Cell Phones And Cars: Stating the Obvious to the Oblivious"

Jim Sutherland
by Jim Sutherland

Sometimes” obvious” is a vague concept for people and nowhere is that more obvious than behind the wheel of a car. The basic rules of engagement on the road are subject to interpretation by many drivers whose personal universe exists within a tight gravitational pull of their physical location.

I’ve compiled a short list of egregious cell phone sins against the rules of the road committed by stupid or self-absorbed drivers, or a combination platter of both.

This is not exactly virgin territory when the discussion of bad drivers raises its ugly head, but the topic never gets stale as long as these idiots still prop themselves behind a steering wheel. I simply want to add my voice to the wilderness on this issue even though I am likely preaching to the choir in this particular forum where insightful thoughts and words are not mortal enemies (Insert gratuitous pandering to an audience here).

The aforementioned wilderness dwellers would likely be the throngs of dedicated airheads who don’t wrap themselves in provocative thought and are unlikely to care about anything outside of the realm of Paris Hilton’s view of the world. Unfortunately many of them still drive cars, largely because of a generous approach to license acquisition in most of North America. But even if I am largely baying at the moon, I still want to vent my spleen on Driver 101 – the new issue.

The most obvious problem is driver distraction and this manifests itself in many forms including the cell phone. A popular cliché emerged a few years ago called “ multi-tasking”. This is a myth-based concept that holds the belief that people can do more than one thing at a time, and they can do it efficiently because we have a couple more intellectual DNA strands than chimps.

I don’t even remotely buy into this BS when it comes to multi-tasking. You are more likely to find Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster living in sin than a genuine multi-tasker. We do one thing at a time well and everything else is a distraction. Nowhere is this more evident than behind the wheel of a car with a cell phone glued to one ear.

Not only are the synapses hogtied but so is one pre-occupied cell phone hand that should be on the steering wheel. All we have is another half-wit with half a grip on a steering wheel. Look in the recipe book under “d” for disaster for this one and it happens at an insane rate every day.

The worst part of this fiasco is that hands-free cell phone use is just as dangerous, according to NHTSA data and that should not be a surprise to anyone. We are not multi-taskers. Most of us barely do one thing well- just ask the Detroit Lions.

42 countries currently restrict or prohibit cell phone use while driving and they are probably 42 countries with a much smaller herd of ambulance –chasers among their citizenry than North America. Cell phone bans or restrictions have begun to take hold in local and state legislation, but the process has been slow.

Right now 6 states have hand-held cell phone bans with 5 states as a primary enforcement law and Washington State as a lone holdout. Primary enforcement means that you can be ticketed for the offense of stupid phone use without any other reason to stop you. You need to have another reason for stupidity in the state of Washington to get stopped and ticketed where the cell phone citation is only a side order.

No state has a blanket ban on cell phone uses and thus they allow for the hands-free cell user even if the driver has drifted into a disembodied conversation and away from the driving task at hand. Now just think about this one. A car wreck may be centered around somebody who got worked up over shoe color or the merits of WWE in a cell phone conversation. Sadly, people have died for less compelling reasons, but most would want to die for more noble causes. Almost all cell phone conversations eliminate that possibility.

But things can get worse. Now there is a real possibility to die at the hands of a horrible speller with brutal grammar. Texting has replaced conversations on cell phones even though Big Al Graham Bell went to a lot of trouble to design the phone for an audible purpose. Granted, it’s not like people are really thinking while they are texting, but they are not really thinking about driving either, and therein lies the problem.

Texters have to compose and read their butchered messages instead of reading the road in front of them and this poses a small safety problem at 70 mph on a busy freeway. Obvious, but not to every driver on the road who lives in that highly compressed self-centered universe where they may get deader long before they get smarter behind the wheel.

The final blow against cell phones is the ability to watch downloaded movies or programs or play video games on them while driving. This scenario is almost too stupid to describe but can you imagine a crash caused by a distracted video gamer/driver that was playing a driving game while driving? It’s probably already happened.

I guess the final answer is that sometimes you need to impose blanket legislation against blanket stupidity and a ban on cell phone use of any sort while behind the wheel is a no-brainer for the no-brainers who practice this behavior. Six states with half-assed legislation is not nearly enough.

