The Truth About Cars » distracted driving The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 28 Jul 2014 11:00:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » distracted driving Cell Phone Bans Failing To Curb Accident Rates Thu, 24 Jul 2014 10:00:54 +0000 texting behind the wheel of death

If any legislators were hoping banning cell phone use behind the wheel would cut down on accidents and fatalities linked to distracted driving, it may have been all for naught according to a handful of studies on the matter.

Autoblog reports the most recent study, published in Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, looked over the before and after regarding California’s 2008 ban in the year it went into effect. The findings? After six months, cell phone-linked accidents fell from 66.7 per day to 65.2. Another study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Highway Loss Data Institute looked over claim rates in 2009 and 2010, finding that ban or no ban, the song remained the same.

As for why this is so, associate professor of economics Daniel Kaffine of the University of Colorado posits drivers are either ignoring the bans outright, using hands-free technology that still distracts drivers, drivers are distracted by other things — ranging from the radio to the kids fighting in the back — and/or cell phone use isn’t as bad as once perceived.

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Sen. Rockefeller Threatens Federal Regulations On In-Car Smartphone Use Fri, 07 Feb 2014 13:00:10 +0000  


Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat from West Virginia, told officials of companies including General Motors, Toyota Motor Corp., Google Inc., Samsung Electronics Co., AT&T Inc. and Apple Inc. to move faster on implementing standards to reduce driver distractions caused infotainment systems, or he will introduce legislation to regulate Internet connectivity for in-car use.

“Why is it so important for kids to drive around and update their Facebook statuses?” Rockefeller said, in a report by Automotive News. “For teenagers, it’s a way of being cool. For those of you who sell cars, it’s a way of you being cool and making a lot of money from that. How many people have died? How many people have almost died?” Rockefeller said that automakers have been putting too much emphasis on providing smartphone features and applications in in-car systems.

“I’m very unhappy,” the 76-year-old lawmaker said. “I’m very nervous, not just about deaths but about close-to-death injuries. All for the sake of outdoing each other and making more money.”

Auto executives and industry trade groups have said that consumers are going to use mobile phones in their cars regardless of  what legislators or manufacturers do. Robert Strassburger, vice president of vehicle safety and harmonization at the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said, “We live in a society where we demand to be connected, 24/7, 365 days a year. We have to design systems so people will want to tether their devices to their vehicles.”

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This Is The Tasty New Face Of Civil Disobedience Wed, 11 Dec 2013 19:23:59 +0000 cookies

Distracted driving is a problem, and if you don’t believe us, just ask Sally Kurgis’s dad. (Miss Kurgis, by the way, got a sweetheart deal from the Columbus courts, something that is currently being hotly debated within the city itself.) Because distracted driving is a much safer and easier arrest to make than, say, drug dealing such a danger to the public, many police departments in California and elsewhere have a laser-like focus on punishing anyone crazy enough to touch a cellphone while operating a motor vehicle.

A Los Angeles comedian has decided to gum up the easy-ticket-money works a bit —- but there’s some genuine irony involved.

Randy Liedtke had a pretty great idea: bake cookies that look like iPhones, then wait for the inevitable traffic stop. Were the United States still a nation of people who cared about individual liberty, rather than a spiral walkway delivering human cattle to the abattoir of unemployment and welfare dependence while entertaining them along the way with DRM-restricted electro-pap and pornography, every mother in the country would be baking these for her husband and children tomorrow morning.

What if such a blessed event were to actually occur? What if the police of Los Angeles and elsewhere woke to a world where everyone was talking on a cookie? Would they arrest everyone they could on unrelated charges? Would their puppets in the state legislatures enact laws making it illegal to joke about using a mobile phone, the same way you can be detained and imprisoned for criticizing the TSA at an airport?

The truth is that they wouldn’t have to: hysterically-conceived bad legislation cracking down on eating, looking away from the road, and even talking to your own children is already in progress in New Jersey. If it succeeds, the long-hoped-for goal of making every driver a criminal subject to arbitrary enforcement will have finally come true. The day will certainly arrive where holding an iPhone-shaped-cookie is as much of a crime as talking on an iPhone while driving. When it does, just remember: It’s for your own good.

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Google Glass Wearer to Fight Citation For Wearing Google Glass Fri, 01 Nov 2013 16:15:42 +0000 google-glass

Texting. Cellphones. Entertainment systems. All of these have been regulated in order to diminish distracted driving as much as possible. Google Glass may now be added to that list, courtesy of the California Highway Patrol via a speeding ticket that became more upon closer inspection.

