laws.

    Just for the sake of argument – how difficult would it be for the cell phone companies to disable a cell phone if it’s moving more than 15 mph? If the cell phone has a GPS that seems pretty simple, I dunno about non-GPS ones. Obviously this would punish passengers in cars and train riders, but I’m just throwing the idea out there.

  • avatar
    agenthex

    Performance driving courses lead to higher accident rates, because confidence leads to more risk taking, which is the last thing that most drivers need.

    You’ve claimed this in the past because you tend to believe in studies without proper controls, and I take there is no new evidence since then.

    I don’t even see how is this a problem in a general sense since the percent of population with these concerns is about zero, even if we only pull from the pool of aggressive drivers.
    -

    There are laboratory studies that suggests that there is a problem, but if the conclusions were accurate, then the real world data should have changed significantly.

    I would also suggest that “real world data” would be more accurate if drivers would fess up to cell phone usage during accidents.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    You’ve claimed this in the past

    I didn’t “claim”, I supported the statement with posted links to just a few examples of academic studies, which you alternately chose to ignore or claimed that I didn’t post, even though they were in the thread.

    If you have a factually based rebuttal, provide it. But don’t misrepresent what I’ve provided here just because you can’t dispute it.

    I would also suggest that “real world data” would be more accurate if drivers would fess up to cell phone usage during accidents.

    If phones were a significant factor, then those results should be reflected in a change in overall accident and fatality rates.

    But they aren’t. The rates continue to fall. If you were correct, that should not be occurring.

    It makes no logical sense to claim that phones are a growing safety hazard, when the rates keep falling. Phone usage has proliferated rapidly, so the impact on the data should be profound and unavoidable. But no such luck.

  • avatar
    MRL325i

    Whatever.

    That babe is hot.

  • avatar
    agenthex

    I supported the statement with posted links to just a few examples of academic studies, which you alternately chose to ignore or claimed that I didn’t post

    If you remember, your own metastudy admitted their collection of studies are flawed, likely including and probably in addition to their lack of any meaningful controls. If that’s acceptable for you, that’s fine, but at least be clear about those standards. In fact, I remember even explaining WHY their numbers will be small and inconclusive.

    The metastudy (x2) also contradicts your own account that the findings are conclusive, so again let’s be clear about how much the bar is lowered.

    I also find it interesting that above you dismiss the relevance of a study on young drivers when your entire case for driver ed studies are based on them.

    -
    If phones were a significant factor, then those results should be reflected in a change in overall accident and fatality rates.

    But they aren’t. The rates continue to fall.

    Ok, just so that we’re clear, this is where the bar now resides: why use controls at all when specious logic will suffice?

    -

    Your “studies” don’t show what you think they do. As is often the case in matters that involve science, understanding the limitations of current knowledge is as important as knowledge itself.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Ok, just so that we’re clear, this is where the bar now resides: why use controls at all when specious logic will suffice?

    I’m having trouble understanding why you think there is something specious about pointing out that cell phone use has proliferated yet accident rates are going down?

    As much as I personally dislike cell phones, I have to admit that if the accident rate is going down while cell phone ownership and use have skyrocketed, then there must be little or no connection between their use while driving and car accidents.

  • avatar
    agenthex

    I’m having trouble understanding why you think there is something specious about pointing out that cell phone use has proliferated yet accident rates are going down?

    It implies cell phone usage is THE relevant variable when the same rates are a complex compound of many factors.

    There are various interpretations of the. eg. http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~econnwk/workingpapers/2007-003.pdf

    pertinent here because it analyzes macro trends.

    I don’t particularly like econometric studies, and it’s kind of difficult to analyze numbers where we have a subpar understanding of causality, but this shows how ambiguous and shaky this whole field it is. (BTW for the lazy, that study tries to show cell phones to be a contributor when it reaches a certain threshold). AT LEAST it doesn’t depend on survey data.

    -
    I was just arguing that in absence of definitive knowledge (of policy effects), guessing with logic shouldn’t use inconclusive or poor summaries as a premise.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    When I grow up I want to be the lipstick in the girl’s hand.

