By on May 13, 2008

talking_driving.jpgAs U.S. politicians respond to the imperative "Do something, anything about all those soccer moms driving around while yakking on cell phones (except my wife, of course)," it looks like we ain't got game. According to the country cell phone bans list, use a cell phone whilst driving in New Delhi, India– hands-free or no– and you're looking at prison time. But do all these legal strictures actually increase road safety? The Wall Street Journal [sub] reports that many researchers have concluded that the only deterrent that makes a difference is the New Delhi solution. The New York Times [reg] recently reported on work from Carnegie Mellon saying that even listening on a hands-free cell phone impairs drivers as much as knocking back a few beers. Nobody seems to talk about the safety benefits of cell phones including calling AAA for help with a flat tire, calling 911 to report accidents, reporting road debris before someone gets hurt or calling in drunk drivers. Perspective people, perspective.

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35 Comments on “In-Car Comms Can Kill! Or not....”


  • avatar
    KixStart

    “Nobody seems to talk about the safety benefits of cell phones including calling AAA for help with a flat tire, calling 911 to report accidents, reporting road debris before someone gets hurt or calling in drunk drivers.”

    Is there some reason you can’t pull over before dialling in these situations?

  • avatar
    ash78

    Glad you quoted that, KixStart. What a red herring argument that is.

    Glad this report came out. I’ve been saying for years that hands-free would have a negligible effect, at best. It’s not about where your hands are so much as it is about where your head is.

  • avatar
    minion444

    I have been using cell phones, since the bag phone days. My current phone allows for voice dial and a bluetooth headset. I drive 30k per year and do not have time to pull over to make a call.

    Doing anything else while driving is dangerous, but we all read street signs, talk to the passenger, scream out the window, or pick our noses and don’t forget we continue to eat our BigMac’s and my drink Big Gulps!

    Being a good attentive driver is a skill, some think they have it, most don’t. Start with a good drivers ed program. Teach Driving Skills, not how to pass a test.

  • avatar

    The U of Utah had similar results on hands free cell phones.

    Interestingly, by far the biggest danger per unit time is when you dial. To put it another way, the little bit of time you spend dialing is as dangerous as all the time you spend talking, this, according to VA Tech.

    All the activities that Minion cites directly above are far different from talking on the phone, though. Talking on the phone literally takes your attention away from where you are. If you are talking to a passenger, for example, your attention is still on your surroundings, rather than on someone who is far away. You may feel like you have to work to keep that person’s attention in a way that you don’t with the passenger, if, for example, traffic should suddenly become a bit hairy.

    Talking on the phone while driving is just plain nuts in most metro Boston traffic. On the other hand, if someone’s driving through the wilds of Utah, where there is very little traffic, I don’t see a problem.

  • avatar

    Anything with potential to thin the herd is fine by me. We should be encouraging lethal behavior, not outlawing it!

    Since when is it the government’s job to protect us from ourselves? We should be free to choose behaviors, self-destructive or otherwise. That is what is called FREEDOM.

    If we all drove under the assumption that every vehicle on the road with us has the potential to kill us, then we’d be a lot better off, compared to assuming that the government has the ability to protect us from other drivers. That is what is called RESPONSIBILITY.

    We are free to do what we wish, within the generally accepted societal rules (like driving on the right side of the road and stopping at signals) but we must be held responsible for the consequences of our actions. Therefore if you kill somebody while talking on your cell phone while driving, I have no problem in being thrown in jail for XXmonths and/or fined severely. However there should be no reason why merely talking on a phone while driving in and of itself should be outlawed. Laws should be focused on outcomes and consequences of behaviors, not the behaviors themselves.

    I generally don’t talk on phones while driving. I assume every other vehicle on the road has the potential to kill me. I also know that I have the potential to kill others. I operate my vehicle with under these assumptions and accept my comfortable level of responsibility. That is how society works.

    –chuck
    http://chuck.goolsbee.org

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    I saw a similar test on TV, from the UK I think. Drivers performed various tasks such as eating, talking, phoning while driving, and then had to react to a sudden obstacle turning up.

    Results: people had no problem with eating or talking with a passenger. Talking on the phone however was a different kettle of fish and reaction times were much slower. Even slower, surprisingly, than for those tested while drunk. It seems that the inebriated cohort tried hard to drive carefully, while talking on the phone commands one’s full concentration. The human brain is under stress when a person talks to an unseen counterpart. Since seeing that TV feature, I’ve laid off the mobile when driving.

