By on September 20, 2010

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s second annual distracted driving summit begins tomorrow, and the party’s getting started right: with the release of 2009’s distracted driving fatality numbers. 5,474 Americans died as a result of driver distraction last year, according to NHTSA data [PDF here]. 448,000 “traffic injuries” were attributed to the distracted driving “epidemic,” an epithet LaHood has employed since his crusade against driver distraction began last year. Strangely though, distracted driving deaths remained flat as a percentage of overall traffic fatalities (16%) last year.

But, argues LaHood in an Orlando Sentinel op-ed, police often don’t report the role of distraction in traffic incidents, so the actual number could be higher. That’s an argument we’d expect from the guy hosting a database that is infamous for its inaccuracy, but we’re still struggling how a statistically flat phenomenon (in an environment of improving highway safety) qualifies as an “epidemic.” More importantly, we’re not sure that LaHood’s conference will have any more of an impact than last years. But hey, at least it’s better than scolding Snooki on Twitter. A cabinet Secretary can only do so much…

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14 Comments on “Tackling The Distracted Driving “Epidemic”...”


  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    But, argues LaHood in an Orlando Sentinel op-ed, police often don’t report the role of distraction in traffic incidents, so the actual number could be higher

    Oh, I love this.  It’s the same line the federal Conservatives in Canada used to justify both the  scrapping of the long-form census and spending more money on incarceration while crime is dropping.  It’s certainly par for the course when facts get in the way of ideology, regardless of the ideology in question.

    I’m reminded of the adage: “If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you have neither on your side, pound the table.”  It’s precisely what LaHood is doing: pounding the table in order to look “proactive” and “self-important”.  It certainly helps distract for his department’s handling of PedalGate.

    The fact is that distracted drivers are going to be distracted drivers no matter how much you legislate or punish.  The real solution is to find a way minimize their distractability.  Mandating something like BLIS or PreSafe would do more than any amount of table-pounding ever would.

  • avatar
    HoldenSSVSE

    The United States has had its lowest number of traffic related fatalities since 1950.  That decline in fatalities has happened despite the fact US population has grown more than 2X.
    This “epidemic of distracted drivers,” has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with revenue collection and increased government regulation.

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    Let’s see what the gov’t can do to help reduce distracted driving:

    1) Ban vanity mirrors.  For that matter, ban inside rear-view mirrors as well; too many people use them to apply makeup while driving.

    2) Ban all radios and video screens from the dashboard.  Duh!

    3) Ban all drive-throughs.  Eating and drinking while driving can lead to somebody getting dead!

    4) Ban cigarette lighters and ashtrays from cars.  You need both hands on the wheel!

    5) Mandate idiot-proof HVAC controls that can be operated w/o taking one’s eyes off of the road.

    6) Ban all passengers in the vehicle, they can be very distracting!

    7) Ban cars altogether.  Cars kill!  Public Transit is the only safe way to travel. 

    You see where I am going with this . . .

  • avatar
    jimble

    Or maybe LaHood is honestly concerned that despite advances in safety, motor vehicle crashes are still the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 3 and 34. Nah, that wouldn’t fit with the TTAC party line that the government never wants to do anything but take away our god-given rights to speed, run red lights, and endanger anyone else on the road who isn’t behind the wheel of an automobile.

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      Huh?  LaHood has consistently proven to be a knee jerk reaction type guy, who is more interested in appearances than in actual safety.  He is in a position where he could legitimately address driver distraction and focus on driver education, arguably the real reason why 30k people were killed last year and a lot more hurt while driving.
       
      Instead of doing something long lasting and important, he’s a typical politician.  A shame all you see is party affiliation in this post and ignored the substance.

  • avatar
    protomech

    Brother and his wife were in a very bad accident about three years ago. They were driving their Neon in a 25 mph residential zone, an approaching Ford Explorer wandered into their lane when the driver dove down into her floorboards on a cellphone-retrieval mission. The Explorer ended up rolling, and the Neon was of course totaled.
    I don’t know if any amount of anti-distracted driving legislation would have prevented that accident. Certainly if people disregard the life-or-death consequences of sitting in the front seat of a suddenly-unpiloted vehicle, the threat of a fine will give them little reason to pay attention.

    Maybe a combination of requiring yearly performance-based tests and a personal responsibility mandate would work, with more stringent tests required to operate heavier machinery. Criminally negligent homicide would be the base charge.

    We view driving as a right not a privilege. In many parts of the country that’s not an unreasonable viewpoint, as there exists no real alternative method for personal transit. Autonomous vehicles are the long-term solution to the human driving problem of irresponsible driving, but that may well be a case of the cure being worse than the disease..

  • avatar
    AaronH

    Why would anyone believe anything this Vogon cockroach says? Only public school grads listen to this cretin.

  • avatar

    There are several things about texting that make it far worse than anything else. The VA Tech studies clearly show that if you take your eyes off the road for more than 2 seconds, your chances of getting into a crash go way up, and keep going up exponentially as a function of time. The combination of reading and typing that texting dictates means it’s going to pull peoples’ eyes away from the road for way more than 2 seconds.
    The other thing about texting is that most people who use it as a major means of communicating can’t control their urges even if they are driving. Texting while driving needs to be banned, on pain of very large fines.
    Car companies should be prohibited from adding potentially distracting technologies at least until studies can be done to evaluate them. Perhaps the car companies could be hit up to fund the studies at places like Virginia Tech.
    It should be noted that there is a huge difference between communicating by cell phone (by texting or voice) and talking with a passenger. In hairy traffic situations, passengers serve as backup, watching the road and pointing out hazards, and ceasing to converse if things get bad enough. Someone who is talking to you via cell phone while you are driving doesn’t do that.

  • avatar
    stationwagon

    distracted driving is not an epidemic, drunken driving and lack of driver education and short yellow lights are the main threats to the safety of motorist.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      +1 There are definitely a lot of other hazards that are out there. The deer and other wildlife in my neighborhood are worse hazards than the distracted drivers I’ve encountered.
       
      Speaking of short timing on lights, there’s a light near me that I timed today at 8 seconds of green before it turned to yellow. Not a lot of fun when you’re on a bike trying to get across 5 lanes.

  • avatar
    Robert Fahey
  • avatar
    windswords

    This administration has overused the word “crisis”, so LaHood had to settle for “epidemic”.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Surely the previous administration didn’t do things like that too did they? Hum, let’s see – two unnecessary wars?
      What is it about 2010 that we need to talk continuously on the phone when previous generations could wait until they got where they were going. I watched a huge delivery truck being manuvered through traffic this morning while the driver held a phone to his head. If it was work related he should have made that call before he left b/c he was less than 1/4 mile from the hardware store he worked for.


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