  • avatar

    Landcrusher: In addition to the above, I would tell you that it is NOT impossible to talk on the cell and drive, but that most people are simply not capable of it. Pilots often fly aircraft while talking to passengers in person, ATC on the radio, and doing all this while keeping the plane on a very accurate course and descent slope without being able to see outside the plane at all. They are of course trained on how to divide their attention, and to prioritize it.

    Flying there are very few objects to run into compared with driving. I taught a young woman to drive once, mostly in DC’s Rock Creek Park, and there were a lot of scary moments. I took my niece for flying lessons starting when she was 7, and there were no scary moments at all, because there was nothing to hit in the air. (She did do very well on the take-off and landing from the very first flight.)

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    David,
    I am specifically talking about an IFR approach. The plane is literally flying towards the ground, and there ARE obstacles as well as several parameters that limit your path rather than staying in a lane. Also, you can’t pull over. Time, altitude, attitude, airspeed, direction, and descent rate all must be within limits while you manage the plane, ATC, and passengers and the plane is moving due to turbulence. We can actually teach a monkey to fly VFR. It’s not the same.

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    dwford :

    …Unfortunately you can’t outlaw stupid.

    That’s only because stupid is a mathematical majority.

    But there’s nothing in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights preventing such a law!

  • avatar
    Pch101

    I have to admit that if the accident rate is going down while cell phone ownership and use have skyrocketed, then there must be little or no connection between their use while driving and car accidents.

    It’s a fairly sensible point, but when people get on safety kicks based upon theory, they tend to ignore the data when it contradicts them.

    We had the same issue when the 55 mph speed limit was eliminated. The 55 advocates pointed to theoretical forecasts that predicted an automotive apocalypse. Ironically, the methodology was very much the same as we are seeing with the anti-phone zealots, as they imputed that higher reaction times would necessarily lead to death and despair.

    Now we have an abundance of real world data that showed those fears to be misguided. The world did not end, despite the advanced punditry that advised us that it would.

    As it turns out, the 55 advocates were wrong on every count because (a) drivers don’t necessarily speed up when limits are raised and (b) drivers respond to higher reaction times by moderating other aspects of their behavior in order to make up for them. Increased reaction time does not occur in a vacuum; people make adjustments that mitigate its effects, making it a wash. Factor in the benefits of improved safety equipment, and you end up with somewhat higher traffic speeds and falling fatality rates, simultaneously.

    Ironically, the arguments against phones use the same methodology that the 55 advocates used — arguments based upon theory that conflicts with real world outcomes. Given the skyrocketing rate of phone usage, we should be seeing considerable changes in accident data if this crush of mobile telephony was doomed to kill us off, with its alleged kinship with drunk driving, but that hasn’t happened at all. That makes no sense.

    In the process, they don’t mind skewing their data, such as using college students in simulators to make broader points about how the entire population drives, even though simulators fail to capture real world behavior and even though young people are the highest risk demographic, by far. That sounds like a study that was designed to produce a certain results.

  • avatar

    Have a friend that lives in a state college town. Between iPods and cellphones, 75% of people are walking zombies. He exercise extreme defensive driving in his town…

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    I wonder how much of the time presently being used on the cell phone was previously being spent day dreaming or even bringing along someone to talk to. Is everyone forgetting that asking someone to come and keep you company used to be a common habit? How about the folks that used to read?

    Do you think the studies really catch this?

  • avatar
    agenthex

    pch:
    they tend to ignore the data when it contradicts them….

    Yeah that’s funny because there are reputable studies that contradict what you claim:

    “Role of cellular phones in motor vehicle crashes resulting in hospital attendance” by S. McEvoy et al. published in the British Medial Journal.

    And ironically the link above which does EXACTLY the analysis you claim would show you to be correct.

    Deniers must prefer the kinds of studies that depend on surveys where drivers have to admit fault. I guess they’ll believe in anything as long as it supports them.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “Role of cellular phones in motor vehicle crashes resulting in hospital attendance” by S. McEvoy et al. published in the British Medial Journal.

    Yeah, I liked that one. That was the study that attributed accidents to mobile phone usage even though the phone wasn’t being used at the time of the accident.

