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Distracted Driving

Giving birth while driving, now that is distracting

From the Detroit Free Press:

Amanda McBride went into labor last week as she was on her way to North County Regional Hospital, the Bemidji Pioneer reported.

General Motors said Wednesday that it would give a year’s supply of diapers to the Minnesota woman who delivered a baby while driving a Chevy car.

She was driving a red 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt.

Joseph Phillips, the expectant father, was riding shotgun because he suffers from seizures.

“She yelled at me to grab the wheel,” Phillips told the newspaper.

He did. And she pulled down her pants. “And then the baby just came right out,” the woman was quoted as saying. “I was just sitting on the seat, and he just slid out. It really wasn’t bad at all.”

She held the baby, turned the heat up in the car and allowed Phillips to steer them to the hospital where everyone arrived safely.

Michigan did it [distracted driving]

From Gongwer:

The House has just approved a move to make texting while driving a primary offense.

The Republican-controlled Senate passed the primary offense measure after the House originally had approved making texting while driving a secondary offense, meaning a police officer would have to pull someone over for another traffic violation to cite a person for also texting while driving.

HB 4394, which passed 74-33, is tie-barred to a similar measure comprised in SB 468, which the House has not taken up for a vote yet. The Senate will have to concur in the House changes before all the bills become law (HB 4370).

The ban would take effect July 1.

Per Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates, I predict this will save zero lives.

(Hat tip: John)

They give out Pulitzer Prizes for this? [distracted driving]

Earlier this week the 2009 Pulitzer Prizes were awarded.  The New York Times and Matt Richtel took home the National Reporting prize for their Distracted Driving series which openly campaign for banning the use of cell phones in cars.

This particular series relies almost exclusively on tragic anecdotes and technophobic scaremongering.  The data presented in the series  supporting banning cell phones  are based largely on eye-ball tracking studies and simulators—not real-world field tests.

Richtel and the Times did not hesitate to make very alarming claims like that using a cell phone is more dangerous than drunk driving, but they never once discussed the fact that despite the proliferation of cell phones, our roads are safer than ever before. Not only are fewer people dying in car crashes, we are getting in fewer collisions per 100,000 miles driven as well. Of course while the Times gave front page treatment to stories about the dangers of cell phones but relegated the news about declining fatality rates to a blog post.

The series was also unabashed in calling for legislative action to ban the use of all cell phones—even hands-free sets—from cars. But never bothered to discuss the costs and benefits of such a ban.

They even wrote sensationalist stories about the need to ban billboards and EMS and Fire Truck communication equipment on the basis that they might be distracting.

Let me repeat that, the Pulitzer Prizing-winning series on Distracted Driving not only never addressed the costs and benefits of banning cell phones, but it also suggested that we should restrict the lifesaving communications equipment inside ambulances and fire trucks on the grounds it might be distracting to professional EMS drivers.

This is the series that defeated an in-depth look at the shady dealings of Goldman Sachs for the Pulitzer.

In its own write-up of the award, the Times brags that the series has led more than 200 state legislatures and municipal governments to introduce cell-phone ban legislation.  I guess it is fitting that a series devoid of level-headed analysis is driving government action. After all, the prize’s namesake, Joseph Pulitzer, is credited along with William Randolph Heart with developing Yellow Journalism.

Arguments for banning cell phones in cars

I spend a lot of time poking fun at the New York Times and other ‘safety experts’ who want to banish cell phones from cars, so I thought it only fair to take some time to listen to some of their arguments. To kick things off, here is a recent public service ad from the Highway Department of Victoria, Australia.

[via How We Drive]

Will the safety experts call for a bumper sticker ban now? [distracted driving]

IMG_5738cr.jpgTrying to read a bumper sticker on another car can be distracting for many of us. And it can be especially dangerous if you tailgate the car in order to get a better view of the sticker.

But for some people, seeing a simple Obama-Biden sticker is enough to send them into a mad rage and deliberately cause an accident. Perhaps the New York Times will add bumper stickers to their growing list of things we should ban in the name of road safety.