  • avatar
    TexasAg03

    Is there some reason you can’t pull over before dialling in these situations?

    Yeah, the other traffic screaming by you at 70+ mph on the interstate.

    Maybe the country road or two-lane highway you are on has no shoulder.

  • avatar
    AKM

    @ Martin Schwoerer:

    I second this, having seen results of a similar test in a French automotive magazine a few years ago. This was attributed to the way the brain is wired, and the fact that a passenger is present in the same cabin, so it’s much easier to interrupt a conversation than with a distant interlocutor over the phone.

    Since when is it the government’s job to protect us from ourselves? We should be free to choose behaviors, self-destructive or otherwise. That is what is called FREEDOM.

    But don’t forget, my freedom stops where yours begin, and also stops at the bridge of your nose. Dangerous behavior needs to be regulated because of the externalities it inflicts, i.e. the risks it creates for other users. This is particularly true since the cocoon a car cabin creates insulates the driver from social reprisals. If you yell on your phone in a supermarket line, people will stare at you, ask to to bring it down, and so on, thus creating a public opprobrium that will most likely affect your behavior. Protected by 2 tons of steel, we become insulated from this social contact.
    And since talking on a cellphone has been proven to be among the most dangerous behaviors on the road, it makes sense to regulate it. If we regulate DUI, then we should regulate cellphones as well.
    Picking your nose in bumper-to-bumper traffic, on the other hand, creates no threat for other road users, and that is a behavior that doesn’t require regulation.

    In NJ, it is now a primary offense to use a cellphone. Unfortunately, hands-free sets are ok (even though they really are not). And even more unfortunately, it hasn’t been enforced at all.

  • avatar
    gamper

    The problem I have is with the people who “NEED” to be talking while they drive. From the moment they start the car they are on the phone until the arrive at their destination. I think people (mostly women) are using their phones as a way to kill time during their long commute, not to conduct business.

    I say outlaw it, I would rather drive than chat. As motorists we have survived many decades without in-car communication, we can probably get by without it now.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    Guess what smart-stuff, pulling off the highway if there is a place to do so and then merging back in later can be very dangerous in high traffic situations. Then there is the problem of roads like the main one I take from my home which has no shoulder and no guardrails.

    Why don’t the government entities take more responsibility for the road engineering deficiencies they are directly responsible for instead of passing dubious laws? Oh, right, it is easier to pass a law than it is to actually do hard stuff like putting up guardrails, installing rumble strips and providing proper shoulders.

  • avatar
    Mervich

    People yakking on their cellphones while driving, hands free or not, are a complete nuisance. Venture into rush hour traffic and watch the morons with the in-car mobile office set-up (open briefcase, files, laptop and notepad whilst their phone is sandwiched between their head and shoulder)…or nearly as bad, the soccer moms, yelling at the kids, digging through their purses, putting on lipstick in the rearview mirror, all the while yakking on the phone. Just watch them…they weave all over the road because they are too goddamn important to pay attention to traffic.

    @ chuckgoolsbee: Your argument is completely empty. With your version of freedom, drive any speed you want, don’t wear a seatbelt, keep a bottle of tequila close by for a stress relieving swig every now and then…what the hell, ignore traffic lights and drive on the wrong side of the road too. The damned guvment can’t tell you what to do, this is a free country! The cops should just leave you alone to drive as you please…that is unless you crash and kill the entire family in the minivan ahead of you. Only then should the police charge you for driving like an idiot?

    Probably 95% of drivers believe they are indeed good to excellent drivers, whereas realistically, in North America, only about 15% to 20% (at best) are actually good, experienced drivers. When you mix the truly bad drivers with the ones who think they’re good drivers and factor in cellphones, as my father used to say, “that’s an accident going somewhere to happen”.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Mervich,

    Here is the problem with what you are saying. Cell phone users aren’t a problem except when they are. You notice the morons, but you rarely notice the people who aren’t morons. The results are what need policing, not the correlative cause. Police rarely give out a ticket without using radar anymore. That’s a shame, because speed is rarely the proximate cause of an accident.

    I know we all think we are the exception, and that drives the problem, but how do you justify pulling me over for using a cell phone when I am still driving better than at least 20% of the idiots on the road? Before you make any assumptions about my abilities, I will tell you that I was licensed by the Army to drive some serious gear. I am also certified by the FAA to fly a plane, talk to air traffic countrol on the radio, and calm my passengers all without being able to see outside, in turbulence, at well over a hundred miles an hour, descending at 700 feet per minute, looking to break out of the clouds at 200 feet above the ground. (bad grammer intentional for effect).