  • avatar
    agenthex

    Yes, and? What is the law/policy proposing? Banning cell phone use only during accidents?


    To be clear, I’m not necessarily for the law because I don’t generally care for the nanny state, but the data here is far from complete, and that study at least tries for correct methodology.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    If you want to prove that phones cause accidents, then it would help to show that the phones are being used while the accidents are occurring. Unless you believe that phones give off a powerful aura ten minutes after their use that dements the owner and causes him to wreck while not using the phone, the methodology is clearly flawed.

    If you want to argue that there are real world problems, then these problems should show up in real world data. There should be blood in the streets from all of these additional accidents caused by cellular intoxication, yet we can’t find them.

    Just as the speed limit increases caused no measurable catastrophes, no disaster is evident here. Likewise, passing laws against phones shows no blip in the figures that suggest that the laws do any good. Instead, we have studies like yours, which attribute accidents to phones even though the phones weren’t in use.

  • avatar
    agenthex

    If you want to prove that phones cause accidents, then it would help to show that the phones are being used while the accidents are occurring.

    That’s rather the point of the study, evidence and whatnot.

    On the other hand, the typical nay-sayer study trusts that the driver would report this accurately.

    The effect of call can very well effect subsequent behavior. But whatever, I don’t have access to it now, but if the data is segregable into during and not, you’ll likely get a slight lower figure.

    -
    There should be blood in the streets from all of these additional accidents caused by cellular intoxication, yet we can’t find them.

    Again, maybe because these accidents aren’t fatal, and afterward people tend to forget about actions that fault themselves.

    If drunk driving stats depended on volunteered info, I’m pretty sure they’d be lower, too.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Again, maybe because these accidents aren’t fatal, and afterward people tend to forget about actions that fault themselves.

    Once again, you’ve missed the point and gotten your facts wrong in the process.

    There is a long-run trend of statistical data for vehicle fatalities and accidents. The overall trend is one of a gradual decline in fatalities when measured on a per mile basis, the standard used for developing these statistics.

    The anti-phone brigade has alleged that phone usage is akin to drunk driving. Drunk driving is the main killer of people on our highways.

    If adding tens of millions of phone users to our highways over the last several years was truly the equivalent of adding tens of millions of drunk drivers to the road, then this falling trend in fatalities should have been interrupted. After all, this would be the statistical equivalent of turning the United States into a nation of raving car-happy alcoholics over a short period of time, so the impact on the data should be obvious and hard to miss.

    But the data that should have been disrupted hasn’t been interrupted at all. The trend of declining fatality rates continues. Not a logical outcome, given the alleged severity of the input.

    Nor do we see any impact when anti-phone laws are introduced. Again, if anti-phone laws were so important, we would expect the introduction of these laws to have some sort of statistical effect, so that there is a noticeable benefit compared to not having such laws. But this hasn’t happened, either — anti-phone laws are not accompanied by improvements in these trends.

    So here we have a situation in which the real world results don’t change when laws are introduced or avoided. We also have studies that have to be blatantly manipulated in order to produce the desired result.

    This is exactly the same sort of situation that we had with the elimination of the 55 mph speed limit. We can all see now how the anti-speed Chicken Littles were wrong on every point. They also used poorly prepared studies based upon faulty assumptions, which failed to produce the real-world outcomes that they should have created had they been correct.

    If simulator data conflicts with the real world, as it does here, then the problem is with the simulator, not the real world.

  • avatar
    agenthex

    So I guess you can’t really address the specifics of the studies (I know they aren’t great, but you pushed for it) and have to rely on hand waving. Nobody here claimed cell phones were on par with drunk driving, especially for fatalities, so you can stop beating on that straw man.

    Also, in case you haven’t notice, the auto world haven’t exactly stood still with the introduction of the cellular, and that accident rate you keep harping on hasn’t been much in decline lately.

    Abstracted, the goal is to reduce serious distractions while driving. One major problem with the phone laws is they don’t fulfill that goal since they still allow hands-free operation.

