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Is it time to ban carpooling?

Carpools Only

Is carpooling a threat to your family?

It took the police almost an hour to arrive at the scene of the accident. The dark red Saturn with its crumpled front end and my 2001 VW GTI with its smashed side panels and broken rear axle had already been cleared from the road. Shattered glass and the remnants of my passenger-side mirror still littered the street.

Fortunately, the only injuries where some bumps and bruises, but it could have been much worse.

Like most Americans, I knew I was a better-than-average driver. Up until that point in 2006, I had driven tens of thousands of miles in the five years since I got my license—eating, texting and talking on the phone much of the way. I thought nothing could distract me from the road. That is, until one night when a friend and I decided to carpool.

I was deep in conversation and did not see the Saturn pulling out of the parking lot on my right. By the time I glanced at the road it was too late. Though I swerved, I could not avoid the car and was T-boned in the left-hand turn lane. Was the accident my fault? Not entirely. Could I have avoided it had I not been distracted? Almost certainly.

It is not news to anyone that distractions are a leading cause of car accidents. It’s hardly been challenged that the recent New York Times-led hysteria about the need to ban the use of cell phones constitutes an urgent public issue, but there’s an even more menacing threat to the public good that you don’t know about—and it’s lurking in the carpool lane.

According to a 2006 study by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, having a passenger in the car can be just as dangerous as talking on the phone. And the study found that drivers spend a lot more time talking to passengers than they do talking on their phones. The dangers presented by driving with passengers—or carpooling—are well known. According to Robert Wilson of the National Safety Council, limiting the number of passengers is critical to safety, particularly for young drivers. “One passenger…increases the risk. Two, you know, triples the risk. Three or more passengers is a party.”

In an effort to eliminate the added risk of carpooling, 41 states have restrictions on the number of passengers teen drivers can have in the car. But the risks of carpooling do not disappear with age.

However, our laws do not seem to recognize that. Despite the fact that risk of accidents increases with each additional passenger in the car, many states and municipalities not only fail to regulate carpooling but actively encourage it through separate high-occupancy vehicle lanes and other initiatives. What does this mean? Are we trading lives to ease congestion? Was Driving Miss Daisy really that dangerous? Should the paper of record crusade against giving your neighbor a lift to work?

These, of course, are pressing questions for us all.

The truth is, despite the proliferation of cell phones and rampant carpooling, driving in America has never been safer. But if banning the use of cell phones in cars is suddenly a top priority, surely we should take steps to curtail the equally, if not more, dangerous practice of carpooling as well.

After all, banning carpooling will not only eliminate the risk of distraction, but the increased congestion that would likely result would lower average vehicle speeds thus rendering any accidents that did occur less likely to be fatal.

I feel confident that the New York Times will soon call for a carpooling ban and that our legislative leaders will quickly respond. In the meantime, I am banishing all passengers from my car. If you need to reach me while I’m driving, you can get me on my cell phone.

(Hat tip: Kevin)


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18 Comments

  1. Anna says:

    Your banishment is useless seeing as you aren’t even in the same state as your car.

  2. […] week’s post on the push to ban cell phone use in cars and the dangers of carpooling got a lot of attention. So what do you think? DiscussionsView Results Share […]

  3. Aaron says:

    If this is a sarcastic example of why banning cellphones while driving is silly, then bravo, good sir.

    I agree both are distractions, but neither have to be, and its the driver that makes the decision as to how attentive they will be while driving. If it isn’t cellphones, or passengers, or the radio it would just be something else. A lot of people are lazy, inattentive drivers, and will always drive with only half their attention on the road. This law would not root out the heart of the problem that causes unsafe driving, and is just a weak attempt at policing one of the possible ways people distract themselves. It would be great if we could just say: driving while distracted is illegal, but its a law that is impossible for citizens to follow 100% of the time, even if they try; which isn’t a very good law. Sometimes, you are distracted, not purposely, but it happens. Where you draw the line between inattentive drivers and those that are occasionally distracted is hazy. Laws never work properly on these gray areas.