    All that being said I try not to talk on the phone on the highway, but like someone else said, the real problems are not cell phones. The government needs to take responsibility for its own duties first.

    So, I am with Chuck. He made a good point. It wasn’t empty at all. It was perhaps a bit hyperbolic, but I think that was plain enough to see.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    The safest thing of all, statistically, would be to outlaw private driving and push us all onto mass transit.

    Often with laws we are all for the ones which stop the other guy from doing things we don’t do and wish he wouldn’t. The problem with banning cell phones while driving is that the vast majority of people simply wouldn’t put up with it. Long live democracy.

  • avatar
    guyincognito

    I saw a great bumper sticker the other day. It said, “Quit honking, I’m on the phone”

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Is there any evidence that the ratio of accidents is higher among cell users than non-users? (Aside from myself, are there any non-users).

    I can’t get excited about this until we redouble our efforts to get drunks off the road. And if we’re going to have NAV systems, especially ones that double as dvd players, then why worry about cell phone users – at least they’re still looking at the road (except when they’re dialing).

  • avatar
    michaelC

    Usually TTAC discussions (which I almost always enjoy as a lurker) are carried by thoughtful content based on points of view justified by reasonable opinons about the world.

    Here I de-lurk because this issue is different.

    The problem is not cell phones or cars. The problem is us. The danger with cell phones is caused by a fact about how humans create the world we experience. To have an opinon favoring cell phone use while driving after understanding these facts is equivalent to be in favor of the right to engage in fundamentally reckless driving behavior that endangers others. I cannot believe anyone in this community would hold such a view.

    The facts are that holding a conversation impacts what we become aware of — literally what we see. Listening to the radio, eating and other activities are handled in other parts of the brain and do not have the same effect. The research in the area is now unambiguous and rests on a foundation of 20+ years of research into human cognition. No part of the science is debatable.

    Banning cell phone use (including hands free) while driving is deadly important — especially because many (most) people see it as an issue of irresponsible use. This is categorically not a matter of personal freedom, responsibility or just ‘better concentration’.

    To be in favor of cell phone use is to be in favor of allowing people to drive while temporarily blind.

    A total ban will happen eventually. Personally, I bet things move when the insurance industry gains legal access to cell phone records and treats coverage for those found to be driving while on the phone the same as those found DWI.

  • avatar
    Robstar


    I commute 15 miles each way on a motorbike. 2 years ago I kept track of cell phone users on my ride, I saw 15 or 1 per mile. Recently I counted 29 or almost 2 per mile. That is like having 30 drunk drivers to dodge every day each way.

    Seeing some fool with a phone on his ear going 39 in a 50 zone weaving in the lane gives me the chills.

    If the phone rings let voice mail get it. Check the message at a red light or pull over when possible. We had a 3 year old killed because a cell phone talker ran a stop sign and T boned a car. Tried to wiggle out until they pulled up the phone records.”

    YES QFT (Quoted For Truth).

    Call me insane (and I have a cell phone), but I’d like to see jail time accompanying cell phone usage when it causes an accident.

    I’m all for people having personal freedoms, talking on the phone, etc, but they just need to realize they are facing …say… 15 years in prison if they kill someone. Maybe 5-10 for serious injury to someone else.

    I don’t even listen to the radio when I drive. The only accident I was ever responsible for was when I was listening to the radio.

    Now that I drive a (manual) sports car & (manual) motorcycle, I am constantly scanning for dangerous. I think if most people were required to take & pass an MSF course there would be alot better (or fewer) drivers on the road.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Mervich,

    Your comment doesn’t advance your position, it simply points out that you are a cause du jour type.

    Lumbergh,

    Here is the difference between drinking and cell phones. There is no real benefit to drinking. It doesn’t save lives, produce food, medicine, or other goods. It is simply a leisure activity. Cell phones serve a purpose. They save time, and make us more productive – JUST LIKE CARS. Any logic against cell phone usage is easily adaptable to banning driving.

    There are all sorts of people in the world who want to save your life so you can do they things that they value – ONLY. If you want to do things that you want to do, well, it better not be one of the things they DON’T value. If so, they want to take your property, or punish you by taking your time.

    There are actually good arguments on both sides of the cell phone equation, but I never got hit by someone talking on the cell phone. I did get hit by a woman talking to her mother. Perhaps we should keep family members from talking to the driver?