    This seems bit of an unenforceable dilemma, so it may not matter either way.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    I guess you can’t really address the specifics of the studies

    Again, you (as you often do) ignore the statements being made.

    I read that study that you cited ages ago. It was flawed then, and it remains flawed now.

    The specific problem with it is obvious — it seeks to blame accidents on phones even during instances when the phones were not in use.

    The problem with that methodoloy is really, really obvious. Using that “logic”, we would attribute accidents caused by sober drivers to drunk driving, on the basis that they partied it up the week prior.

    There needs to be a demonstration of correlation, and then some connection to causation in the real world. There isn’t any. If that study is the best you can do, then go back to the drawing board, because I am not going to continually rehash what is so obviously wrong with it.

  • avatar
    agenthex

    So a few min in a fraction of cases becomes a week now to make your point?

    Otherwise, the alternative you seem to prefer is to just trust the driver.

    Copy and paste from above since you’re still dodging the main point:

    [but] the data here is far from complete, and that study at least tries for correct methodology.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    So a few min in a fraction of cases becomes a week now to make your point?

    The researchers obviously felt the need to “count” incidents that weren’t incidents. Using a phone ten minutes prior to an accident was reason enough to include it as a contributory event.

    By that logic, I could use my mobile phone in my home, terminate the call, then get in the car, back into something in the driveway, and have the researcher include that as a phone-related incident. That obviously doesn’t make any sense.

    That erroneous methodology should tell you that the data is shaky. If the phone isn’t being used, then there is no reason to include it…unless, of course, the legitimate data doesn’t support your argument.

    I know that you don’t want to see it, because it sucks for the advocates that they can’t make the real world gel with their theory. Using teenagers as a proxy for society as a whole, counting incidents that aren’t incidents, etc., is all very dodgy “science.” You need to do better.

  • avatar
    agenthex

    Given their results, that can’t be common given the high correlation and low instance rate, unless you’re claiming that is exactly the common case to the exclusion of others (are you?). Also, continuing to dodge the point that the studies you believe are not even remotely based on actual empirical evidence doesn’t help your case.

    If you wanted to derive some support from that study, it should be that cell phone use during driving isn’t extremely common in that part of the word. And it’s quite likely because of the nature of distraction vs. disorientation in the intoxication case the accidents are not serious enough to warrant a law.

    Those are logical arguments instead of distracting with macro trends (which don’t even support your case since non-alcohol related is on the rise, unless you think they’re drunk AND on the phone, lol) or conflating effectiveness of law vs actual phenomena.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    that can’t be common given the high correlation and low instance rate

    Once again – their “correlation” is trumped by casting a wide circle around the definition of what constitutes a phone-related accident. Their definition is so expansive that numerous false positives are a given.

    The use of assumptions like that is questionable. That makes it appear not to be a study, but a bogus setup that was written long before the “research” was conducted. The definition had to be contorted in order to get the desired result.

    The fact that you have to continually defend obviously half-assed research, instead of finding better research, suggests that you either aren’t familiar with the research enough to find a better example, or else there are no better examples to offer.

  • avatar
    agenthex

    Their definition is so expansive that numerous false positives are a given.

    It would be if the instance rate is high OR correlation is low. It’s very unlikely that such high correlation occurs just in these relatively exceptional events.

    This is not trivial to do because it’s hard to catch in the act, but at least these guys try. There also another “problem” in drawing a policy decision from this because they only study accident cases (tho that’s even harder to do broadly), but then I’m not passing this off as authoritative.

    I don’t see how you can slam this and try to make conclusive remarks with even worse research.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    I’m not sure why the “debate” continues.

    Cell phone use by drivers is up – astronomically.

    Accidents are down, for quite a number of years, including those years in which cell-phone use has increased markedly.

    Cell phone use while driving is not the danger it is popularly supposed to be.

    When this thread started, I was among the phone-nazis, wanting them banned from all motorways. I am able to admit being wrong.

  • avatar
    agenthex


    I’m not sure why the “debate” continues.

    -because the world is not as simple as you’d like to assume it to be.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    -because the world is not as simple as you’d like to assume it to be.

    Explain the mystery and complexity.