Tuesday evening, one Cecilia Abadie was pulled over by the CHP for doing 80 in a 65 on her way back to her home in Temecula. At that moment in time, she also was wearing her pair of Google Glass. The high-tech eyewear goes for $1,500, is currently limited to beta testers willing to go through the appropriate hoops and pay the fee, and can be used in the same manner as a Nexus 5 or iPhone 5S — without having to pick up the phone.

The officer saw the silly looking fashion statement, and issued her a citation for committing a misdemeanor against style. No. Actually, the citation was for distracted driving, though Abadie claims the Google Glass was not active at time of the additional citation due to concerns over remaining battery power.

As such, Abadie has decided to fight the tacked-on citation, with plenty of attorneys ready to help thanks to the publicity generated from the first reports cluttering the scrolling news feeds of CNN, FOX News et al.

“The law is not clear, the laws are very outdated,” she said, believing that the minimalist tech could prove to be a solution to the cellphone conundrum instead of being a problem unto itself. That said, there are a few detractors for Abadie, including CHP officer Marc Hale and University of Utah Center for the Prevention of Distracted Driving director David Strayer, both of whom state that Google Glass and other technologies like it can still “divert attention from the roadway,” making driving more dangerous.

Legislatures in Delaware, New Jersey and West Virginia have introduced bills that would ban the use of Google Glass while driving; Google, for its part, instructs its testers to heed the law:

Read up and follow the law. Above all, even when you’re following the law, don’t hurt yourself or others by failing to pay attention to the road.

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A New Story Exonerates The Mobile Phone; A Few Thoughts On The Appeal To Emotion Sun, 11 Aug 2013 16:31:02 +0000

…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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Perhaps You’d Like To Watch An Extremely Touching Video Chock Full Of Anecdotal “Evidence” Sat, 10 Aug 2013 15:31:53 +0000

Werner Herzog directed the surprisingly good Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans a few years back, and now he’s put his not inconsiderable talents to work making a film about the consequences of distracted driving.

Titled “From One Second To The Next”, the movie was funded by AT&T and is intended to — well, not to prevent texting and driving, because some major percentage of AT&T’s revenue depends on people feeling like they need to stay connected to other mobile-device users at all times, but at least to shame people who cause accidents while they’re doing it. Oddly enough, my son and I witnessed a distracted-driving accident on Thursday while heading home from his school. A woman in her fifties simply drove into the back of a stopped car, waiting to hit her brakes until she was perhaps fifty feet away. I saw that it was going to happen for at least a second and a half before it did, even though the clone and I were busy singing the harmony parts to “Ragged Wood” by the Fleet Foxes. The perpetrator wasn’t texting or chatting or surfing the web; she was just an old woman with poor depth perception and no expectation that there would be stopped cars ahead of her. The impact was pretty hard, and the victim was an elderly guy in a late-Nineties LeSabre. Had I not had my son with me, I’d have tried to assist after the fact, but there was no safe place to stash him at the time.

So now you have an anecdote that suggests that texting and driving isn’t responsible for all the accidents out there, which you can add to the four anecdotes in the movie. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that “distracted driving” is completely insignificant. However, there’s nothing to suggest that it deserves the current cause celebre status it has in the media. The cynic in me thinks it’s yet another battlefield of our little American Kulturkampf. Distracted driving is primarily a middle-class affliction. Poor people don’t own cars, the urban elite take public transportation, and the country’s tastemakers are typically driven in the back of Town Cars and S-Klasses. There’s a considerable number of people out there who are willing to make texting and driving punishable by death because they are never in a situation where they could commit the crime themselves. Furthermore, the middle class can be taxed and fined and regulated and they will largely play the game the way it’s meant to be played, occasionally contributing $150 to the public coffers while furtively holding their phones beneath the increasingly elevated beltlines of their fortress-like SUVs.

Texting and driving is wrapped up in the urban mind with fat people and hicks and the Ford F-150 and the AR-15 and Miranda Lambert and all that other lamentable garbage. Why not rail against it? It’s sort of like the people who rail passionately against Nestle’s former activities in Africa because it’s mostly irrelevant to them; they never eat Crunch! bars anyway. Mr. Herzog’s documentary is unlikely to change anybody’s mind. Either you already hate texting and driving for reasons that are mostly cultural, or you don’t. If you have thirty-five minutes to burn today, you might be better off reading Daniel Greenfield’s essay on some of the root causes behind this difference of opinion.

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New York’s Secret Weapon Against Texting Behind The Wheel: Jacked Up SUVs Thu, 18 Jul 2013 11:00:12 +0000

New York is one of 40 states that have banned texting while driving. In the four or so years since the ban went into effect in New York state, a bit more than 11,000 tickets have been issued for all hand held phone violations, including texting.