    Just doing something, to feel like you’ve done something, is no help. We should only police root problems, which always cause problems, that can be defined in black and white terms. This problem is neither, and their is no good solution to be found in making new laws. Where the solution lies, I’m not sure.

    1. nowooski says:

      Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

  4. […] Maybe one day GM will regain a little bit of its old screw-consumers, safety-be-damned, to-hell-with-the-environment swagger. Perhaps then it can lobby for something that will save lives and improve its bottom line, like banning carpooling. […]

  5. […] other distractions, like passengers, grooming, and eating.  Does this mean we should rush out and ban carpooling? Maybe. After all, it could save more lives than banning cell […]

  6. […] Is it time to ban carpooling? At the beginning of the month the campaign against cell phone-wielding drivers was just heating up. But it turns out that driving with passengers is just as dangerous. […]

  7. NoCarpooler says:

    I have been supporting banning of carpool lanes for a some time now. The reason is simple. Two/three lanes with slow traffic throw out CO, CO2 etc. Carpool lane drivers drive much faster (most of the time). If the idea of carpool lanes (at least, for voters) is to reduce emissions than why not to allow those from #2 and #3 drive faster on lane #1 that in turn will make others on 2 and 3 drive faster as well? From another hand, as tax payer if I am single (just for example) why I am forced to buy hybrid in order to use carpool? I DO NOT want to carpool with someone! I LIKE/WANT to drive alone. Should I pay less road taxes then (~ -30%)? Why hybrids ARE allowed to use other lanes increasing traffic congestion in #2 and #3??? Hybrids – GET OUT of non-carpool lanes!!! Hybrids are paying same road taxes as we are but ARE ALLOWED to use more lanes on the road!!!

  8. […] Why I Love America, son sensacionalistas y amarillistas y el NYT debería ocuparse de hablar del peligros que implica conducir con varios pasajeros en el coche (carpooling, en […]

  9. Nathan says:

    What actually constitutes a good driver? Accidents happen even with highly trained professionals with little or no distraction (see NASCAR). Just because you happen to not have any accidents surely can’t mean you’re not completely oblivious – other drivers could have prevented your hitherto clean record. The problem, is that everyone wants to think they’re equal and equally capable. Equality. A seemingly noble idea that people have fought over for millennia. Genetically, we are not equal. Now, don’t take it so far as to think that one group of genetics are better than another in all ways, it’s all probability. Insurance companies are strictly forbidden to base any rates off any genetic findings, coupled with impossibly complex environmental factors.

    The honest thing to say is that while we are not genetically equal, there are an undefined number of factors that can, but not necessarily, mitigate those genetic differences. Trying to ban anything for safety reasons is all a slippery slope to begin with. You can have the strictest safety measures and all it takes is one bumbling idiot to get around them, knowingly or unknowingly.

    I, personally, think we’re trying to negate (or mitigate) natural selection. (be advised, this is totally a Devil’s advocate argument).

  10. […] Why I Love America, son sensacionalistas y amarillistas y el NYT debería ocuparse de hablar del peligros que implica conducir con varios pasajeros en el coche (carpooling, en […]

  11. MAC says:

    I am in favor of banning children (not limited to in cars). Based on our household experience, most accidents occur with children in the car…or maybe just your sister in the car.

  12. […] For months I’ve been saying that when it comes to distracted driving, passengers—crying children, in particular—pose a greater accident risk than cell phones. That is why I proposed banning carpooling. […]

  13. […] Regular readers of this blog know that I am very skeptical of schemes to ban the use of cell phones in cars. After all, there is little reason to believe that using a cell phone while driving is any more distracting than, say, adjusting confusing radio controls or driving around with a car full of kids. So why ban cell phones and not carpooling? […]

  14. […] particular series relies almost exclusively on tragic anecdotes and technophobic scaremongering.  The data presented in the series  supporting banning cell […]

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