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Distracted Driving

You can ban cell phones but you can’t ban stupid [distracted driving]

Coffee & RazorOne of the reasons that cell phone bans don’t seem to reduce traffic accidents is that in the scheme of things, talking on the cell phone is not one of the more dangerous activities that drivers regularly engage in.

And even if you do managed to stop people from yakking on the phone, they’ll just come up with some other, more dangerous, activity to distract them from driving.

The 37 year old Florida woman who caused an accident while shaving her bikini line while driving is an excellent example.

From Florida Keys News:

As authorities nationwide warn motorists of the dangers of driving while texting, Florida Keys law enforcement officers add a new caution: Don’t try to shave your privates, either.

Florida Highway Patrol troopers say a two-vehicle crash Tuesday at Mile Marker 21 on Cudjoe Key was caused by a 37-year-old woman driver who was shaving her bikini area while her ex-husband took the wheel from the passenger seat.

“She said she was meeting her boyfriend in Key West and wanted to be ready for the visit,” Trooper Gary Dunick said. “If I wasn’t there, I wouldn’t have believed it. About 10 years ago I stopped a guy in the exact same spot … who had three or four syringes sticking out of his arm. It was just surreal and I thought, ‘Nothing will ever beat this.’ Well, this takes it.”

[via Consumerist]

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.

Surprise! Surprise! Cell phone bans don’t make the roads safer [distracted driving]

Checking in with the ElvesThe Insurance Institute for Highway Safety just finished a comprehensive study of the effectiveness of cell phone bans and the results won’t be surprising to regular readers of this blog.  Cell phone bans, it turns out, have no effect on road safety and accident rates.

To repeat: The effect of bans wasn’t mild, or slight or not statistically significant. It was totally non-existent.

There wasn’t even “a blip” in the data, according to the president of the agency.  Sure the bans reduced cell phone usage by drivers by 41-70 percent, but they didn’t decrease the accident rate at all.

Despite what the times says (and this news was reported on one of their many blogs, not page A1 like most of their cell-phone fear mongering), the results of this study, which was one of the first to look at the effectiveness of laws banning drivers from using cell phones, are not a great mystery.

Banning cell phones doesn’t save lives because cell phones are not causing car crashes.

As I’ve written about before, despite insinuation to the contrary there is no evidence that cell phones are causing more accidents. Sure cell phones can be distracting. But they are no more distracting than all kinds of other things, like eating, radios and crying children.

The Times finally acknowledges this towards the end of their story.

“We still don’t think we understand this fully,” said Mr. Lund. But one possibility is that while cell phones are a distraction, maybe they are not “all that much worse a distraction than many of the other things that we do.

That is what I’ve been arguing all along.

(Hat tip: Kevin & Jake)

They thought car radios were dangerous too… [cell phone ban]

It strikes me that a lot of the hysteria about the dangers posed by cell phones in cars boils down to little more than plain old technophobia.

After all, there is no reason to believe that cell phones are uniquely distracting. Both academic studies and surveys suggest that they are in fact less of a distraction than numerous things we regularly cope with while driving; such as children, road-rage and attractive members of the opposite sex in adjacent cars, to name a few.

But despite the fact that our roads are safer than ever and both fatality and accident rates have plunged over the last decade, we have somehow come to believe that cell phones pose a unique and urgent threat—a threat which must be dealt with immediately.

I suspect that much of this misplaced fear stems from the fact that cell phones—especially those of the “smart phone” variety—are a relatively newfangled technology and therefore must be dangerous, particularly when used in cars.

Of course this is nothing new. Americans have always feared change when it comes to automobiles. As the letter to the editor above shows, people made the same arguments about the dangers of the radio in 1933 that we hear about cell phones today. But despite the grim warnings, people quickly learned to drive with the radio playing, just as they had adapted to the comfortable seats and fast engines that the “safety experts” also wanted to ban.

This is where I draw the line [distracted driving]

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?

But there is one distraction I think we can all agree needs to be banned: cooking-while-driving. I don’t care how much you spent installing a full-service kitchen in your car, cooking is hard enough as it is. Imagine trying to do it while cursing down the highway at 70MPH–you’d probably get distracted and burn your dinner!

Texting-while-driving now possible for cyclists as well [American Innovation]

gallery-handlebarAlmost every American (except for technophobic old people) can chat on a cell phone or even text while driving with ease.

But what happens if you ride a bike to work? How are you supposed to text-while-biking?

An accomplished cyclist would have no trouble riding with one or even no hands of course. But for the rest of us there is a handy new gadget called the The Text Hook which can mount a smart phone on just about anything, including bike handlebars and strollers.

Finally the All-American habit of texting-while-driving is available to bikers as well. The only question is how long will it take for the self-proclaimed “safety experts” to try and ban it?

God Bless America

P.S. This really should have been on the Free Refills & Why I Love America gift guide.

Wireless internet while driving [GM is not dead]

IMG_6325The proliferation of the smart phone has dramatically increased our behind-the-wheel productivity. Now we can not only make phone calls while driving, but also text, check stock quotes and email as well.

But despite their utility, smart phones are not computers. Things like word processing, data entry and true web surfing still require the full-size screen of a laptop to accomplish effectively.

In an age when internet connectivity is everything, using a laptop while driving is just not practical because it is hard to get and keep a wireless signal while zooming down the highway at 70 mph. That is, until now. General Motors announced that it is offering a wireless internet option in 7 new models. The $199 dollar package will provide high-speed internet access in and around the car. What’s more, GM is using some of that government bailout money to promote its new Wi-Fi with full mail-in rebates.

Turns out GM has not been emasculated after all.

Of course, to make full use of your new in-car internet, you’ll probably want to invest in a steering-wheel desk as well

God Bless America and God Bless General Motors.

Should we ban cell phones in cars? No.

As state legislatures around the country rush to ban the use of cell phones in cars, I thought it would be a good time to pause and consider a few facts about cell phones and traffic safety over the past few years.

Or if you prefer your data in graphs, I made these three with data from the NHTSA, Neilson survey, The Pew Center and the U.S. Census.




These facts and data show us that despite all the sensationalistic claims like “talking on a cell phone is more dangerous than drunk driving,” the rapid proliferation of cell phones and text messaging in cars has not made our roads more dangerous. On the contrary, our roads have become dramatically safer over the last decade.

Is this increased safety due to a decline in carpooling? Perhaps.

After all, if you ignore the results from fancy “eye-ball tracking” studies and driving simulators, which are not very applicable to the real world anyway, and just ask motorists what they find distracting, they will tell you something surprising. Crying children, it seems, are one of the biggest distractions motorists face. At least that is according to a survey conducted by So maybe we should let cell phones be, and just ban carpooling instead.

Driven to distraction

Previous topics mentioned in this post:

Is it time to ban carpooling?

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

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

Cell phone crackdown starts tomorrow in NYC [Revenue enhancement]

NYPD in Times SquareIf you’ve got some speeding, drag racing, or other type of anti-social behavior you’ve wanted to engage in on New York City’s roads, tomorrow might be a good day to do it.

Why? Because the NYPD is going to is going to spend most of its energy ticketing drivers who use cell phones.

Gothamist reports the last time the NYPD had a Cell Phone Crackdown day in August, they issued 7,432 tickets. Assuming the average traffic cop writes one ticket every thirty minutes, the NYPD spent some 3,716 man hours trying to stamp out an activity that isn’t really that dangerous. Of course, they also brought in over $1 million in fines.

This raises the question, are cell phone crackdowns more about safety or revenue?

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