That number seemed too small to Gov. Andrew Cuomo who is so concerned about distracted driving that upped the number of demerit points a “texting while driving” violation will incurr to five points (from three). It takes 11 points to lose your license in New York. The Governor’s solution to jack up the number of citations issued was to give New York state troopers undercover SUVs, customized with increased ride height, presumably with some kind of airbag suspension. It seems that the high driving position of the lifted SUVs allows the police officers to look down into passenger cars and see whether drivers are using their phones. To publicize the stepped up enforcement, Gov. Cuomo and an ABC News crew got a ride-along with a New York state trooper, who pulled over four drivers in an hour for using their phones.

USA Today looked at many of the states (and D.C.) that have laws against texting while driving and how many tickets they’ve issued for it. The District of Columbia issued the most tickets, over 87,000 (for all hand-held violations), followed by California. Kansas issue the fewest, with 65.

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Tales From The Cooler: Disregarded Dreadful Drivers Thu, 09 May 2013 01:07:21 +0000 Left Lane Priuses courtesy zazzle.comWe are bombarded with messages about the dangers of drunk driving, of the hazard of talking and texting on cell phones while driving, and the need to give a wide berth to folks driving Zipcars. We think there are many other varieties of unsafe motorists that get no attention from the media. As a public service, let’s take a look five subtle, but equally scary, drivers that make the highways a real challenge.

Prius Drivers NOT Blocking The Left Lane

These drivers scare me the most: Prius pilots running 20 miles per hour under the flow of traffic while in the right lane of a freeway, eyes glued to their fuel consumption gauge. They clearly did not read their owner’s manual, which spells out they are required to hold up traffic in the left lane. They are an unpredictable lot, prone to uneven speeds and sudden braking, unlike their left-lane brethren who you know are never going to yield to faster cars and thus you can adjust accordingly.

Drivers With Cars With Too Many Bumper Stickers

Van with bumper stickers Courtesy

Question: When was the last time you saw a vehicle with more than two bumper stickers running quickly and unobtrusively through traffic? Answer: You never have. To these motorists, a car is not even an appliance – it is a bulletin board used to express their political views. I don’t think they realize that people cannot read their messages due to the clouds of blue smoke belching out the tailpipes of their beaters.

Driver Who Insist On Holding Fluffy In Their Lap

Dog in Car Courtesy

Your cell phone won’t poop or pee in your lap or yap at other cars. Besides distracting the driver, dogs can and do get injured or die by falling out of vehicles. The state of Hawaii has already banned motorists from holding animals while driving and three other states can ticket you under distracted driving laws. If they sport more than two bumper stickers, call the highway patrol.

Drivers Of Dump Trucks And Gravel Trucks

I hate gravel trucks courtesy

I have the greatest respect for professional truck drivers. These are not professional truck drivers. They are usually minimum wage, minimum brain and, in my neck of the woods, minimum English speaking individuals. Whether cracking your windshield – always directly in your line of sight – by shooting up an errant rock or mowing down a group of motorcyclists, these goons may be the very worst drivers on the road. And good luck going after the trucking company to replace your windshield: did you ever see a dump truck with a readable license plate?

Drivers Who Brake With Their Left Foot

Audi braking Courtesy

Anytime you spot a car with its brake lights stuck on, you can bet the driver is resting his or her left foot on the brake pedal. (I give Land Rover drivers a pass on this one, as their taillights may genuinely be stuck on permanently.)  If you are behind one and they slam on the brakes, you will have no way of knowing they are stopping and if you hit them you will be deemed responsible. Any old-time used car manager can tell you they used to judge brake wear by the scuffing on the left side of a brake pedal. I really thought these folks had all died off, as the teaching of left footed braking in driver’s education ended decades ago, but it appears to be making a comeback.

I know you can add many other obscure terrible drivers to this list…


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Distracted Driving: New Study Brings Out The Dead Wed, 08 May 2013 17:10:36 +0000


According to current information on, “in  2011, 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver.” There is an all-out war against distraction of drivers, especially against cellphones. At the same time, current information at the NHTSA says that “In 2010, 4,280 pedestrians were killed and an estimated 70,000 were injured in traffic crashes in the United States.” Will walking be outlawed? We better stay at home then. Which can be even deadlier: Every year, 18,000 Americans die from accidental injuries that take place in the house, making our homes the second-most deadly place to be. The deadliest place is still the car. 32,367 died in a car in 2011, says the NHTSA.

Compared to walking or staying at home, especially compared to simply being in a car, distracted driving appears to be life-extending. At least when looking at the raw numbers. No wonder that the anti-cellphone movement is getting nervous, and is looking for more dead to bolster their case.

