- First they wanted to ban texting while driving.
- Then they said talking on a cell phone is distracting to drivers as well.
- Then they informed us that using a hands-free phone is also dangerous, because the conversation itself can be distracting to a driver.
- Then they vilified cell phone companies for inventing and promoting the product in the first place.
- Then the Times released a completely implausible videogame to illustrate the dangers of distracted driving.
- After that, it was time to run a few stories aimed at goading state legislatures into banning cell phones in cars.
- Then the Times turned its sights on truckers and cabbies, running several stories about how these professional divers sometimes use cell phones and radios, which could potentially be distracting.
- Then they told us that electronic dashboard displays might be distracting drivers.
- After that, the Times discovered that some drivers might occasionally glance at a billboard and this might—you guessed it—be distracting.
I thought that the New York Times’ sensationalistic tirade against the dangers of billboards must signal the end of their “distracted driving” crusade. After all, I imagine it would be hard to continue taking yourself seriously once you start suggesting that we need to regulate the outside environment on the grounds that if it is interesting to look at drivers might be distracted by it.
But alas, I was wrong.
Yesterday Matt Richtel (the reporter behind the Times’ Distracted Driving series) outdid himself yet again. The latest dangerous distraction he has uncovered on the roads? The computers in ambulances, police cars and fire trucks that first-responders use to communicate with 9-1-1 dispatch.
Let me say that again.
The New York Times ran a story about how the computers, navigation and communication systems that help guide police, firefighters and EMS to the scene of an emergency are potentially distracting to their professional drivers.
From the New York Times:
They are the most wired vehicles on the road, with dashboard computers, sophisticated radios, navigation systems and cellphones.
While such gadgets are widely seen as distractions to be avoided behind the wheel, there are hundreds of thousands of drivers — police officers and paramedics — who are required to use them, sometimes at high speeds, while weaving through traffic, sirens blaring.
The drivers say the technology is a huge boon for their jobs, saving valuable seconds and providing instant access to essential information. But it also presents a clear risk — even the potential to take a life while they are trying to save one.
Scared yet? Don’t be. In an uncharacteristic bit of honesty, Richtel admits that his sensationalistic story is pretty much just anecdotes and fear mongering.
Data does not exist about crashes caused by police officers or medics distracted by their devices. But there are tragic anecdotes.
Tragic anecdotes and shoddy or nonexistent statistics? If that sounds familiar, that’s because it’s what the entire Distracted Driving series is based on.