Archive for Thursday, December 15, 2011

Driving distractions

There are many ways to distract a driver, but it’s hard to deny that the use of cellphones is at the top of the list.

December 15, 2011


It’s amazing how quickly Americans have become devoted to, even dependent on, their cellphones — and how reluctant they are to temper their use of instant communication devices even in a life-saving cause.

This week, the National Transportation Safety Board unanimously recommended that all states adopt laws that ban drivers from talking, texting, surfing the Internet or otherwise turning their attention to a cellphone or mobile device, even if they are using hands-free technology. The NTSB doesn’t have the power to enforce such restrictions, but its recommendations can be used as a basis for things like how much federal highway money a state will receive. The NTSB’s 1995 recommendation that state legislatures pass a primary seat belt law is an example.

NTSB officials acknowledged that the cellphone recommendation wouldn’t be popular and that it would be difficult to change a behavior that had become so ingrained across the nation. However, the connection between cellphone use and accidents — sometimes fatal accidents — was just too great to ignore, they said.

As predicted, many individuals and industry groups quickly jumped in to discount the dangers of cellphone use. They make some valid points, including that overall traffic fatalities have declined in the U.S. in recent years and that cellphones are just one of many distractions that can contribute to a traffic accident. They are particularly critical of the ban on hands-free phone use, which they say poses no greater distraction than a conversation with a passenger riding in the car.

Several studies confirm the distracting impact of cellphones, and anecdotal evidence is strong. Think about how many times you’ve seen a driver take an erratic, potentially dangerous, action while holding a cellphone to his or her ear. Think honestly about your own cellphone use. Even if you’re using a hands-free device, the distraction of talking on the phone is different — and often more complete — than the distraction of a live conversation in the car. Can you honestly say you’ve never been on the phone having a significant personal or business conversation and then realized you’ve traveled some distance, perhaps many miles, with little attention to or awareness of your driving or the traffic around you?

People are quick to contend that talking on the phone doesn’t significantly impair their ability to drive. Drunken drivers often have the same erroneous perception of their driving ability.

Another way to think about this is to consider just how essential it is to be able to talk on the phone when driving. Obviously, we got along fine without that ability before a decade or two ago. The NTSB would allow phones to be used in emergency situations, but most calls obviously don’t fall into that category. If the phone rings, while you’re driving, is it really that inconvenient to wait until you can safely pull over and return the call? That inconvenience seems minor compared to the danger posed by streets and highways filled with drivers paying more attention to their mobile communication devices than to their driving.

Kansas already has laws banning texting by all drivers and the use of any mobile communications device by drivers on instruction permits or restricted licenses. A broader ban on the use of mobile devices won’t be popular, but it deserves some serious consideration in Kansas and across the nation.


KS 6 years, 6 months ago

This is my own cut and paste from the poll question:

Look, if you are going to ban cell phones, you need to also include GPS navigation systems, AM/FM radios, screaming kids in the backseat, heating and air conditioning systems, no eating after going thru the McDonalds drive-thru, as well. anything, including a fellow passenger can be a distraction to one's driving. How about making the penalty so darn stiff ($$$$$$$$$$$) that there would be a very strong incentive NOT to use them. I understand the desire to address this, but it is unenforceable and just another way for the government to butt into our lives.

Cai 6 years, 6 months ago

I don't disagree that many of these things are also distracting and should be limited or eliminated.

However, cell phone use is unique in two ways. First, it is more pervasive. That is, a higher percentage of people admit to the activity, a higher percentage of accidents have cell phone use as a contributing factor, and a a higher percentage of drivers actually perform the behavior (which is different than admittance).

Second; texting while driving impairs your driving abilities by more than drunk driving does. This means that while texting and driving, your reaction times are longer, you swerve more in your lane (and out of it), and your ability to accurately judge changing road conditions.

and many other studies (yes, available in true academic journals that I didn't post because not everyone has access to the academic journals) support these claims.

George Brenner 6 years, 6 months ago

Studies have shown that cell phone use is more distracting than listening to radio, fellow travelers, road signs, etc. because the phone conversation directs our attention to other issues in a way that the others do not. I have been nearly run over by young women drivers obscessed with their cell phone conversation on several occasions. How many times do we see drivers making left turns with their cell phone in hand after the red light has clearly lit.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 6 months ago

+1. Brain research is getting interesting on these topics and exploding the myth of multi-tasking. There are many distractions in cars and it will get worse. Newer cars are also so quiet and isolated from the road it's easy to get trance-like just when driving on the highway. This topic needs continued discussion. Like many other issues (how to tax buggy-whips for example) it will be obsolete in 2 generations when all the vehicles are radically different and the roads are automated. Until then, we are all at risk from the phones, the burgers, the coffee spills, the computer on the front seat, etc. There will be no easy answers, but we need to keep talking.

