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October 23rd, 2009:

Is texting while driving dangerous?

A few weeks ago I published a graph showing that our roads have actually become safer as more and more Americans use cell phones. Chatting on the phone is one thing, but surely texting behind the wheel is another. After all, we keep hearing that texting-while-driving is worse than drunk driving. And legislatures around the country are rushing to ban it.

But the fact of the matter is that as text messaging has exploded in popularity— Americans sent fewer than 60 billion texts in 2005 and more than 1.3 trillion in 2009 — fatalities from car crashes have declined. Today, are roads are safer than ever.

Here is a graph of fatal car crashes per 100 million miles driven and the average number of text messages sent per-month by Americans. The data is from the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration and the Neilson Survey.


Texting from behind the wheel is almost certainly distracting. But the same thing is true of a whole host of things we regularly cope with while driving, like playing with the radio, eating fast food and trying to clam a car full of crying kids.

It might even be the case that for old people who are bad at using cell phones some drivers, texting is more distracting than other common behind-the-wheel activites. But it not an imminent public threat.

So why is it we need to ban texting again? Oh yeah, to raise money

(Hat tip, Jake)

Previous topics mentioned in this post:

The graph the New York Times doesn’t want you to see

Is it time to ban carpooling?

The war on driving

Texting ban moves forward in Michigan

Earlier today Yesterday, the Michigan House Transportation Committee approved legislation that would make texting while driving a civil infraction in Michigan.

The State House has not yet posted the committee minutes, so it is unclear what the exact vote was on the legislation.

The bill still needs to pass the House and Senate before it can be signed into law by the Governor. Michigan has a $2 billion budget deficit that needed to be solved a month ago, so hopefully the state legislature won’t waste too much time passing legislation that won’t work aimed at cracking down on something that most drivers understand isn’t that dangerous.

But just in case, now might be a good time to call your representative and tell them that banning texting is a bad idea, and certainly not a top priority.

(Hat tip, John, Jake)

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