By on August 11, 2013

…new research from Carnegie Mellon University and the London School of Economics and Political Science suggests that talking on a cellphone while driving does not increase crash risk. Published in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, the study uses data from a major cellphone provider and accident reports to contradict previous findings that connected cellphone use to increased crash risk.

Oops. If this study, which appears to be organized along some fairly rational and defensible lines, turns out to the best representation of reality we have available, it will mean that the sole purpose of all the anti-talking-while-driving and mandatory-handsfree laws that have fast-tracked through the states in the past decade has actually been to, um, increase revenue from ticketing harmless motorists. If this in any way surprises you, then you might well be an exceptionally naive and trusting person and a few years from now I’d to introduce my son to any biological daughters you might have. This is government in the modern (and perhaps any) age: create a fear that shouldn’t really exist, manipulate the public into hysterics, extract cash from the public and divert it to the most favored recipients. It’s a tactic with an exceptional success rate and an appeal that spans the entire spectrum of political beliefs.

With that said, when the phrase “the public” is used, it refers to us. You and me. As individuals. Can’t we do better than providing the desired knee-jerk responses to whatever soundbites Messrs. Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Stewart, and Maddow scream and snark into our ears?

Yesterday TTAC’s readers expressed a pretty wide range of emotions regarding texting and driving. I hasten to stress that the Carnegie Mellon study in no way addresses the risks of texting/Internetting/crushing candy while driving. It’s a study about talking on a mobile phone while driving, nothing more, nothing less. Still, it’s worth noting that the same shrill, intolerant voices we hear all around us regarding the supposed hazards of mobile device usage were, indeed, singing the same chorus years ago about talking on the phones. How many times did we hear that entirely sensible reasoning that “a passenger in the car is far more able to respond appropriately and allow the driver to refocus his attention in a dangerous situation than someone on the other end of a cell phone call”? Doesn’t that sound completely reasonable? I sure as hell nodded my head the first twenty times or so I read it, even though there was a little voice in the back of my mind screaming, “OH YEAH? WHAT ABOUT THAT TIME YOU AND ‘MASTER J’ THE 325-POUND WHITE RAPPER AND HIS WHOLE POSSE TOOK HIS PARISIENNE ALL THE WAY TO CLEVELAND AND YOU HAD TO DRIVE AND EVERYBODY IN THE CAR BUT YOU WAS SO HIGH THEY WERE LICKING THE WINDOWS AND SHOUTING “MOOSE” EVERY FIVE MILES? HOW MUCH HELP DID YOU GET ON THAT FINE NIGHT?”

Still, the idea that mobile-phone usage is dangerous has plenty of emotional appeal. We’ve all seen some brain-dead (insert group of people for whom you have personal contempt) auto-piloting their (type of vehicle you have never purchased, giving you an unwarranted sense of superiority) through an intersection with their face glued to the phone and an obviously oblivious expression on that face? Surely that person will be stricken from the face of this Earth by the deity/karma/market force of your choice, right?

We’re pretty eager to wish death and destruction upon people who have made different choices than we’ve made. You’re driving through a downtown Detroit freeway at 85 miles per hour, wishing the dumb-asses doing 50mph in their junkers would swerve off into the barrier, when four malt-liquor-fueled heroes in a Lumina Euro blast by you at 115, and you wish they would hit the barrier as a reward for their recklessness. Only your choices are good, right?

It seems reasonable to me that texting and driving is dangerous. I can’t see how it isn’t. How can it be safe to drive down the road while not looking at the road? But that’s just a feeling I have. It’s not backed by statistics or studies so far. It’s just a feeling I have, based on some preconceptions I have about other people. I have plenty of feelings that seem reasonable to me. I believe that people in cheap shoes are more likely to lie to you. I believe that if somebody has a Prius that I can probably pretend I didn’t see the lane was ending and cut in front of them and they won’t shoot for me doing so. I believe that white girls who have solid four-year degrees from respectable schools and nice furniture never have STDs. So far, every single time I have tested these beliefs they have proven to be correct. But that doesn’t mean they have statistical validity.

When my son started to toddle around, his mother sent me a link to a story written by a woman whose toddler had escaped her crib and climbed a piece of furniture which had then toppled over and crushed the child. The email said, “Just please consider bolting your furniture to the wall so this tragedy doesn’t affect you.” Do I even need to admit that I ran around the house looking for ways to bolt furniture to the walls? How the hell am I supposed to bolt an Amisco steel-arc bookcase with no sides or back to the walls? But I was genuinely concerned about it. Then the babymomma started getting worked up about my Noguchi table and the possibility of it collapsing and depositing a hundred-pound piece of glass on my son. I saw myself writing an email, “Dear Fellow Noguchi-Table-Owning Father…” and I started putting things under the Noguchi table to hold it up. Needless to say, the kid is alive and no piece of Modern furniture conspired to kill him. But at the time it seemed real and critical that I address these issues, because I didn’t want to be the one guy who let his kid experience death by Herman Miller.

It’s easy to let emotion and stereotype and anecdote guide our decisions — on texting and driving or anything else — but that’s not how a civilized society is supposed to operate. We’re supposed to be better than that. We’re supposed to evaluate the costs and benefits and act accordingly. Are more lives lost by letting kids text or saved by letting doctors receive texts? How many people successfully feed and educate their children with jobs that require some mobile device usage? Would that dippy teenaged girl that almost hit you because she was texting have been a perfect Jackie-Stewart-esque model of on-the-road safety if we had a law that said she shouldn’t do it? These are decisions that require effort and thought and we should treat them that way.