The National Safety Council, using funds provided by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, released findings from a recent analysis that says that there could be more dead cellphone users if we’d just look hard enough. The report reviewed 180 fatal crashes from 2009 to 2011, where evidence indicated driver cell phone use. Of these fatal crashes, in 2011 only 52% were coded in the national data as involving cell phone use. Then, there could be “an unknown number of cases in which cell phone use involvement in crashes is impossible to determine. One example would be a driver reading an email or text message on a phone who dies in a crash without any witnesses.”

Texting and dying without a witness should be against the law. We demand the death penalty: Violators should be sent home immediately. In a car.

And we tip the hat to David Holzman.

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NHTSA Releases New Distracted Driving Guidelines As Data Presents A Very Different Picture Wed, 24 Apr 2013 16:54:45 +0000

As part of their campaign against “distracted driving”, NHTSA has released new voluntary guidelines governing the use of in-car infotainment systems.

Among the core of the recommendations, as reported by Automotive News

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration specifically recommended disabling several operations unless a vehicle is stopped and in park:

• Manual text entry for the purposes of text messaging and internet browsing

• Video-based entertainment and communications such as video phoning or video conferencing

• Displaying certain types of text, including text messages, Web pages, and social-media content

Also recommended are guidelines for how many times drivers can touch a screen within a set time limit (6 touches for 12 seconds) to change things like the radio station or temperature.

Meanwhile, Juan Barnett over at DC Auto Geek has been compiling data on “distracted driving” for some time now, and when one really dives into it, it’s clear that cell phones and hand-held devices are really a minor issue in the grand scheme of things. Barnett previously lent TTAC a handy infographic that breaks down the causes behind “distracted driving”, while a recent guest post at Jalopnik provides a more in-depth examination of NHTSA’s own data.

Barnett shows that NHTSA’s data is full of vague catch-all categories, but the number of distracted driving events related to cell-phone use could be as high as 12 percent at best – and that’s when all cell phone category events are aggregated. Texting, as a specific category, accounts for just 1 percent of all distracted driving events. 39 Americans died from texting and driving in 2011, while 45 Americans died from syphilis, a disease that is generally considered a non-entity.

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Distracted Driving: An Infographic Tue, 09 Apr 2013 15:25:24 +0000  

Juan Barnett, aka DCAutoGeek, put together this infographic on “distracted driving” using NHTSA’s own data from their latest study. I’ll let you be the judge on the matter, but the numbers are straight from NHTSA itself.

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“Distracted Driving” Joins The Ranks Of Primary Offenses In Virginia Fri, 05 Apr 2013 16:17:05 +0000

In a move that will undoubtedly create a flood of profitable tickets save uncounted lives, Virginia has made “distracted driving” a primary offense and raised the fines to the proverbial ceiling.

If you’re confused as to what a “primary offense” might be, toss me some click love and check it out. Virginia’s governor is expected to sign legislation that will add so-called distracted driving to the list.

Sen. George Barker (D-Alexandria) says he has been trying to get a bill passed on this topic for a number of years, after students from Centreville High School brought the issue to his attention.

“I’m very pleased, because this is an extraordinarily dangerous activity,” Barker says. “The accident rate is 23 times the rate for people that are texting compared to people that aren’t, which is a phenomenal differential. It clearly will save lives.”

Look for the “23 times” factoid to be repeated again and again everywhere until people unquestioningly accept it. That number comes from a six-month survey of truck drivers and has been ruthlessly expanded to include everyone and everything humanly possible. Never mind the fact that operating a long-haul truck in urban environments is significantly more difficult and physically involved than driving a car. Never mind the fact that in modern traffic, commercial trucks are already unable to brake and maneuver well enough to avoid accidents. Never mind the fact that young people are far more adept at texting than your average career trucker. It’s a fact now and you might as well accept it.

Your humble author is of the opinion that legislation like this leads to surreptitious texting with one’s phone tucked beneath the line of sight in the car. That behavior significantly increases the danger of texting while driving and to encourage people to engage in it just so a few tickets can be written trades public safety for public revenue. Texting while driving is not going to go away. Not now and not for a very long time. It is the preferred communication method of everybody under the age of thirty and everybody’s going to keep doing it. Period. Point blank.

I would suggest that the texting-and-driving hysteria we’re seeing now as a society is as outsized as it is for one simple reason: people just love to be Puritans about something and we live in a world now where it’s no longer acceptable to have any public views about sexual behavior or common decency besides those once held by Ol’ Little Roman Boots. Since the Puritanical impulse is likely genetic in nature and it is one of the reasons your Cro-Magnon ancestor survived while his neighbor died in an ill-fated attempt to reproduce with a tribe of bonobos, it’s hard to completely suppress it. Instead, we swallow those feelings and let them fester until one day we are busy nonjudgmentally watching “Glee” and we see a public-service ad about texting and driving and it erupts from our stomachs in a bile-covered, steel-toothed xenomorphic presence OMG SOMETHING MUST BE DONE BLEEEEARRRRRRGH.

