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Texting ban moves forward in Michigan [cell phones]

Free Refills reader John sent in word the other day that the Michigan legislature is moving ahead with a texting-while-driving ban. This is despite the fact that a recent study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that such bans have no impact whatsoever on safety.

Here is the rundown, courtesy of MIRS.

Texting a message while driving would be a secondary offense punishable by $100 as part of compromise legislation that unanimously moved out of the Senate Transportation Committee, 4-0.

The movement of HB 4394 and HB 4370 to the Senate floor sets the stage for a vote to ban texting while driving. Even though Committee Chair Jud GILBERT (R-Algonac) isn’t opposed to making texting and driving an offense police could pull a driver over for, he said he realizes there isn’t support in the House.

“The fine is OK,” he said. “Something is better than nothing.”

The House version set the fine at $500, but the version reported today ratchets that fine down to $100. The plan is to make the bills a bi-cameral, bi-partisan package and today’s action lines up a final vote on that plan.

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  1. Jake says:

    The City of Ann Arbor is also planning a ban… $125 and primary offense, $300 if you cause an accident. Oh, and the wording also excludes hands-free kits, GPS devices, etc. It’s a little ridiculous.

    1. Free Refills says:

      I like the “if you cause an accident” bit more than a blanket ban. But the fact is we already have laws for this. It is called reckless driving. If someone is using a cell phone and swerving all of the road, ticket them for swerving all of the road–not for using a cell phone. After all it is the swerving we are concerned about.

      1. Carol Roy says:

        How about impeeding traffic?
        Cell phone use while sitting at a traffic light or stop sign causes alot of traffic hazards such as;pedestrian injuries,traffic back ups and rear end collisions.
        Is it really so much more important to gamble with people’s lives by using a phone WHILE DRIVING , rather than simply taking one minute to pull out of traffic first?

  2. Heesa Phadie says:

    Here’s another one:

    Seems theres a lot of DWT (Driving While Talking/Texting) advocates out there. It would be nice to hear your take on all of these statistics. Maybe you could debunk a few of them. I mean…I know where you stand we’ve seen that these can be crap…but that’s not what they’re showing us here.

    1. Free Refills says:

      Thanks for the infographics, I am always a big fan of them. In the last one you posted, the key claim was “25 percent of car crashes are caused by cell phones.” I found that claim startling, as typically advocates of bans like AAA and Ray LaHood acknowledge that they don’t really know how many accidents are caused by cell phones. There is just not enough data.

      Instead they say that cell phones are distracting and then point to the overall number of crashes caused by distracted drivers (not the same thing as caused by people using cell phones).

      I did a little digging on that 25 percent number, it turns out that it is pretty much total BS. Some outfit calling itself the “National Safety Council” just did some nonsensical extrapolating based on national car crash statistics and some fuzzy guesstimates about the relative danger of talking on cell phones.

      The estimate of 25 percent of all crashes — or 1. 4 million crashes — caused by cell phone use was derived from NHTSA data showing 11 percent of drivers at any one time are using cell phones and from peer-reviewed research reporting cell phone use increases crash risk by four times. The estimate of an additional minimum 3 percent of crashes — or 200,000 crashes — caused by texting was derived by NHTSA data showing 1 percent of drivers at any one time are manipulating their device in ways that include texting and from research reporting texting increases crash risk by 8 times. Using the highest risk for texting reported by research of 23 times results in a maximum of 1 million crashes due to texting; still less than the 1. 4 million crashes caused by other cell phone use.

      Translation: that number is no more scientific than some of the extrapolating I’ve done.

      Most of the stats that you see, such as “cell phones are more dangerous than drunk driving” are based off of closed-course or driving simulator studies. That is all well and good, but finding that someones response time is 5 times as bad does NOT mean that they are 5 times more likely to get in a crash. For one, such studies don’t take into account the fact that we tend to drive differently (slowing down, leaving more room) when we are on the phone.

      My general skepticism of banning cell phones in cars stems from one question that proponents of such a ban cannot seem to answer: If cell phones are really more dangerous than drunk driving, and given the fact that they have exploded in popularity over the last decade, than why are there dramatically fewer car accidents and significantly fewer auto fatalities than there were a decade ago?

  3. Heesa Phadie says:

    Very good rebuttal. I knew I could count on you. 😛

    It’s interesting to me that they can publish statistics as fact even when it’s not quite that black and white. I always wonder about certain numbers and comparisons…clearly anyone can bend them any which way they choose. My favorite is when they try to emphasize something using the side they want to shock with…like say “40% of American’s such and such…” knowing people will then just run with that not noticing that that number is a minority. I know I’m not explaining that well…I’ll try to find a good example of that.

  4. Carol Roy says:

    Using the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety as referance is weak. I urge every one to read studies from:
    University of Utah (David Strayer PHD.), “ARE YOU A SUPERTASKER”
    Carnegis Mellon-Pittsburgh (Marcel Just, Neuroscientist)
    Virginia Tech.
    THese provide the scientific proof that can not be denied!

    1. Free Refills says:

      I don’t deny that cell phones are distracting. I deny that they are causing a spate of car crashes and need to be banned. 2009 was the safest year ever on our nations roads. The second safest? 2008. Before that? 2007. Interestingly enough, this is also the period that saw smartphones and texting explode in popularity.

      One would think that if cell phones are even half as dangerous as the safety experts claimed, that we would see crashes increase as more and more drivers started texting. But alas that is not the case. Accident rates over the last few year did not even level off–they fell at an ever-increasing rate.

      If our roads are safer than ever before, why is it all the sudden a great imperative to regulate cell phones? After all, they contribute mightily to our well being (Harvard estimated talking on the phone in cars was worth $40 billion in 2002).

      We can ban everything in the name of safety. The New York Times wants to regulate billboards and crack down on emergency communication equipment in fire trucks and ambulances. But it doesn’t mean we should.

      1. Carol Roy says:

        Interesting …..”$40 Billion a year” says Harvard.

        What do you think the life of the teen killed while using a cell phone, the eight year old killed while walking,the Mom and her 6 week old infant killed were worth? Their families are without them this Easter.

        Oh don’t forget the funeral bill, loss of property, hsopital bills,etc. WHat were those worth?

        1. Free Refills says:

          One can always pivot to emotional arguments, but that is generally not particularly helpful when making policy decisions.

          We could, for instance, instantly eliminate 100 percent of car crash deaths and save some 37k lives a year. How? By banning cars and forcing everyone to walk or take the train. But somehow I suspect that you wouldn’t get a lot of support for that because on balance, having cars is worth it.

          The same is likely true of cell phones. Harvard estimates that using them in cars contributed $40 billion to the economy, and that was back in 2002, when fewer people used them. The number today is likely higher.

          And as to the value of a human life, well, we have a generally accepted answer to that: $6.9 million. That is according to the official standard used by the EPA for economic impact analysis.

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