Every editor of TTAC has had a particular focus in his work. Our august founder, Robert Farago, believed GM was going to fail and he worked to prove it would happen before it did. Ed Niedermeyer made it his goal to uncover the political skeleton in the automakers’ closets. Herr Bertel Schmitt brought us a Chinese perspective on everything from trade sanctions to ear size. I’m primarily here to reach out to our readers and bring them back home. My goal is to be a mirror of your desires for an automotive website. I have no desire to focus the site on what interests me; if that were the case it would be D-Cups and PRS Private Stocks and dusting the corner exits 24/7. (All that junk goes on my website now, btw.) So if you, the B&B, want TTAC to adopt a more emotionally-friendly position on distracted driving, I’m willing to do it. But I don’t think it serves the truth to do so, and we’re supposed to be about the truth here.

Not the emotional.
Not the satisfying filter-bubble pablum you can get at your favorite political blog.
Not the easy or convenient.
The truth.

About cars, about driving, about safety. I don’t think the verdict is in on distracted driving yet, and I think that when it does come in, it won’t have anything to do with the oceans-of-blood-on-the-freeway tripe we’re hearing from the government and its media lapdogs. Why don’t you join me in a search for the truth about it? And if the truth turns out to be that holding a Samsung Galaxy S4 while driving is deadly behavior, we’ll condemn it. I promise.

(Oh yeah, here’s the survey. You didn’t think I would forget, did you?)

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84 Comments on “A New Story Exonerates The Mobile Phone; A Few Thoughts On The Appeal To Emotion...”


  • avatar
    JD321

    Geddy Lee…Woot Woot!

    130 million people are on some prescription drug…40 million on some SSRI antidepressant and all the political terrorists care about is cell phone use while driving???

    • 0 avatar
      jeffzekas

      I have never had a prescription drug user cut me off in traffic, or run me off the road. I have, however, had lame brains on cell phones 1. almost hit me whilst walking in a cross walk 2. had a teen on her cell cut me off and almost push my car into a ditch 3. seen a man swerving all over the freeway, and, upon catching up to him, seen a cell phone and glazed face through his side window. So, empirical evidence indicates, as it did with cigarette smoking and cancer, that if you yap on your phone and drive, you will not be giving !00% if your attention to driving.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Lol, this should be fun. I actually find hands free rules rather sensible.

    /grabbing popcorn

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Being that we all have experience using a cell phone in the car, and many have with texting as well, our own experience should lead us to what has created hazards to us as an individual. For me, the only real issue with the cell phone is the actual looking up a number, dialing, or checking to see who is calling. These actions take your eyes off the road for a moment. Any worse than fiddling with the stereo? Maybe not, but it would be an additive distraction. At some point all these distractions add up to create a larger hazard. Enough to cause “blood on the streets”? I don’t think so, though I think avoiding a full blown relationship meltdown via cell while on the BQE would not be a great idea. Texting, however, is much different. You are actively using your smartphone and not looking at the world around you. Anybody who commutes daily can easily spot the texters…the ones who swerve, slow down, don’t realized that traffic has moved, etc. While I have no hard numbers, this can’t be good driving habits. Heavy texters will invariably rear end somebody or swerve into other lanes. I’ve never sued anybody for hitting me, but I would not hesitate to sue a texter. It should be treated like DWI.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      “While I have no hard numbers, this can’t be good driving habits.”

      Well, those with hard numbers say you might be wrong. I think it all hinges on the degree to which people texting and calling are aware that what they are doing is dangerous and are therefor paying more attention than they otherwise would.

      Now, you might say, anyone not using a cellphone is obviously paying more attention. Well, I’m sure there are folks here who left Sunday morning for the Home Depot halfway between their home and their office, only to realize as they pulled off the exit for their office, that they actually wanted to go to Home Depot. Maybe that “auto-pilot zone” is more dangerous than we think.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Well, I agree about that “auto pilot” zone. And, as I stated, I don’t think the phone represents such a hazard, once the call is established. But texting is not so much as distracted driving as it is NOT driving. Because the whole process requires you to look at your device and not outside the windshield, your mirrors, etc. In essence you are a passenger behind the wheel when you text. You are not driving. There is no way to “pay more attention” because the very act of texting means you are not paying attention. I highly doubt that any non-industry sponsored study is going to show that texting has as much effect on reaction time as adjusting the radio volume. If it does I’ll gladly eat my words. But what I see on the roads makes it pretty clear as to the effect texting has on driving.

        • 0 avatar
          Kenmore

          Exactly.
          You need eyes on the device to text; you don’t to just talk.

          I’m dead against both of them but concede that once a call is established, there is at least a chance that the driver’s bovine orbs will *perceive* a dangerous event in time to properly react it.

          If nothing else, eyes can send nerve impulses to the reptilian midbrain that for many is smarter than their cortex. But only if those eyes are on the road.

          • 0 avatar

            According to VA Tech’s 100 car study, where they had videos in 100 cars in the DC area for a year, as many near-misses happened while people were dialing phone numbers as happened during the actual phone conversations. Since dialing a phone number is the same sort of process as texting, the implications should be obvious.

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            “the implications should be obvious.”

            Who needs implications? We both said phones are only safer *after* the call is established and eyes are back on the road.

        • 0 avatar
          Freddy M

          Agreed 100%. I remember in the earlier days of cell phones, pre text and internets and other stuff, that the most “dangerous” part of the call was 1. Placing the call itself, or 2. Answering the call, requiring you to pick up and hit receive.

          Once the call was established, the only “tricky” part was holding up the phone to your ear, which was in many cases not difficult at all for people who could operate the car with only one hand.