WKRN Nashville has the details of one case of bumper sticker road rage:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A Nashville man says he and his 10-year-old daughter were victims of road rage Thursday afternoon, all because of a political bumper sticker on his car.

Mark Duren told News 2 the incident happened around 4:30p.m., while he was driving on Blair Boulevard, not far from Belmont University.

He said Harry Weisiger gave him the bird and rammed into his vehicle, after noticing an Obama-Biden sticker on his car bumper.

Duren had just picked up his 10-year-old daughter from school and had her in the car with him.

“He pointed at the back of my car,” Duren said, “the bumper, flipped me off, one finger salute.”

But it didn’t end there.

Duren told News 2 that Weisiger honked his horn at him for awhile, as Duren stopped at a stop sign.

Once he started driving again, down Blair Boulevard, towards his home, he said, “I looked in the rear view mirror again, and this same SUV was speeding, flying up behind me, bumped me.”

Duren said he applied his brake and the SUV smashed into the back of his car.

He then put his car in park to take care of the accident, but Weisiger started pushing the car using his SUV.

Duren said, “He pushed my car up towards the sidewalk, almost onto the sidewalk.”

Police say Harry Weisiger is charged with felony reckless endangerment in the incident.

Michigan Senate votes to make texting while driving a primary offense [distracted driving]

Long Beach Harbor Patrol Say No Photography From a Public SidewalkWhile they can’t find the time to balance the state budget, qualify for $800 million in federal road funds, or reform the state’s broken tax structure, the Michigan State Senate did find time today to pass sweeping legislation criminalizing the use of cell phones in cars. This is apparently a pressing issue—despite the fact that our roads are safer than ever before.

Under the bill, texting while driving would be a primary offence. This means that a police officer can pull you over for texting while driving—not just write you an additional ticket for it after you’ve already been stopped.

The Detroit Free Press has more:

The 28-10 Senate vote means the House must now agree with the Senate change. That agreement is uncertain because many House members opposed allowing police to stop drivers for text messaging, as they can for not wearing a seat belt. But Rep. Lee Gonzales, D-Flint, sponsor of the original bill, said he prefers the Senate version and said he’ll try to muster enough votes in the House to go along with it.

How, exactly the police will determine who is texting remains to be seen. I don’t know about you, but when I use a cell phone in the car it is often on my lap—a place that is very hard for anyone not in the car to see. Does this bill mean that anyone who glances down can now be pulled over for suspected texting while driving? What if I’m looking down to put hot sauce on my Taco Bell and the police think I’m texting? Will I get a ticket for that?

Here is more Distracted Driving coverage, including a look at why it is silly to ban cell phones in cars.

Now the New York Times says EMS computers are dangerous [distracted driving]

Bowie Pointer Ridge Ambulance

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.

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]

Now the NYT wants to ban billboards too [distracted driving]

2008-11-16 Electronic billboard at Rome-Hilliard Rd. & I-70 on the far west side of Columbus, OhioNot content merely to fear monger about the immanent national threat posed by motorists who chat on their cell phone, the New York Times has decided to take on a new bogyman: electronic billboards.

From the New York Times:

Safety advocates who worry about the dangers of distracted driving have a new concern beyond cellphones and gadget-laden dashboards: digital roadside billboards.

These high-tech billboards marry the glow of Times Square with the immediacy of the Internet. Images change every six to eight seconds, so advertisers can flash timely messages — like the latest headlines, coffee deals at dawn, a cheeseburger at lunchtime or even the song playing on a radio station at that moment.

The billboard industry asserts there is no research indicating they cause crashes, and notes that the signs do not use video or animation.

But to critics, these ever-changing, bright billboards are “television on a stick” and give drivers, many of them already calling and texting, yet another reason to take their eyes off the road.

Abby Dart, executive director of Scenic Michigan, a nonprofit group trying to block construction of new digital billboards in the state, calls the signs “weapons of mass distraction” and says they can be more dangerous than phones.

As someone who has spent entirely too much time driving across Ohio, I can tell you that at least in the nations farm belt, large, electronic billboards are not so much as a distraction as a safety feature. After all, what else is there to keep you from falling asleep after 100 miles of cornfields?

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)

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