An exceptionally paranoid individual, which I am emphatically not or at least emphatically not really, might also wonder if the Illuminati think this: By removing all sorts of potential distractions from driving and forcing us to stare straight ahead at the stopped bumper of the Escalade in front of us, possibly with the aid of those hold-the-eyelids-open apparatus they used on Malcolm McDowell, the misery of operating a privately-owned vehicle might possibly be ratcheted up to the point where we will cheerfully accept being herded onto filthy cattle cars and shipped to our destinations in the most climate-friendly way possible. Just forget I said anything about it, though, because I’m not paranoid.

What I am, however, is someone who enjoys texting the finest-looking women available at all times. So if you see me rolling my Town Car down the street, chances are I’m texting somebody. But from now on, I’m going to wear sunglasses and hold my phone under the beltline, so you can’t tell for sure. If you have complaints about that, send them to your local legislator.

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Tweet All About It: Ray “Distracted Driving” LaHood Steps Down Tue, 29 Jan 2013 15:35:14 +0000

In what Reuters calls “the latest exit from President Barack Obama’s cabinet,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced today that he would not be staying on for the second term.

In a good-bye letter to DOT employees, he  made only a passing three word reference the “Distracted Driving Initiative”, which was bunched in with many other achievements, from High-Speed Rail all the way  to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. La Hood, like many others, took credit for helping to “jumpstart the economy and put our fellow Americans back to work with $48 billion in transportation funding from the American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009,” and for pouring badly needed $2.7 billion into 130 transportation projects across the Nation.  A $50 billion program probably would have made more sense.

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Don’t Give LaHood Ideas: They’ll Take Your Phone Away Fri, 06 Jul 2012 13:48:22 +0000

They do that in South Africa.  Use your phone for texting or gabbing, and police in Cape Town will arrest your cell.

Police in unmarked “ghost squad” cars seized 16 phones from motorists who flaunted a new regulation in Cape Town, South Africa, Reuters says.  The new rule allows police to confiscate handsets for 24 hours if the law is broken. Harsher sentences await the distracted driver: Driving While Phoning it in can cost up to 500 rand ($61.50) and/or a jail term of up to three years. They don’t call it cell phone for nothing.


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Feds Push NY Towards Full Ban On Electronic Devices In Cars Wed, 15 Feb 2012 20:35:02 +0000

Citing New York’s leadership in banning hand-held cell phone use in cars, NTSB Vice Chairman Christopher Hart urged the Empire State to become the first to ban all use of personal electronic devices while driving. Though careful to call it a state issue, Hart did hint that state compliance with forthcoming NTSB recommendations could be tied to federal highway funds (he has separately called for a national ban).

And indeed, New York’s legislators seemed to see the issue of distraction as an issue for federal action (but then, why not make the feds pay for it?). At the same time, everyone understands that the problem is near-ubiquitous and any full ban on personal device use in cars would be near-impossible to enforce (short of Assemblyman McDonough’s suggestion that automakers equip cars with cell-phone signal blockers)… which raises huge questions about federal-level action.

Hart says enforcement will be a major topic of an NTSB forum, scheduled for March 27 (note: the forum is not yet listed on the NTSB’s events page). With the NTSB pushing hard on what was once largely a rhetorical issue, goading the notoriously-nannying New York government towards a full ban on in-car device use, this forum should be a good measure of the feds’ resolve.

After all, everyone knows that distracted driving is wrong (with the possible exception of automakers, who load ever more distractions into their cars)… it’s just a question of how much government intrusion would be necessary to stop it. If Ray LaHood’s minions go for broke and pursue an enforcement rather than an education approach at their forum (as they did with their NY pilot program), this debate could blow up into pitched political warfare overnight.

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Study Detects Dangerous Driving Distraction: Women Tue, 24 Jan 2012 16:02:13 +0000

Distracted driving is very much in the news, and so far, cellphones were fingered as the culprits. Now, there is a study that finally identifies the biggest distraction: Passengers. A study by State Farm, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health goes to the bottom of what experts have known for long: Peer passengers increase driver crash risk, especially amongst adolescent drivers. 

The study analyzed a nationally-representative sample of 677 teen drivers involved in serious crashes. Says study author Allison Curry, PhD, director of epidemiology at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention.:

“Both male and female teen drivers with peer passengers were more likely to be distracted just before a crash as compared to teens who crashed while driving alone. Among the teens who said they were distracted by something inside the vehicle before they crashed, 71 percent of males and 47 percent of females said they were distracted directly by the actions of their passengers.”

The researchers found males with passengers were almost six times more likely to perform an illegal maneuver and more than twice as likely to drive aggressively just before a crash, as compared to males driving alone. Females rarely drove aggressively prior to a crash, regardless of whether they had passengers in the car.