          Riding in a friend’s car, she ALWAYS texts behind the wheel. But only when she’s at a stop, waiting for the light, never when she’s actually driving. So in her case, I think that somewhere, she recognizes that texting while driving cannot be done safely.

          Nonetheless, this invariably leads to her sitting there and getting honked by the car behind when the light turns green and she’s not moving. I say nothing at all even knowing she’s obstructing traffic.

      • 0 avatar
        Jimal

        There is a big difference between something being a good or bad habit and something that needs to be enforced by law. That is one of the great conundrums of our society; we don’t want to be told what to do, but we also won’t do “the right thing” unless we are compelled to by law. And many times even not then.

        • 0 avatar
          Lorenzo

          It’s not the job of government to compel us to do “the right thing”. According to the Declaration, governments are established to protect our individual rights. When formulating rules and restrictions, the government must remain true to its primary purpose.

          • 0 avatar

            There are other governments beside the (presumed) United States federal government. Other countries, even.

          • 0 avatar
            Jimal

            I’m assuming you mean the Constitution and not the Declaration of Independence. And neither has much to say about states and their traffic laws.

          • 0 avatar
            Lorenzo

            No Jimal, I meant the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with unalienable rights… to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” That’s a statement of principle, called by historians “The American Idea”.

            The Founders thought individual human rights is universal, PhotoJim, and it has been a hallmark of our foreign policy to promote democracy in other countries, accepting those governments that are chosen by free elections as satisfying the idea of “consent of the governed”.

            I don’t expect non-Americans to know the American Declaration of Independence or the provisions of our Constitution, though the basic American Idea is what our Founders expected us to stand for. It’s unfortunate that history and civics instruction in America is so poor that most Americans are less than familiar with the principles on which their country was founded.

            As for states and their traffic laws, state constitutions must be in accord with the Federal Constitution, and traffic laws cannot ignore individual rights.

          • 0 avatar
            Jimal

            “I don’t expect non-Americans to know the American Declaration of Independence or the provisions of our Constitution, though the basic American Idea is what our Founders expected us to stand for. It’s unfortunate that history and civics instruction in America is so poor that most Americans are less than familiar with the principles on which their country was founded.”

            Or more to the point, the interpretation of said documents through a particular political bend.

            BTW, American born from a long line of Americans.

        • 0 avatar
          Russycle

          Good or bad habit is irrelevant. the question is: “Does this behavior endanger other people to an unaceptable degree?” Like Jack, I can’t see how texting could fail to fall into this category, but we need real data before we start writing laws. Or so I’d like to believe.

          • 0 avatar
            Jimal

            It is not at all irrelevant. You can’t legislate common sense yet we continue to try. Instilling good habits and admonishing bad habits is what keeps our roads from looking like those in some of the emerging economies, like China or India, where they have traffic laws but it is still very much a free-for-all because the current generation on their roads is the first generation on their roads and they don’t have the frame of reference of good habits versus bad.

  • avatar
    Elena

    I personally avoid talking on the phone while driving. I can’t speak for others but I noticed a decrease (sharp decrease) of my concentration. Like passing by the intersection where I was supposed to make a right. In others I noticed the tendency to leave 3 car’s length space between them and the car in front at a red light. The fact that I can’t make a left because of that never disturbs them in the slightest, not even when I honk (air horns won’t help, trust me). Whether more likely to crash or not I can’t tell, but irritating they are. Back in my country of origin when I saw someone swerving through 3 lanes at 20 MPH in a 45 zone you could safely place a bet: drunk driver. I can point to the ones talking on the phone way before I see them, just by the way the car moves. Still when I ask people about this they all report “It doesn’t affect me”. Guess I’m the worse driver ever. With all due respect, I see a huge difference between talking to your passenger and over the phone: The passenger is right there. If you crash she/he will feel it (if lucky enough). Vested interest in keeping you aware of road conditions and other road users. I had no choice but to provide tech support while driving more than once. In one particular instance I asked for a few seconds to complete a difficult maneuver (the vehicle in front of me crashed and I needed to get on the next lane from a full stop while traffic was 70 MPH and over). The person I was helping hung up and called my boss saying I lacked professionalism. Through the last 7 years I’ve seen two drivers with the phone react like normal people would. I guess they were not the best ones to talk to or they were geniuses. I admit some might be able to use the visual cortex while talking, most should not be driving even with no cellphone, but somehow they got a license, or not even (you might find out after they wreck).I don’t think a law against phone use is the solution. Laws are no substitute for personal responsibility.

  • avatar
    slow kills

    From the study: “One thought is that drivers may compensate for the distraction of cellphone use by selectively deciding when to make a call or consciously driving more carefully during a call,” Bhargava said.

    Translation: that ass on the phone in the middle lane of the highway going 45mph with a quarter mile of empty space in front of him causing a backup during rush hour…isn’t crashing… because he’s being a slow obtrusive ass.

    I’d rather he crashed and died.

  • avatar
    Zekele Ibo

    You suggest that there is an “Appeal to emotion” logical fallacy with regards to studies about cellphone use when driving. But whilst we’re one the subject of logical fallacies, how about discussing the fallacy of “cherry-picking”, of which this article appears to be a fine example?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cherry_picking_%28fallacy%29

    A further issue is the study itself, which appears to be conceptually flawed. From the linked article:

    “(The researchers) examined calling and crash data from 2002 to 2005, a period when most cellphone carriers offered pricing plans with free calls on weekdays after 9 p.m. Identifying drivers as those whose cellphone calls were routed through multiple cellular towers, they first showed that drivers increased call volume by more than 7 percent at 9 p.m. They then compared the relative crash rate before and after 9 p.m. using data on approximately 8 million crashes across nine states and all fatal crashes across the nation. They found that the increased cellphone use by drivers at 9 p.m. had no corresponding effect on crash rates.”