    Cell phone use way way up. Accidents down. Reality trumps theory.

    http://aei-brookings.org/admin/authorpdfs/redirect-safely.php?fname=../pdffiles/WP07-15_topost.pdf

    Press release/synopsis of the above study

    http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2007/08/13_cellphone.shtml

  • avatar
    agenthex

    Aids and cancer going up, death/population going down. Conclusion: Symptoms unrelated to death.

    I’m just waiting for PCH to comment on your study because I’m sure he cares if the calls are made (or not in this case) in cars.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Explain the mystery and complexity.

    Cell phone use way way up. Accidents down. Reality trumps theory.

    Thanks for posting that article, I hadn’t seen this one before.

    It has gotta stick under Agenthex’s craw that the point that I’ve made continuously throughout this thread, the point that he dismissed as “specious logic”, is specifically cited in this paper as one of the problems with the anti-phone agenda, and is quantified in Figure 1 toward the front of the paper. Funny how that happens.

    The paper did a nice job of summarizing a lot of the research on the topic and commenting on the flaws. But the free-minutes-as-benchmark argument is a questionable approach to take for making the point. Traffic studies typically measure fatality and accident rates based upon vehicle miles traveled, and this one doesn’t do that.

  • avatar
    lw

    I have to wonder how much traffic congestion is caused by cell phones.

    I see people every day driving slower because they are on the phone.

    California’s traffic jams may be solved by blocking cell use on the freeways..

  • avatar
    agenthex

    the point that he dismissed as “specious logic”, is specifically cited in this paper as one of the problems with the anti-phone agenda, and is quantified in Figure 1 toward the front of the paper

    So if I make a similar graph for my disease example, I guess that’s good enough for you?

    -
    Thanks for posting that article, I hadn’t seen this one before.

    Yeah, think tank quality standards. I don’t think their “consistency” on issues is a virtue.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    So if I make a similar graph for my disease example, I guess that’s good enough for you?

    If AIDS had proliferated through the population at the rate that cell phone usage has, then you’d have a valid point. But it hasn’t, so you don’t.

    Anyone who has a knowledge of research methods can see why there is a problem with this huge contradiction between the phone penetration rate and fatality rate. Your arguments aren’t logical, given the data conflicts. You can’t possibly be correct and simultaneously see real world data results like this.

  • avatar
    agenthex

    If AIDS had proliferated through the population at the rate that cell phone usage has, then you’d have a valid point.

    You might’ve had a chance at making a valid point if you knew what the point was. BTW, it’s not off by as much as you thought: http://www.avert.org/worldstats.htm

    If you’re still confused, I can also use other axis labels like # cars or mile driven, and you can argue they don’t kill people.

    -

    You can’t possibly be correct and simultaneously see real world data results like this.

    Maybe next you can argue why additional data isn’t important because, come on, the numbers are obvious. The more cars in the world, the less total fatalities*!

    *note: per quantity population, and not absolute. Don’t want to get misconstrued again…

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    The paper did a nice job of summarizing a lot of the research on the topic and commenting on the flaws. But the free-minutes-as-benchmark argument is a questionable approach to take for making the point. Traffic studies typically measure fatality and accident rates based upon vehicle miles traveled, and this one doesn’t do that.

    If I understood the study correctly, it was an attempt to deal with the causality issue. Someone may have a cell phone to their ear, and get in an accident, yet using the cell phone may not have been the cause. A sharp increase in use after 9pm should result in an increase in accidents after 9pm (other distractions being equal)

  • avatar
    Pch101

    A sharp increase in use after 9pm should result in an increase in accidents after 9pm (other distractions being equal)

    That was my interpretation of the goal of the paper. But without knowing the quantity of driving before 9pm vs. after 9pm, it’s difficult to compare. There aren’t many accidents at 4am, for example, not because 4am is a uniquely safe time to drive, but because not many people are driving at that hour in order to have accidents.

    In other words, the time distribution of phone usage and driving may not match. A disproportionately lower number of the post-9pm calls may be occurring from the car; the calls are being made in higher volumes, but not being from the same locations. The data doesn’t tell us, either way, so the story isn’t complete.


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