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August 4th, 2009:

Yellow Journalism Watch: New York Times continues its assault on the freedoms of motorists

New york cabsFor a paper based in the most pedestrian-oriented city in the country, the editors at the New York Times sure have it in for America’s motorists.  For the last few weeks, the Times has been running a series called “Driven to Distraction” about the extreme dangers purportedly posed by motorists who chat on their cell phones or hands-free devices while driving.

If you want to recap all the stories in the series, you can find them here. But I’ll save you some time. Every story is heavy on anecdotes, sensationalism and sentimentality, light on statistics and completely devoid of level-headed analysis. Needless to say, there is almost no mention of either the tremendous economic and social benefits the ability of motorists to talk on cell phones brings to society or the fact that our roads today are safer than they have been in decades.

The latest salvo from the Times recaps how New York cabbies have been prohibited from talking on cell phones or using hands-free devices for nearly a decade, but almost universally ignores the ban.

Predictably, the author ledes with emotional anecdotes:

The ambulance arrived at the scene minutes after the cabs collided, one yellow taxi T-boned into another in a busy Manhattan intersection. Shattered glass covered the street as a woman, still in the back seat of one the cabs, clutched her neck in pain.

A cabby paced beside his wrecked car, an earpiece dangling from the side of his head. An emergency worker, Ralph Ortiz, asked him what had happened.

“I was on the phone,” the driver told Mr. Ortiz, who several months later said he was still stunned by the response. “I didn’t see the light turn red.”

What the story doesn’t point out is that despite the “epidemic of gab” that has resulted from the wholesale disregard of the cell phone ban in cabs, traffic fatalities over much of that period have actually declined. That is, even though cell phones have proliferated over the past decade, the roads in the New York are as safe as or safer than they were before the ban. This is not surprising, as it mirrors the national trend: American roads are safer today than at any point since 1960.

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