    In short, the study is not comparing like with like – traffic levels are not the same before and after 9pm. In crowded rush-hour traffic you are more likely to cause a crash due to distraction than on a half-empty late-night highway.

    • 0 avatar
      chuckrs

      Glad somebody else spotted that too. If the number of accidents did increase in the later hours, then it would suggest that talking on a cell phone is probably more dangerous. Unchanged numbers of accidents or fewer accidents proves nothing absent some sort of traffic density metric in both time periods, which itself would have to be adjusted by a factor based on same time period/different traffic density accident rates. Heckuva lot of fiddling going on there.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Just playing devil’s advocate — when are people drunk? Before 9pm or after?

      • 0 avatar
        Elena

        I’ve been searching my dash cam recordings and would say around midnight. The fact that most cops are parked at Denny’s might contribute to make it safer for them to reach home:
        youtu.be/X7TXN9VdiOk

      • 0 avatar
        Russycle

        Good point, but drinking affects driving in ways cell phone use does not:
        Lowered inhibitions, so you’re more likely to speed, pass when it isn’t safe etc
        Lowered alertness, so you’re more likely to fall asleep at the wheel, drift across lanes, etc.

        Cell phone use primarily effects attentiveness, slowing your reaction to the actions of drivers around you. (http://miamioh.edu/news/article/view/2859, http://oas.uco.edu/01/papers/crabtree01.htm) After 9, the roads are rarely crowded, so it’s much less of a problem.

        The study is interesting, but so limited in scope that it proves little.

  • avatar
    Pch1011

    This study isn’t actually new. These same guys put out a working paper based upon the same research back in 2007.

    I happen to agree with the researchers’ conclusions. But the study itself is pretty lousy. You need to look at the methodology — the study presumes that phones don’t influence crash rates because there is no correlation between night time crash rates and the leap in phone usage in the US that takes place after 9PM (due to calling plans that provide unlimited calling during nighttime hours).

    That methodology is not particularly sound. The study does prove that people do use their phones at night, but it doesn’t prove that they’re using them while driving at the same rates that they do at other times of day. The data was easy to gather, which is a benefit to researchers who are working on a shoestring budget, but it doesn’t prove anything.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    Studies based on actual driving behavior finds that cell phone use while driving does not increase accidents, but this is because people are more careful when talking on the phone. This also explains why you can almost be certain that the person up ahead driving 45 mph in a 65 zone is talking on the phone or 95 years old. If you go back to the days when windshield wipers and radios were first being introduced to cars, you found the same “safety” experts suggesting that such things should be banned because of their dangers (wiper motion would be hypnotic, radio would distract), but we seemed to live on anyway. Texting will be handled soon by voice recognition functions so you will simply talk your text and then you won’t have to look at the tiny screen and punch tiny buttons.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Because of driving laws, text’ers have to look down at the device at their lap as they hurtle thru space. I’ll hold my iphone, TomTom or tablet up high for everyone to see (me using it). I’m trying to get a ticket, but it hasn’t happened (yet). I’d rather get a ticket than hit something or someone.

    When I’m driving and partly focused on the device, for up to a full second at a time, anything I should be concerned with is at least in my peripheral vision or line of sight.

    Of course I’m not talking about doing this at hwy speeds and or congested city driving. When it’s time to do some serious driving and or make lots of driving decisions, I put the toys away.

    After 20+ years of using cellphone and other devices behind the wheel, the only ‘near misses’ I’ve had were while checking out the babes or spilling my drink.

  • avatar
    graham

    While some traffic safety initiatives such as red light and speed cameras have clearly evolved to be cash cows for local government, I don’t think the anti-cell phone/texting laws are having that same effect on revenue. In fact, I think those laws have actually been rare examples of practical legislation aimed at curbing a solvable problem.

    • 0 avatar
      Landcrusher

      Once you have plain clothes officers catching people stopped at red lights and directing them to a team of other officers writing tickets, “practical” has left the building.

      • 0 avatar
        Freddy M

        This is totally hearsay as I’ve heard this story from a friend who says they saw it in action.

        Where I live, on almost every off ramp, there’s usually a homeless person at the stop light holding up a sign. Word is, many of these “homeless” dudes are undercover cops, waiting to see someone whip out their cell phone and start texting away. Under Ontario traffic law, that’s still distracted driving even at a stop so the cop will approach the driver’s window, turn the sign around which then says “Undercover Police officer, witnessed you texting behind the wheel” along with their badge and issue them a citation right there.

        And according to my cousin who works for the traffic courts, well over 70% of the traffic violations are for distracted driving.

        So here in Ontario, cash cow all the way.

  • avatar
    Ron

    Not every driving law is a nefarious attempt to pad municipal coffers. The hard data says that texting while driving is appreciably more dangerous than using a cell phone.

    According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), texting makes a driver 23 times as likely to be involved in an accident compared with 2.3 times while dialing, 1.3 times while talking or listening, and 1.4 times while reaching for your phone. Sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent – at 55 mph – of driving the length of an entire football field, blind. Thirteen percent of drivers between 18 and 20 involved in car wrecks admit to either texting or talking on their cell phone at the time of the crash. Ten percent of teens who text while driving spend approximately 10% of their driving time outside of their lane. The National Safety Council says texting while driving causes 1,600,000 accidents per year, nearly 25% of all accidents.

    Would you permit your teen to drive after drinking four beers? According to the NHTSA, texting while driving is about six times more likely to cause an accident than driving intoxicated and the same as driving after four beers.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Taking your eyes completely off the road for 4 or 5 seconds is beyond insane.

