Chi-town Talkers Still Motoring Towards Trouble

Megan Benoit
by Megan Benoit

The Chicago Sun Times reports that *gasp* drivers still talk on their cell phone whilst 're driving– even after laws were enacted making the practice a ticket-able offence. No surprise there. A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety showed that a 2001 cell phone ban in New York State led to a dramatic decline in in-car cellular communications. Three years later and the percentage of drivers using cell phones from behind the wheel went right back up to pre-ban levels. Why? Lax law enforcement; in Chicago cops wrote 13,400 cell phone related tickets as compared to 2.8 million traffic tickets. The study also cites an "above the law" attitude amongst offenders. In other words, there's a large number of cell phone-wielding drivers who believe they're perfectly safe drivers, much like chronic speeders. In this, they are sadly mistaken, as anyone who talks on a cell phone while driving may be as dangerous as a drunk driver.

Megan Benoit
Megan Benoit

I'm a computer security geek raised in Nebraska and recently transplanted to Atlanta. I like me some cars, got into car geekery a few years ago and haven't looked back since. I also volunteer at a local ferret shelter and participate in various charity and fund-raising events related to that.

More by Megan Benoit

Join the conversation
4 of 24 comments
  • Pch101 Pch101 on Aug 16, 2007

    Here's an analogy for you: -You feel ill. For a time, you do nothing, and your condition does not change. -So you go to the doctor. The doctor prescribes something. He promises great results. -You take the medication. But your condition remains the same. -The doctor is still promising. You get a refill. But still, no change. At this point, would you presume that the drug is effective, when your condition remains static? (Keep in mind that your condition was the same, whether or not you took it.) Or would you be likely to presume that the failure of the status quo to change indicated that the drug is not working, and that you might be in need of a new doctor? There is a joke that defines insanity as the state of repeatedly doing things that don't work, in the hopes that things will be different next time. That applies pretty well to what is happening here. For me, fatality rate is just one measure. Fatality rate per mile or kilometer is a basic measure that everyone in the traffic/safety business uses to make comparisons and measure trends. Since accidents are fairly hazardous to one's health, it's fundamental to the whole profession. A traffic study that doesn't specifically deal with this probably isn't much of a study.

  • Pch101 Pch101 on Aug 16, 2007
    Further to Glenn’s point, Pch101, the failure of the fatality rate to drop in NY, post-ban, could mean either that driving while on the phone was not a significant risk factor in motor vehicle fatalities (your suggestion) or, quite simply, that nobody stopped talking on the phone! Even if phones are a problem (and I have seen no hard data to show that they are) and if your supposition is correct, then the failure of a law to do anything about it would suggest that the law is not workable. We have limited resources with which to enforce laws. If the phone ban is completely ineffectual even though law enforcement was issuing a ticket every 40 minutes for this violation, then you should ask yourself whether the time issuing those tickets was well spent. If the time devoting to citing those drivers had been devoted to catching a murderer, stopping a drunk driver or preventing a pedophile from haunting a schoolyard, then I'd say that the time was not only poorly spent, but foolishly so. But in any case, the failure of the fatality rate to change completely short-circuits the drunk driving argument. If the phones are as bad as drunk driving, then banning them should achieve stupendous results -- after all, DWI is a contributing factor in about four out of ten accidents. You would think that a phone ban would net a reduction in accidents of about 40% if they were as bad as all that. The actual results make it clear that there is something in the studies that just does not compute.
  • Megan Benoit Megan Benoit on Aug 16, 2007
    Pch101 You keep trying to say that because fatality rates have continued to drop, cell phones must be safe to use on the roads, without considering the advances in vehicle safety and medical technology in the intervening time. You're trying to draw a conclusion based on one measure, and without a hard study showing the cause of the accident that led to the fatality, your premise that a drop in fatalities means cell phone usage isn't dangerous is completely without basis. Insurance companies and police departments do not keep track of cell-phone related accidents in such a way that you can draw any conclusion from them, and if you have independent studies that show otherwise, please provide links to them. And how often does an insurance company or PD pull cell phone usage records in an attempt to determine fault? Probably only in cases where fatalities were involved. It can't be hard for the cell phone user to simply turn the phone off and put it away, and deny having used it. Since admitting so would admit culpability, they are unlikely to do so. Plus, a large number of minor fender benders are never reported to the police or insurance companies. Until insurance companies and police departments start tracking cell-phone related accidents in a consistent, reliable way, you cannot use accident or fatality rates to support or deny that cell phone usage is safe. Period. What we do have, is a study that shows that driving and cell phones are comparable to driving and alcohol. Danger is danger. In the meantime, there's yet another story in the news -- -- about a fatal accident caused by text messaging.
  • Pch101 Pch101 on Aug 16, 2007
    You keep trying to say that because fatality rates have continued to drop, cell phones must be safe to use on the roads, without considering the advances in vehicle safety and medical technology in the intervening time. No, I'm not. What I am saying is that it is not possible for phone usage to be the equivalent of drunk driving and simultaneously for absolutely nothing to happen to fatality statistics. Drunk driving is the leading cause of accidents, contributing to about 40% of them. If phones were as bad as drunkenness, then no quantity of airbags, antilock brakes and stability control could overcome this fact. The fatality rate should be climbing at a very fast pace to reflect the increasing market penetration and usage of phones that have occurred within a relatively short period of time. Your claim is just statistically impossible. You want us to believe that something could contribute to literally thousands of fatalities, yet simultaneously not impact the overall statistics. Get out your calculator -- that cannot be true. Danger is danger. In the meantime, there’s yet another story in the news about a fatal accident caused by text messaging. I hope that we don't confuse phone conversations with texts, the latter of which is a visual medium. I don't see anyone claiming that they could use a laptop or watch a movie while driving and do it safely, so texting and talking make for an apples-and-oranges comparison. In any case, does anyone honestly believe that a driver who would use a device that requires usage of one's hands and eyes to operate for prolonged periods is going to become a model citizen when the law comes into effect? Does it not seem fairly obvious that a driver who is this bad will find other excuses to have wrecks?