DoltSimons 6 years, 6 months ago

Cell phones may be at the top of the list, and we got away without using cell phones while driving a few decades ago, but they are as essential to those needing to get a message across as anything. What is not essential are cigarettes while driving. Fumbling with a radar detector is not real necessary. Getting a call that says that a child or other loved one needs the vehicle you are driving now for an emergency is, to me, important. Using the device responsibly is what should be demanded. Not the banning of the devices.

grimpeur 6 years, 6 months ago

Please spare us the emergency hysteria. It's the exception that proves the rule that practically all of these inattentive, selfish, fashion-conscious bozos are talking about the same worthless, vacuous, loud-mouthed, self-absorbed, blabbering nonsense that they're prattling on about behind you at the theater, in the grocery aisles, in class, in the plane the moment the wheels touch ground to announce to their party that "I've just arrived," even though the plane is on time, and so nothing has changed and so I'm calling you just because I like to talk on my cell phone in public, which is really all this fashion show is about anyway, isn't it? To talk on the phone in public, especially behind the wheel, to show how in-touch and important I am, right? Because you know damn well it can wait.

Emergency? Sure, pull over and take the call. But please don't insult us by pretending that these cell-addled halfwits are in a constant state of emergency and that's why they "need" to be on the phone all the time. It's ridiculous and stupid.

Until you can explain to me how your driving in my lane, changing lanes without looking, ignoring the lights and signs, failing to signal, turning into the wrong lane, and otherwise endangering me, my fellow road users and pedestrians and cyclists everywhere just so you can play with your little toys behind the wheel (that's right--toys so get over yourself), I suggest you concentrate on the one task you have while driving and that is driving, not entertaining yourself with your blinky new gizmo.

I swear the only thing worse than cell-junkie drivers are the ones who still think their phones are status symbols instead of the equivalent of a giant red 'L' stamped on their forehead.

thebigspoon 6 years, 6 months ago

Just as has happened in recent years with the addition of audio and HVAC controls on steering wheels, there is now Bluetooth and related technology that makes operating cellular equipment as safe as listening to your passenger, without releasing or reducing control of the vehicle. Seems to me that the simplest way to handle this cell phone problem is to make physical handling of the phone, while the vehicle is in motion, illegal, and make the punishment mean something. But there is little reason to go gaga over all cellphone useage when such useage can be done with safety to both the driver's vehicle and those around it. This would make it easier for the cops to make a reasonable stop when celll phone useage involves holding the device up to the person's head, or is seen to be used as a typewriter. Since people seem averse to reasonable safety restrictions, at least they now have options, both in phone and navigation areas, through the use of hands-free, voice activated devices and technology. Problem solved. Age restrictions not a problem. Driver control is now no less or more a problem than it has ever been. And all those vital phone conversations that must be taken care of within seconds of leaving home can now be had.

As for the eating in the car issue, the crying kids, etc., etc., there are statutes dealing with inattentive driving that deal quite well with those, and no more need be said, other than it's incumbent on the police/law enforcement people to take care of them.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 6 months ago

"As for the eating in the car issue, the crying kids, etc., etc., there are statutes dealing with inattentive driving that deal quite well with those, and no more need be said, other than it's incumbent on the police/law enforcement people to take care of them" === Perhaps, but I remember discussing this with a prosecutor who said there was no state inattentive driving law. The standard is reckless, I believe. Local units can do something and some have. I suppose adding use of an electronic device while the wheels are in motion could be added to the reckless driving law. One thing I notice--when people are on their phone, they are definitely not scanning their mirrors for other traffic. Knowing who is around you at all times is the first survival skill on the road. I am probably more paranoid than others since I used to work in the emergency room. Cars are fun, but they are lethal weapons at the same time.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 6 months ago

Has anyone ever noticed drivers sitting at intersections for no apparent reason other than being on the cell phone and did not realize it was time to go?

Yes the radio may be on however most drivers do not get into emotional arguments at the radio and radios do not talk back.

It has been suggested that perhaps 10% may be able to drive and talk. I do not consider myself among the 10% which is one of the reasons only 5 others know my phone number. That leaves 90% creating many many many problems and wrecks.

In order to react accordingly both hands on the wheel are better than one.

To Mayor and the City Commissioners:

Lawrence must have the city commission declare cell phone use "inattentive driving" backed with a very stiff fine so police will enforce that law. If not quite a stiff fine violators will repeat the offense over and over and over and over.

Declare this violation a moving violation

Flap Doodle 6 years, 6 months ago

Hysterical overreaction by the NTSB isn't going to help anybody.

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