      After some close calls and near misses while checking out babes, cars etc. I consciously limit my ‘time away’ from the road to .5 to a full second, depending on the situation. Do you do that? Does ANYBODY do that?

      And of course, I hold the device up where I can still (somewhat)keep an eye the road, the whole time. So in essence, texting is no more of a distraction than checking my mirrors or gauges.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Jack, did you know 9 out 10 dentist recommend sugarless gum? Yep but you know there is always that 1 dentist that thinks that there is no connection between sugar and rooting teeth (or maybe he just needs the business). The same can be said for this. There have been seemingly countless studies done on cell phone usage while driving that all have come to the same conclusion and that is that talking on your phone while driving is dangerous. So after some negative feedback from your last article you have done some Google work and have come up with a single opposing voice. Good for you but that still doesn’t invalidate the enormous body of existing research and I’m afraid you’re still that one dentist that recommends sugar gum.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Not quite… the source article was released Thursday and it was in our news queue.

      I don’t know where the mountain of studies you’re referring to might be found… the nine of ten studies… but I also haven’t spent as much time looking into it as I might. Feel free to provide ‘em if you have ‘em, can’t hurt the discussion.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Texting at Monaco? Blue tooth at Daytona? If they don’t do it; why should you during rush hour traffic? Too many headlines where the engineer/truck driver/teenage driver was texting/using their phone when the accident occurred.

    • 0 avatar
      Power6

      They don’t wear shoulder belts either that means we should be wearing helmets and harnesses and sporting roll cages? I think you mistake the sacrifices we make for some practicality so your point is irrelevant because those considerations are not important on the track.

  • avatar
    ptschett

    I say if someone’s on their phone and driving safely, leave them alone.
    If they’re driving carelessly pull them over.
    I see a lot of people who aren’t on the phone do dumb things; I’d rather have LEOs focus on those guys and leave alone the people whose only transgression is the fact of the phone they’re holding to their ear.
    Personally I don’t answer the phone or make calls if I’m driving in town. I’ll use voice command to make calls on the highway if traffic is light enough (my lock password is too difficult to enter while driving) and I’ll answer if traffic is light enough. In my car I use a Bluetooth headset since its a manual.

    FWIW, Limbaugh seems to be opposed to restrictions on phone use while driving, and takes the view that the safety argument is being used to cloak the actual motivations of those who would impose the restrictions: http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/daily/2010/10/18/why_leftists_target_cell_phones

  • avatar
    PeteRR

    I find your lack of faith disturbing.
    [IMG]http://pic20.picturetrail.com/VOL1620/1012410/11976735/407359167.jpg[/IMG]

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    There are always going to be emotions and shrill voices (male and female) over just about any issue and laws, drunk driving, especially.
    There are many existing laws to govern safe driving.
    Should it matter, in the eyes of the law, why you crossed the double solid center line? I think not, it’s already against the law, the law is a good one and that is what matters.
    I would say that with emotionally charged issues such as distracted driving, people need to remember that there are those existing laws.
    I think there should be more focus on safe driving habits, better education on simple things like “why you should stay on your side of the road”. Safe driving habits would lead to a natural reduction in instances of people thinking it’s OK to type that one text that turns into a habit and leads to a crash where the driver at fault lies about why they failed to see an on coming car, horn blaring and lights flashing…

  • avatar
    Boff

    In defense of gubmints, and in response to the generalizations of the author, both empirical data and common sense supported enacting hands-free legislation at the time. Now, perhaps only common sense remains, although more studies (such as ones that can actually distinguish whether drivers or passengers are making the calls) would seem to be indicated.

  • avatar
    jacob_coulter

    At the end of the day, it’s up to the driver to keep a wreck from occurring.

    If talking on a cell phone causes accidents, what about talking to a passenger in the car? Or listening to an Audiobook?

    I’m always amazed how many people want to be ruled by authoritarians for every part of their life.

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      Good one. Let’s leave it up to personal responsibility and the discipline to forgo immediate entertainment in favor of safety and health.

      Because that works so well with booze, drugs and STDs.

      • 0 avatar
        JD23

        And laws regulating or prohibiting booze, drugs and sex have been successful?

        • 0 avatar
          Kenmore

          Weakness of laws and reluctance to punish doesn’t mean strong laws and truly deterring punishments are impossible, particularly if full advantage is taken of modern technologies.

          The alternative is doing nothing and letting the uphill part of the bell curve kill the rest of us.

          • 0 avatar
            JD23

            I’m not sure whether it’s a weakness of laws, or that laws running counter to human nature will create myriad unintended consequences and are bound to be unsuccessful. Prohibition was created with noble intentions, but was a massive failure due to a misunderstanding of American culture by the crusaders. Certainly any law can have the intended effect through draconian enforcement and punishment, but is constructing a police state desirable for a still unknown increase in safety?

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            The only argument I can make is to wish you 50 more years of full mental faculties. Then come to the cemetery and we can resume this discussion.

            Perhaps by then you’ll agree that there are worse things than restrictions imposed on electronic toys.

            The defining flaw of the Western culture we’ve inherited and are shaped by is the hidebound refusal to subspeciate our concept of “human nature”. And protect ourselves accordingly.

          • 0 avatar
            Landcrusher

            Kenmore,
            Nice rhetoric. Lets see, your opponent is immature and doesn’t want restriction on his toys?

            IMO, it’s up to the pro nanny crowd to figure out rules that work without being open to abusive enforcement and which are proportionate to the actual scope of the problem. Of course, that’s harder work than insulting the privacy advocates.