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NTSB Pushing for Full Cell Phone Ban, Misses The Point Wed, 14 Dec 2011 17:30:06 +0000

This is a guest article by our reader levaris. We wanted to see what the Best & Brightest think.

According to an Associated Press article today, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is recommending that States “should ban all driver use of cell phones and other portable electronic devices, except in emergencies”. How using a phone during an emergency is safer for the driver than when they aren’t calling about an emergency isn’t made clear, but that is not the biggest problem with this latest public safety cry.

The article mentions that this recommendation is made because of a crash in Missouri involving a semi cab (no trailer), a pickup truck, and two school buses. The driver of the pickup was killed, as was a student on one of the buses; a further thirty-eight people were injured.

The short story is that the driver of the pickup, a nineteen year old with no previous accidents or traffic violations, slammed into the back of the semi after it had slowed for construction. The pickup was then crushed by the first school bus, which was impacted by the second school bus. The first bus ended up sitting on top of the semi, both axels completely off the ground, with the remains of the pickup crushed below it. While it is impossible to know if the driver of the pickup was texting at the moment of the impact, according to the NTSB they had “sent or received 11 texts in the 11 minutes immediately before the crash”.

The problem with this article, and the attempt by the NTSB to use it to gain public momentum in their quest against distracted driving, is that much of the fault lies with the driver of the first school bus. No mention is made regarding the bus driver’s responsibility to follow a safe distance, nor to pay attention to road conditions farther than the bumper of the vehicle directly ahead. An article from the Huntington Post, posted just after the accident happened in August of 2010, makes no specific mention of the time of day or if there were any low-visibility conditions. However the photos show the accident scene during daylight hours and there are no obvious reasons why the bus driver would have been unable to clearly see what was happening ahead.

The emphasis on cell phones and texting dangers become even less significant when, towards the end of the article, they admit “Investigators also found significant problems with the brakes of both school buses involved in the accident. A third school bus sent to a hospital after the accident to pick up students crashed in the hospital parking lot when that bus’ brakes failed.” Yet of course “the brake problems didn’t cause or contribute to the severity of the accident, investigators said”.

Any responsible driver will admit that texting while driving is certainly not a safe activity, and while we can debate if it is more or less dangerous than eating, shaving, dealing with the kids, or any of the millions of things we do behind the wheel that don’t involve piloting the car the NTSB is spinning this story into a cell phone/texting safety issue. The article itself even points out that the driver was breaking the law, as Missouri already bans any driver under 21 from texting while driving. How further laws would have worked to prevent this tragedy is not explained.

If we are going to ban the use of portable devices while behind the wheel, it should be based on actual facts as they relate to the safety of those devices and not ignore the simple lack of driver training and skill that is truly the real cause behind many of these types of accidents.

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California Court Criminalizes Using Cell Phone While Stopped Thu, 17 Nov 2011 15:33:42 +0000

In a decision with wide-ranging implications for people who might check their email on an iPhone while stopped at a traffic light, the California Court of Appeal ruled Monday that it was a crime to use a phone at any time behind the wheel of a stationary or moving vehicle.

Three days after Christmas in 2009, a motorcycle cop in Richmond pulled up to a red light and noticed Carl Nelson, driver of the stopped car next to him, appeared to be making a cell phone call. Nelson put down the phone as soon as he saw the officer. Nelson said he was just checking his email while waiting for the light to turn green. The Golden State banned the use of handheld cell phones while driving in July 2008.

“A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone unless that telephone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking, and is used in that manner while driving,” the law states.

A subsequent update to the statute made it also illegal to read or write an email while driving. Nelson was fined $103, and he challenged the fine by arguing that he was not “driving” when he used the phone. He added that if the prosecutors were correct, drivers stuck in dead-stop traffic for hours behind a major accident would not be allowed to make a call while the road is cleared.

“One can [use] a cell phone while stopped at a red light (because it is safe to do so) without having used it while moving the vehicle to the red light and without using it when one resumes one’s voyage after the traffic light turns green,” Nelson argued. “Thus, the fact that one is using a cellular phone while stationary simply cannot give rise to a reasonable inference that one was using the phone before or after the period that one was stopped at a red light.”

The three-judge appellate panel was not persuaded. It argued that the word “drive” applies even when the vehicle is stopped at a traffic light, citing a number of cases interpreting search and seizure and drunk driving laws.

“Any mom or dad driving kids to school can expect to stop while parents in cars in front of them are unloading their kids,” Justice James A. Richman wrote in a concurring opinion. “A shopper driving to a store near Lake Merritt in Oakland may have to stop while a gaggle of geese crosses the street. A couple going for a Sunday drive in West Marin County may have to stop for a cattle crossing. And, of course, all of us are expected to stop for red lights, stop signs, crossing trains, and funeral processions. In short, all drivers may, and sometimes must, stop. But they do so while ‘driving.’ Just like defendant.”