For more of Jim Sutherland’s work check out http://www.mystarcollectorcar.com/

Jim Sutherland
Jim Sutherland

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  • Pch101 Pch101 on Oct 06, 2009
    That does not square with this “…..the insight-training approach has been effective in reducing crash involvement and has been shown to target misconceptions of driver ability and susceptibility to risk.” It does, you're just reading it selectively. Note the prior quote that I excerpted: “It does not, however, protect Learners from crash involvement once graduating to an unsupervised licence.” This is much in line with other research. Driver's training can be effective in imparting basic operating skills, such as basic steering and braking, to those who don't have those skills. Driver training may sometimes provide a temporary benefit in raising safety consciousness that help for short periods after the training. But in time, those temporary benefits disappear. Drivers revert to their own inclinations, rather than to what they've been taught. And if they become overconfident, then they can get even worse. Your own cite confirms the points that I have made about the ineffectiveness of driver training. Your own report recommends license restrictions above training, because the training is at best difficult to assess and it isn't cost effective. Read the whole thing, not just the bits that you'd like to believe. Odd that you would quote Page 14. It’s extremely interesting including; “The findings related to the introduction of the 50km/h default urban speed limit show significant reductions in crashes and crash trauma (and therefore accident risk) despite relatively small decrease in overall average speeds”. What's interesting about it is that they felt no need to actual prove the linkage between the speed limit reduction and the change in the number of crashes. I'm assuming that's because they couldn't prove it. Read the report carefully, and you'll see that the evidence wasn't provided. There is alleged correlation, but no proof of causation. Don't worry, we've had the same snow job in the US. We had many predictions of doom and gloom when we had speed limit increases pending, and none of those came to pass. The US has experience in both lowering and raising limits. In both cases, fatalities declined. What's consistent with most research is that speed limit changes don't impact travel speeds by substantial amounts. Drivers simply pay little mind to speed limits, and changing them doesn't influence their behavior because speed choices are based upon driver perception and comfort, rather than the sign. It's also inadequate to look at crash rates on a given road without considering the overall impact of traffic flow. For example, a lowered speed limit and increased enforcement on a given road may lead to lower fatalities on that stretch of road because of the number of drivers who respond to the changes by choosing a different route where they believe they are less likely to be stopped. The history and type of data also help. Absolute numbers tend to be deceptive, because they miss changes in rate. Similarly, if the rates were falling prior to the change, it's tough to argue with a straight face that the declines after the change were attributable solely to the change in speed limit. That's especially true, given that the reduced limits don't actually slow anybody down.
  • Mark MacInnis Mark MacInnis on Oct 07, 2009

    I would love to have one of those cell-phone signal eradicator devices hooked up in my car, so that whenever I drive, other drivers on the same road would be forced to terminate their conversations....

  • Varezhka I have still yet to see a Malibu on the road that didn't have a rental sticker. So yeah, GM probably lost money on every one they sold but kept it to boost their CAFE numbers.I'm personally happy that I no longer have to dread being "upgraded" to a Maxima or a Malibu anymore. And thankfully Altima is also on its way out.
  • Tassos Under incompetent, affirmative action hire Mary Barra, GM has been shooting itself in the foot on a daily basis.Whether the Malibu cancellation has been one of these shootings is NOT obvious at all.GM should be run as a PROFITABLE BUSINESS and NOT as an outfit that satisfies everybody and his mother in law's pet preferences.IF the Malibu was UNPROFITABLE, it SHOULD be canceled.More generally, if its SEGMENT is Unprofitable, and HALF the makers cancel their midsize sedans, not only will it lead to the SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST ones, but the survivors will obviously be more profitable if the LOSERS were kept being produced and the SMALL PIE of midsize sedans would yield slim pickings for every participant.SO NO, I APPROVE of the demise of the unprofitable Malibu, and hope Nissan does the same to the Altima, Hyundai with the SOnata, Mazda with the Mazda 6, and as many others as it takes to make the REMAINING players, like the Excellent, sporty Accord and the Bulletproof Reliable, cheap to maintain CAMRY, more profitable and affordable.
  • GregLocock Car companies can only really sell cars that people who are new car buyers will pay a profitable price for. As it turns out fewer and fewer new car buyers want sedans. Large sedans can be nice to drive, certainly, but the number of new car buyers (the only ones that matter in this discussion) are prepared to sacrifice steering and handling for more obvious things like passenger and cargo space, or even some attempt at off roading. We know US new car buyers don't really care about handling because they fell for FWD in large cars.
  • Slavuta Why is everybody sweating? Like sedans? - go buy one. Better - 2. Let CRV/RAV rust on the dealer lot. I have 3 sedans on the driveway. My neighbor - 2. Neighbors on each of our other side - 8 SUVs.
  • Theflyersfan With sedans, especially, I wonder how many of those sales are to rental fleets. With the exception of the Civic and Accord, there are still rows of sedans mixed in with the RAV4s at every airport rental lot. I doubt the breakdown in sales is publicly published, so who knows... GM isn't out of the sedan business - Cadillac exists and I can't believe I'm typing this but they are actually decent - and I think they are making a huge mistake, especially if there's an extended oil price hike (cough...Iran...cough) and people want smaller and hybrids. But if one is only tied to the quarterly shareholder reports and not trends and the big picture, bad decisions like this get made.