    I will go for the cell phone ban when we start taking driver training, licensing, and road design seriously. So long as we will license anyone, and then not take away a license for anything, banning cell phone usage is lipstick on a pig.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    Chuckgoolsbee:

    The problem is that they can kill me as well when they go right through that red stop light and plow into the side of my car at 45 mph. this is not a case of the government trying to protect us from ourselves, it is a case of a very vocal group of people making a sensible argument with several studies to back it up, that cell phone use while driving is a significant safety hazard to those around the cell phone user.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    So, it seems the prevalent opinion on this board is your life be damned, I’ve got a call to make. I like the occasional drink. I suppose none of you would have a problem with me driving after a glass of wine or four. The two “tests” that I’ve seen of people driving while talking on a cell phone both showed that a legally drunk driver (Blood Alcohol level of 0.10%) was more attentive and less dangerous than someone talking on a cell phone. Heck I’m probably a safer driver drunk than most people on cell phones. Why do we have these ridiculous laws interferring with my right to drink? Drunks unite. We don’t have to ptu up with this anymore. Ain’t Democracy great. Oh right, this is supposed to be a Republic that offers a buffer between its citizens and the will (some might say stupidity) of the majority.

  • avatar
    shaker

    I’m willing to admit that the few times that I’ve answered a call while driving in traffic, I was distracted enough to become “that idiot on the cell phone.” Usually the calls were work-related, and most all of my thought processes were required just to answer technically-oriented questions. Since then, I just turn the phone off, but fire it up when I stop to reply to any missed calls (and I tell my co-workers of my “policy”).
    The other day, a young lady, yakking on a cell phone, blew through a “Yield” sign right in front of me entering the on-ramp of a highway. Needless to say, if I had also been on the phone, there would have been “full-contact idiocy”.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    I commute 15 miles each way on a motorbike. 2 years ago I kept track of cell phone users on my ride, I saw 15 or 1 per mile. Recently I counted 29 or almost 2 per mile. That is like having 30 drunk drivers to dodge every day each way.

    Seeing some fool with a phone on his ear going 39 in a 50 zone weaving in the lane gives me the chills.

    If the phone rings let voice mail get it. Check the message at a red light or pull over when possible. We had a 3 year old killed because a cell phone talker ran a stop sign and T boned a car. Tried to wiggle out until they pulled up the phone records.

  • avatar
    Mervich

    The one and only reason there are not laws already enacted and on the books restricting cellphone usage in a vehicle is simply that our “democracy” is bought and paid for by businesses and organizations with big money. The cellphone carriers are all big business with big money. Restricting usage inhibits their cash flow.

    @Landcrusher:

    You should have a bumper sticker stating:

    “I can use my cellphone while driving because “I was licensed by the Army to drive some serious gear. I am also certified by the FAA to fly a plane, talk to air traffic countrol on the radio, and calm my passengers all without being able to see outside, in turbulence, at well over a hundred miles an hour, descending at 700 feet per minute, looking to break out of the clouds at 200 feet above the ground”.”

    Side note: I personally know several excellent pilots who are also atrocious drivers. As a rule, pilots seem to have a completely separate and serious mind set when flying.

  • avatar
    Joe Chiaramonte

    Last Saturday morning, out for a walk, I wait for the walk signal at the stop light. It starts, I look for traffic turning right – I don’t see anyone, so I step out.

    Just then, a lady driving an Explorer, on the phone, jumps out of the lane at speed, heading right for me, intending to turn right. She was so involved in her call that she wasn’t even looking ahead. I jumped back on the curb with an inch to spare. She finally stopped about four feet past me, still gabbing on the phone, gesturing like it was my fault.

    My wife and I both screamed at her to get off the damn phone and drive. Unfettered, she punched it and drove on.

    I would like to see her don an orange jumpsuit at the graybar motel for a day or two. Absolutely.

    The hands-free cell phone law starts in California on July 1, but I suspect we won’t see much compliance or impact on impairment. Lots of folks here just don’t care to be inconvenienced.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    Chuck, it sounds like you envy third world driving conditions. By your logic, drunk driving should be allowed too. Maybe it should, but if that’s the case I’d like to see severe consequences for the results. A fine and/or a few months in jail would not be enough. For someone who wants to thin the herd, you are surprisingly kind to those who cause the problems. So if some drunk in a Hummer ran a red light and killed your wife/girlfriend/child, you’d be happy that the herd was thinned as long as the guy paid a fine and did 6 months in jail?