            I see drivers without the skills to drive all the time. We have people driving around who have lost their licenses or should have. Where is the uproar?

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            It’s OK if you think I’m a ditz.

            I always like your comments.

          • 0 avatar
            Landcrusher

            Lol, thanks, Kenmore. I don’t think you are a ditz. Your argument here was pretty bad, but it’s really the argument, not the man, I have issue with. Sorry for any offense.

            This subject combines academic foolery, media hyperbole, legislative incompetence, and giving up liberty for false security. It gets me worked up.

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            I never take offense from people equal or higher on the brain scale; I only take lessons :-)

    • 0 avatar
      SoCalMikester

      ive known a few drivers i didnt like to drive with because they would look at me while talking to me.why? idk! but it freaked me out.and yes, i averted a few potential rear enders by telling them to stooooopppppppppp.

  • avatar
    jimbob457

    The academic study you cite originates from the best in the business. This doesn’t mean they are always right. Gonna go look it up and read it to see exactly what they said.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Every time I see someone driving 15 MPH under the limit or slowly zig zagging between lanes, EVERY EFFING TIME, it’s someone on their phone

    To be fair, they may be looking at Google Maps

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    Nit: Jack linked us to the press release not the actual article. Big no-no; scholarly articles go through the hype machine just the same as commercial announcements. It’s not just the press-release machinery, authors are always pressured to come up with some headline grabbing conclusions so that their work gets disseminated. Unless you are a college student faking the fact that you read the study as part of your homework, always go to the actual source to look at the methodology and actual results. The link to the article citation is as follows; you can download the actual article if you Google CMU’s official press release.

    American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 2013, 5(3): 92–125
    http://dx.doi.org/10.1257/pol.5.3.92

    For reference, here is the citation to the NEJM article citing a 4x increase in risk of crash with cellphone use. The NEJM authors followed cell use in Toronto; the CMU authors, when looking at call volume data, were looking at a very specific area in California:

    Donald A. Redelmeier, M.D., and Robert J. Tibshirani, Ph.D. N Engl J Med 1997; 336:453-458February 13, 1997DOI: 10.1056/NEJM199702133360701

    Okay, having actually read the study….

    The CMU authors compared the crash rates of before and after 9pm between 2002-2005 on networks where the free calling time kicked in after 9pm. Looking at the carrier data, they picked out calls that were routed through multiple towers in a short period of time, indicating that these calls occurred in moving cars. Then they looked at the crash data, and found that there was no corresponding increase in crash rates after 9pm that correlated with the increased cell traffic amongst moving cars. The researchers also looked at crash rates in jurisdictions post-cellphone bans and found that there was no corresponding dip in crash rates.

    First things first. Yes the study does come from reputable authors in CMU/LSE, but that is no reason to accept things at face value. Appeal to authority is not an acceptable means of judging information.

    Picking through their methodology, a potential wrinkle appears in the crash data. The authors used two sources for their crash data, one of which is the State Data System (SDS)which is prone to ‘data heaping’… ie, the on-scene investigators tend to round numbers regarding crashes when they are doing their paperwork: “A close examination indicates that nearly 11 percent of crash reports fall exactly on the hour, 31 percent are on the hour, half hour, or quarter hour, and 61 percent reside in a minute ending in either zero or five.” Their second source of crash data was from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), which also suffers from a similiar periodic effect.

    The CMU authors posited three possibilities for why cell phone use doesn’t lead to an increase in car crashes:

    1.) Drivers compensate for the dangers of cell phone use by driving more carefully 2.) Drivers with some affinity for risk-taking may be substituting one source of risk (e.g., speaking with a passenger or listening to the radio) with another (i.e., cell phone use). 3.) Cell phones may be dangerous for some drivers or under particular driving conditions, but are beneficial for other drivers or under alternative driving conditions

    ***

    What can and cannot be concluded from this study: (My my personal take)

    There’s no increased crash rate after 9pm when many plans go from minute-to-minute to all you can eat. You can’t extrapolate this to other times and driving conditions. There may be a traffic volume threshold going on: traffic at 9pm maybe so light that it might not matter; in no way can you conclude that the results are applicable to busier times of the day. An analogy would be drinking and driving at nighttime while driving on the highway; the associated risk of an accident would not be as high as drinking and driving in the city on the way home from work. The authors have also postulated that the group of drivers who call from their cars at 9pm may be a distinct group from the population of normal drivers.

    There’s no increase in crash rates following changes in legislation. However, this doesn’t preclude the possibility that cell use drops in anticipation of publicized bans. This part of the study was weaker and much less prominent) than their look at 9pm cellphone use, as they looked at broad metropolitan areas rather than specific geographic locations. Their may be a geographic effect going on; if you are in the suburbs and talking and driving, there is probably less to hit than if you were in a busy urban area.

    Looking further, the study doesn’t define what a crash is, though the definitions are probably found in the source data. My question is if the data only represents vehicle-vehicle incidents, or if vehicle-pedestrian incidents are included.

    Jack, yesterday I said that I thought that your sentiments were on the wrong side of the issue, but that won’t stop me from thanking you for asking us to challenge out assumptions and looking further. My own mind isn’t changed, but it’s a bit comforting to know that the data isn’t showing massive numbers of people dying from cell phone related incidents.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      AAA published a study that was done by University of Utah, that focused on reaction times rather than crash data, but I think it is consistent with the results of the CMU study.

      I haven’t looked for the original paper, but here is a link to the article in the Economist:
      http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21579795-hands-free-texting-more-distracting-drivers-using-mobile-phone-keep

      In short, texting causes more distraction (duh) but talking on the phone isn’t so much different from talking to passengers.