The court majority went on to argue that allowing cell phone use in motionless vehicles would create a safety hazard.

“Were we to adopt defendant’s interpretation, we would open the door to millions of people across our state repeatedly picking up their phones and devices to place phone calls and check voicemail (or text-based messages) every day while driving whenever they are paused momentarily in traffic, their car in gear and held still only by their foot on the brake, however short the pause in the vehicle’s movement,” Justice James Lambden wrote. “This could include fleeting pauses in stop-and-go traffic, at traffic lights and stop signs, as pedestrians cross, as vehicles ahead navigate around a double-parked vehicle, and many other circumstances… Drivers paused in the midst of traffic moving all around them (behind them, in adjacent lanes, in the roadway in front of them) would likely create hazards to themselves and public safety by their distracted use of their hands on their phones and devices.”

A copy of the decision is available in a 220k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File California v. Nelson (Court of Appeal, State of California, 11/14/2011)


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BMW Joins War Against Distracted Driving With Jet Fighter Technology Fri, 28 Oct 2011 18:18:12 +0000  

Having been on the road with Steve Lang who conducts his buy here, pay here business (“500 down and 50 a week!”) from a cell phone that appears to be  surgically attached to his ear, I was longing for a heads up display fighter pilots have: Eyes on what’s ahead, and still masses of targeting information. We should have driven a BMW: A “full-color head-up display is optionally available for almost all series,” BMW tells me in an email.

LaHood take note: “A normal driver takes a whole second to read the speed indicator in the instrument panel or to glance at the navigation device,” BMW says. “Whilst the driver is distracted, that is without his or her eyes on the road, the vehicle covers a distance of around 14 metres when travelling in urban areas at a speed of 50 km/h – virtually a “blind flight.”

How about this: “Sorry, officer, as my contribution to the war on distracted driving, I just cannot look at the speedometer.” In an optionally equipped BMW, you won’t have that excuse.

The information is right in your field of vision, in living colors, courtesy of a translucent TFT (Thin Film Transistor) display, the image being transferred to the windscreen via specially shaped mirrors, and adjusted to look straight in the convex window screen.


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Myth: Drivers Need to Stay Focused Sun, 18 Sep 2011 10:35:35 +0000

This is not a new video. It is from an Edmunds session in June. However, it had only 119 views since it was uploaded. This video is required watching when you talk about distracted driving. Or when you have kids. If you love them, give them Call of Duty. And you’ll be amazed when she talks about the “Schumacher of the road” part.

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Dangers Of Distracted Driving, Explained (Graphic Content) Thu, 01 Sep 2011 13:48:01 +0000

According to government statistics, “grooming” while driving is a major hazard, only slightly less dangerous than using a cell phone, eating and drinking, and talking to passengers. This video drives the point home that  grooming, talking to passengers, and even the slightest hint of eating can be deadly. In this case, the man was lucky and walked. Next time – who knows.

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Quote Of The Day: Hands Free At High Speeds Edition Wed, 31 Aug 2011 20:10:19 +0000

[Skip ahead to 2:08 (or don't)]

It’s the stuff of a Ray LaHood nightmare. Automotive News [sub]‘s lede comes screaming out of the blackness:

BERLIN – Ford Motor Co. has adapted its Sync in-car connectivity system to cope with high speeds on German autobahns.

But you can’t wake up, Mr Secretary of Transportation. For this is no dream…

Luckily, it is happening far away in Germany… and Ford’s not even doing all that much to change its hands-free entertainment and communication system. Per Jason Johnson, user interface design engineer for Sync product development,

Ford had to do more than simply program the technology to understand different European languages. The system also has to allow for how Europeans drive… For instance, at autobahn speeds, Ford found that its navigation system wasn’t giving sufficient warning that the desired exit was coming up. The system had to be reprogrammed to give extra warning

Otherwise, Germans should feel free to use their hands-free systems at whatever speed they happen to be driving. After all, if your hands are on the wheel, it’s not a distraction, amiright? Ray? Anybody?

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Distracted Driving Crusade Hurts Telcos Fri, 12 Aug 2011 16:52:07 +0000

The Crusade against distracted driving is taking its toll – on the telcos: “State laws that mandate use of hands-free devices when talking on a mobile phone behind the wheel may have cut handheld device usage in half over the past year,” reports Edmunds.