  • avatar

    jthorner :
    Guess what smart-stuff, pulling off the highway if there is a place to do so and then merging back in later can be very dangerous in high traffic situations. Then there is the problem of roads like the main one I take from my home which has no shoulder and no guardrails.

    All the more reason why you shouldn’t be talking on the phone while driving

  • avatar
    improvement_needed

    nice comments:

    again, the problem comes down to people being c-rappy drivers…
    – add in ANY distraction, and your accident / oblivious driving rate will increase. cell phones come in to play because of the percentage of time driving spent on the phone vs. eating a big mac…

    the whole problem is: you cannot 100% protect yourself from oblivious drivers. So, the government decides that killing people is ‘bad’ so they try to reduce the number of oblivious drivers..
    I for one, like the idea of regulation to protect the masses from manslaughter as the result of ‘oblivious behaviour’…

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    Note to drivers talking on cell phones: I hope you are watching where you are going because I’m too busy watching where I’m going to pay attention to you.

    A few years ago, I was ordered by my employer to get a cell phone so that they could keep in touch with me when I was out of the office. The few times I could not avoid talking while driving, I found that carrying on a coherent conversation was incompatible with driving at my usual level of efficiency. My experience is consistent with the studies which conclude that cell phone users are worse drivers than drunks. Now that I am semi-retired, the cell phone lives in the center console in case I need to call 911. It hasn’t been turned on in years.

  • avatar
    ppellico

    Here in America we have a habit of dumbing down to the lowest…and then making a law for everybody.
    We do this in schools, we do it everywhere.
    Since most fools cannot drive in bad weather, in fact refuse to understand that there is a law to drive according to conditions, so we pile on so much salt, our roads are white not from snow…but salt!

    I cannot understand that since there are stupid teenage drivers, we must all give up our rights.
    I am always telling my kids, just because I do something doesn’t mean they can or even could do it.
    There are levels of skill.
    There is maturity.
    Why don’t we just outlaw in-dash radios?
    Somewhere there has to be a stat showing accidents caused from loud music or the changing of channels.
    Why not close up all drive through food services.
    This has to be more dangerous than cell phone use.
    Hot coffee while driving!?
    Madness.
    Come on, America, stop with all the laws to cover laws that are not enforced.
    Simply apply laws now on the books.
    If you cannot drive, lose the license!

    Ok…maybe outlaw in-laws in cars…that would be OK.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Mervich,

    Pilots who get too many traffic violations will lose their pilots license LONG before they will lose their drivers license. I suspect that if you do know pilots who are bad drivers, they are not quite “atrocious”. Also, how would you know they are “excellent pilots”? Surely you don’t actually fly in a plane, you might die you know.

    ppellico,

    Here is the real rub. If they outlaw cellphones, people will simply start using email and texting instead. Then I suppose we will need to outlaw those as well, but we won’t really be able to enforce that so it won’t help.

  • avatar
    Mervich

    @Landcrusher :

    USAF. It is very likely that I fly as much or more than you do.

    Incidentally, it must be somewhat difficult for you to fly with your head so far up your ass.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Well then, zoomy my boy, you can go right down to the IG’s office and talk to him about all the “atrocious” drivers you know so that they can have their drivers licenses pulled before they lose the ability to exercise all that expensive training they got.

    While you are at it, you can tell him what you said to a civilian in the same post as you identified yourself as a member of the USAF. As a retired officer, I happen to know that he will be VERY interested in THAT.

    I would thank you for your service, but I am not so sure I am getting my money’s worth out of you (and yes, I pay enough taxes to cover your salary AND benefits).

  • avatar

    I think most of the people who read TTAC are driving enthusiasts; I know I am.
    So here of all places I expect to see 100% support for a ban on texting whilst driving – it’s simply indefensible – you cannot text and drive safely.
    Equally, if you’re so busy that you need to be on the phone whilst you’re supposed to be driving – stop whining and buy a hands-free unit.
    Too many people have died for this to still be a debate – just ban it.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Sorry, driving, but the ban it people want to ban it, PERIOD. Not just hand sets. They think that if you are talking, even on a hands free set, that you are just as dangerous as a drunk driver.

    It sounds ridiculous to me, and I find that most of the ban supporters are the same people who will scream bloody murder if we try to enact any safety regulations that might prevent people who are really dangerous from driving cars. They don’t want tougher testing, enforcement of violations other than excessive speed or failure to stop, and they REALLY don’t want us to take licenses away from people who have continuously shown lack of judgement or ability.

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