  • avatar
    Luke42

    The science isn’t really in on this.

    My wife is working on a PHD on a related topic, and is actually involved in a car simulator study that tests something similar.

    The thinking in her part of the scientific community is that hands free devices are irrelevant – if you’re taking to someone on the phone or with a hands free device, the risk is roughly the same.

    But having a passenger in the car does not increase risk. And, yet, what’s the difference between talking with a passenger and talking to someone with a hands free device?

    Their hypothesis is The difference is the situational awareness of the person on the other end of the conversation. They have a rather clever test that will prove or disprove the hypothesis. When they finish the experiment, crunch the numbers and write it up, they might have something just as interesting to read ad this article.

    I’ll submit a writeup if/when they publish it.

    I do agree wit JB that the laws and the “outreach” are a bit ahead of the science. Scientific studies are often narrowly focused, and so the exact question they ask is often way more specific than what people outside of the field read into it. And that’s certainly the case here. The study-in-progress that I previewed for you is an attempt to explain a bunch of apparently contradictory narrowly focused studies with another narrowly focused study whose answer depends on a bunch of factors that I mentioned.

    • 0 avatar
      Nick_515

      Great point – your conversationalist in the car (the passenger) will react to an emergent situation just as you the driver do, and you know that the passenger is following what’s happening. On the phone, they won’t pause, for example, for you to complete a maneuver. So there may indeed be a big difference between the two.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        Exactly!

        Reading over my comment, you described it better than I did. :-)

        But, even though that’s what everyone thinks, people who work in science can’t really push the notion in public until they have the research to back it up – so that they can keep their jobs/reputations if they turn out to be wrong.

        Drinking a few beers with the graduate students, though, will tell you what the people who do the work are really thinking!

  • avatar
    gmichaelj

    “I believe that people in cheap shoes are more likely to lie to you.”

    What kind of upside down universe do you live in?

    My experience with every professional I’ve ever worked with is that the fancier the shoes (and watch), the bigger the liar.

  • avatar
    Nick_515

    It almost happened to me two days ago.

    We were a convoy of three cars coming off the ramp to join I-90 in upstate NY. I was in the middle, following a small truck, therefore accelerating rather modestly. I saw a woman in a blue Mazda3 about 150-200 feet behind me on the right lane of the highway, not too fast. I decided she’d at least let me merge – otherwise me and the person behind me would have to both decelerate to 20 mph or less and stay in “hold” mode for her to pass, just before the ramp ends. Long story short, the situation required drastic measures for any scenario other than the Mazda slowing down by about 5-7 mph and slotting right behind me. Right?

    Wrong. She never reacted. I wasted about half a second in hitting the brakes in disbelief, then came to a complete stop. She was still behind me, but finally saw the brakes and panic braked. I cam to a complete stop inches away from the barrier, clear of her lane. She came to a complete stop on her own lane, parallel to me. On freaking I-90. In the middle of her baking, I noticed a quick move to disentagle an ear piece from her ear. Her eyes never went down for the entire thing. But she had the dead eye look forward. She wasn’t texting, but I am pretty sure she was talking on the phone.

    Despite this scary moment, I still tend to think like the majority of people here – eyes off the road is the main danger to driving. Perhaps good drivers react even when distracted by a conversation, as long as their eyes are on the road. Perhaps this is wishful thinking.

    To me, the issue is, safety is a complex matter. Government agencies, corporations, etc. don’t do complex well. They need a scapegoat. This has become our scapegoat. Research can be tweaked – even good research – to highlight different aspects of an admittedly complex matter. I have this feeling it won’t be research at the end of the day to settle this matter.

    • 0 avatar
      stuntmonkey

      “– eyes off the road is the main danger to driving”

      I tend to see it more as vehicular spacing. I learned under a defense driving course, and to this day, it gives me an uncomfortable feeling riding with a driver who doesn’t adequately spaced their car relative to surrounding and impending traffic conditions. I’ve also ridden with a lot of jerks who had their eyes on the road but didn’t leave any margin of error, had enough of that.

      • 0 avatar
        Nick_515

        I completely agree with you stuntmonkey – that’s just good driving habits. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s possible all the time. Where you sit on traffic is not entirely your choice – it’s an interaction between your driving habits and general traffic behavior. I spent two years in Wisconsin before moving to upstate New York this summer. There, city driving was not good for a variety of reasons (mostly slow maneuvers, politeness to others that translated to incompetent driving depressingly often, etc). But traffic on the highway maintained a good, if not ideal, distance. And oh yeah, I learned the 18 wheelers, who i have feared all my life, were your best friend. Competent, polite, and safe… true professionals.

        East Coast – different story. ON local highways, people may panic if you pass them or they see you coming even if you know there’s plenty of space to move over in due time. Everyone’s too close on the highway. You CAN’T maintain safe distance – they will cut you left and right and force you to ride on their bumper. Better be alert.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually mind off the road is just as bad. The mind only has so much attention, and a phone conversation tends to suck it away from the road, which is why the lady in teh Mazda didn’t notice you until it was almost too late. This sort of thing is well documented.

      In my own experience, a sort of converse happens. I can be listening to a news story on the car radio, and if the traffic gets at all complex, my mind ceases to pay attention to the radio while it attends to the traffic.

  • avatar
    lozz

    British traffic authorities used to mandate that a man with a red flag run in front of every car and insisted that driver’s hearts would stop if they ever exceeded 60 miles per hour.

    Traffic authorities are just as clueless today.

    I remember the old story of the young Scottish laird galloping through a wild highland storm to be with his bonny bride. He stopped at a highland inn and sank a few malts, while the inn keeper implored him not to continue riding in the dangerous conditions at night. Undeterred, he galloped away into the dark and went straight off of a thousand foot cliff.