A report released by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) talks about a bloodbath caused by cell phones: As much as 30 percent of recent car crashes involved someone who was distracted by using a cell phone, texting “or some other activity that pulled the driver’s attention away from the road.”  Allegedly, “distracted-driving accidents killed almost 5,500 people and injured another half-million people in the U.S. in 2009. About one in six fatal accidents that year was caused by a distracted driver,” reports Edmunds.

Expect draconian measures against free speech (handheld, behind the wheel): NHTSA says that Connecticut and New York State crackdowns on handheld mobile-phone use and texting behind the wheel cut distracted driving by at least a third, “indicating that increased law enforcement and public-service announcements likely decrease traffic fatalities stemming from distracted driving.” Not to mention the revenue from the tickets written.

Soon, there will be a paradigm-shift for “cell phones.” As in behind – well – bars.

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Enforcement Works In The War On Distraction… But Only To A Point Tue, 12 Jul 2011 17:08:09 +0000

Transportation Secretary and Supreme Allied Commander in the War On Distraction Ray LaHood is quite chuffed about initial pilot program results for his latest offensive against in-car cell phone use, and he’s taking to the airwaves to declare victory. The programs, modeled on the “Click It Or Ticket” and “Over The Limit, Under Arrest” initiatives combined an advertising blitz and waves of enforcement to crack down on the behavior, but more importantly to send the message that distracted driving is as serious a problem as drunk driving or not wearing a seatbelt. Thanks to the relative success of these earlier programs, the DOT has a strong template for its pilot anti-distracted driving campaign, the enforcement components of which took place in April, July, and October 2010 and March-April 2011. But was the “Phone In One Hand, Ticket In The Other” program actually as successful as LaHood claims?

Based on data from the report’s finding [PDF], it seems fairly clear that the program made some difference… but the contrast between the results in Hartford and the results in Syracuse are a little surprising. New York has had a ban on in-car hand-held cell phone use since 2001, and accordingly Syracuse’s initial numbers were relatively low compared to Hartford’s, where a “hands free” law has only been on the books since 2005. Unsurprisingly, Hartford saw the largest declines that can be attributed to the program, with observations of drivers holding phones to their ears dropping from 6.8% to 2.9%, nearly double the drop observed in Syracuse.

Another interesting result is the seemingly organic drops in in-car handheld cell phone use in the control groups, because here the dynamic reverses itself. New York, with its long-standing ban on handheld cell phone use saw stronger decreases in the control group than Conneticut with its more recent ban. As NHTSA’s report puts it

Generally there was a steady decline in the comparison sites, as well. This is a promising finding and suggests that social norms towards phone use and texting while driving may be shifting, becoming less acceptable behaviors to the public.

This is difficult to argue with, but in the context of evaluating the program’s effectiveness, it almost proves that the program was unnecessary. Connecticut’s more recent law meant there were more lower-hanging fruit for enforcement officers in Hartford, but their efforts made less of an impact in the control cities of Bridgeport/Stamford. Meanwhile, New York’s results were less dramatic in the targeted area (Syracuse) but the organic declines in Albany were stronger than any in Connecticut. The lesson? Media and enforcement blitzes do make a difference, but so does passing a law and simply waiting. The longer a law has been in place, the more diminished the returns will be in the targeted area… and the stronger the declines will be in non-targeted areas.

Weigh these results against the not-inconsiderable costs of the program (anyone know what police make per hour on average?) and the results of the program are a little less overwhelmingly impactful than LaHood makes them out to be. Like any other change in social norms, the key ingredient seems to be not advertising dollars nor cops on the beat, but simply time. The longer a law is on the books, the more it seems to be respected… and at a certain point, more advertising and enforcement seem to deliver diminishing returns. On the other hand, the program does seem to be effective at accelerating declines in observed handheld cell phone use… and given the human cost of distracted driving, it does feel a bit churlish to get too worked up about half a million taxpayer dollars (not counting the opportunity cost of dedicated law enforcement hours). So yes, the program was a success (certainly compared to LaHood’s annual hand-wringing “summits” on distracted driving)… but let’s not pretend that anything will be more effective at changing behavior than laws and the progress of time.

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Rethinking Distracted Driving Thu, 23 Jun 2011 23:54:53 +0000

Edmunds recent Auto Safety Conference featured a number of high-profile speakers including NHTSA Administrator David Strickland, Edmunds CEO Jeremy Anwyl, IIHS President Adrian Lund, Toyota Under Fire author Tim Ogden, Rep John Dingell and more. I haven’t had time to watch all of the presentations from the conference, but from what I’ve seen, the conference seems to have been one of the most forward-thinking, diverse and lively explorations of auto safety in recent memory. The video above, featuring Virginia Tech professor Tom Dingus, offers enough provocative insights to fuel a lengthy discussion on distracted driving, but I encourage you to go check out the rest of the speakers here, and if you really want to get stuck in, you can download their presentations here.

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