    A cell phone nearly got my bone-headed mate though. He was driving along a twisty coast road, tanked to the gills, when his phone started ringing on the floor of the passenger’s foot-well. While he was scrabbling about on the floor, trying to reach it, he speared straight into a tree.

    Idiots can always find plenty of more imaginative ways to kill themselves than simply texting.

  • avatar
    RideTheCliche

    Ok,

    “new research from Carnegie Mellon University and the London School of Economics and Political Science suggests that talking on a cellphone while driving does not increase crash risk.”

    On its surface I have no problem with this statement. Putting aside the fact that 50% of your arms and 100% of your concentration may be lost by talking on a mobile phone, subjects of said study are more/less looking at the road. So… there’s that anyway.

    In 2006 or so when communication started shifting from the audible (phone handset) to the visual (SMS/What’sApp/iMessage/BBM/whatever) the primary sensory input went from one’s ears to their eyes.

    Is there a study that asserts keeping an eye on the road 100% of the time, versus those who do so 50% of the time due to messaging, causes no statistically verifiable change in people who die on the road today? I would like to see how they come to that conclusion because that sounds Nucking Futs.

    But until I see a research paper to that effect I will just go with common sense and support abolition of texting and driving. I think technically the only device that’s allowed to distract you on the road are early 2000′s (and some current) vehicle infotainment systems. That’s the line our nanny-state allows and I’m kind of ok with that.

    • 0 avatar
      FractureCritical

      “Is there a study that asserts keeping an eye on the road 100% of the time, versus those who do so 50% of the time due to messaging, causes no statistically verifiable change in people who die on the road today? I would like to see how they come to that conclusion because that sounds Nucking Futs.”

      I want to say there are a few studies out there that essentially reach the conclusion that aggressive drivers have a minimum number of accidents as the vast majority of them are completely focused on the task at hand, which should validate your inital statement.

      That being said, I’m a firm believer than 90% of the issues on the road, from vindictive driving (not agressive) to distracted driving, to roadwqay congestion can be largely aleviated by simple enforcement of keep-right-pass-left laws already on the books.

      As a bonus, this would invalidate the driving privledges of the entire state driving population of Connecticut, where the practice of low-speed squatting in the left lane has effectively turned I-95 into 24/7 Polish roadblock for it’s full length of the state and regions adjacent.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    I hate to be ‘that’ person, but if I see you talking or texting while driving I’m going to bust your balls.

  • avatar
    Signal11

    Putting aside that this is just one, very limited study that runs counter to the grain, the tone, diction and overall highly emotionally charged tenor of this article (AKA, Jack’s style) completely undercuts its own argument.

    An emotional appeal to not pander to emotional appeal? Seriously, WTF is this?

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    ” if you, the B&B, want TTAC to adopt a more emotionally-friendly position on distracted driving, I’m willing to do it”

    Please don’t there’s enough garbage out there pandering to the ignorant mass of idiots out there. I’d like to think this place is better.

    With anything there is responsibility. Approaching a busy intersection in rush hour traffic; probably not the best time to pull out the phone. Driving down a deserted interstate? Hell, I’ve taken things apart and fixed stuff from the driver’s seat of the car I was so bored. Time and place, and yeah, there’s a lot of idiots out there, but I hate being forced into regulation because of their dumb ass.

    I think what needs to be done, is to be harsher on drivers who do cause accidents. The system is way too forgiving, and how many people out there do you know that cause multiple accidents a year? Some people just should not be driving a car, period.

  • avatar
    FractureCritical

    Just as a suggestion (to possibly be ignored), the tone of this article strays a little too close to the practices of the website’s ‘former administration’ for my comfort level. Total personal opinion here, but I was really, really glad when things changed (for the better!) and still have a smidgen of residual fear of returning to old ways.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Hey Fracture,

      I’d like to hear more about your concerns and address them to your satisfaction. Feel free to comment further or to shoot us an email. Thanks!

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Cell phone use while driving doesn’t cause accidents?

    I’m sure the two drivers who have rear-ended me in the past 27 months, both of whom were merrily gabbing away when they hit me, are greatly relieved….

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    My vote goes with the member of the B&B who opined that the greatest contribution to safe driving would be deletion of airbags and the mandatory installation of an 8″ spike in the center of the steering wheel in each and every motor vehicle in the country….

  • avatar
    redav

    I have no problem with laws banning cell phone use in cars, even if one study suggests it’s not a problem.

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    A couple of months ago, DOT published an early estimate of 2012 highway fatality data that demonstrated an increase in deaths, reversing a downwards trend since 2005. I can’t remember the source of this, but some speculation was that more miles were driven as the economy improved.

    I suppose that it will take a few more years to see where this leads, and whether or not devices may be contributing to this. My personal experience: using a Bluetooth speaker + Siri for voice texting can be pretty darn distracting.

    2012: http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811741.pdf
    2011 and earlier: http://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/Main/index.aspx

  • avatar
    amca

    I’m in hearty agreement with your larger point here.

    But as to cell phones: it’s undeniable that people talking on cell phones have their attention diverted. I would venture to say that 9 our of 10 people driving slowly (45 in the left lane, typically) on a busy freeway can be observed talking on cell phones. And 9 out of 10 people who fail to notice that red lights have changed are busy with their phones as well. And any urban pedestrian will tell you: drivers on cell phones often just don’t see pedestrians.

    These are my own observations, not some massive study founded upon a thousand assumptions, any one or two of which can upset the delicate statistical balance of the desired conclusion.


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