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Cellular phones and bad drivers. What can we do about them?

By theboz in Culture
Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 06:33:07 PM EST
Tags: Round Table (all tags)
Round Table

There is a recent problem that is killing people worldwide. It's not AIDS, it's not guns, and it's not a new drug. It's cell phones. In a recent poll it was found that the majority of Americans believe using cellular phones while driving can be distracting and lead to more accidents, however, a majority would also ignore any laws that would be passed to punish the people that use phones while driving. What are the chances of a driver causing an accident, and what can be done to help stop people from using their phones while driving?

It is a very big problem we face every day. The motorist that seems to be weaving in and out of lanes, suddenly speeding up then slowing down. Sometimes we see the results of these drivers pulled over on the side. They either sideswiped another car, rear-ended someone when they weren't paying attention, or ran a red light and hit another car. Sometimes pedestrians are hit by these people. They are driving impaired, but it is not due to alcohol or drugs, it is their obsession with the cell phone. There have been many articles dealing with this in the news, some even comparing it to drunk driving(pdf format.) I originally thought it was something unique to the U.S. but I have found that government officials in Canada, Brazil, Australia, Israel, Spain, and other nations as well are facing the same problem. Some cities have already passed laws banning cellphone use while driving. In the U.S. some of the suburbs of Cleveland Ohio and Philadelphia Pennsylvania have already banned the use of phones in the car. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 85% of all cellular customers are using the devices while driving. Experts calculate the costs of the damage caused by cellular phone use in vehicles to be $1.2 billion per year. About half of this $1.2 billion is attributable to the 78 estimated fatalities associated with driver use of cellular phones while the other half represents the costs associated with other accidents in which cell phones were a contributing factor. Also, the risk is increasing. A study published in the Accident Analysis and Prevention Journal in 1996 concluded that drivers who used their cell phones more than 50 minutes a month were five times as likely to be involved in an accident as those with no mobile phone. The New England Journal of Medicine reported in 1997 that cell-phone use in a moving vehicle is associated with a quadrupling of the risk of collision. In 1999, two University of South Florida investigators who surveyed the existing scientific research found that estimates of the increased crash risk faced by those who dial and drive ranged from 34 percent to 300 percent. We may ask ourselves if we are aware of the problem, and what is being done to try to prevent these accidents?

According to an article by reuters about this survey: "The survey, conducted by Roper Starch Worldwide for the Insurance Research Council, found that of the 1,000 adults surveyed, 91 percent believed driving and talking on a cell phone distracts drivers and increases the chance of accidents. Sixty-nine percent said they favored bans on driving and talking on a cell phone. But only 35 percent said they thought it likely that such laws would be obeyed." Why is it that over ninety percent realize this is a problem, but so few would obey these laws? Would laws like this be met with initial hostility, much like seatbelt laws? Only time can tell as more places initiate these laws to protect our safety. However, these laws are being met with a lot of resistance. "At least 15 states have proposed bills restricting cell phone use by motorists, only to have the measures die in committee," says Matt Sundeen, an analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures. "Part of the reason is the political clout of 76 million cell phone users. Also, just about every politician owns and uses a cell phone." It appears that we have a long way to go before there are widespread rules to protect us from those who talk on the phone while driving.

However, there are some groups that have come up with a few tips for driving with a cell phone, although even by following their guidelines, you do not remove the danger as much as not making the calls while driving at all. Other possibilities is that the police can already arrest or ticket a person for driving recklessly, which would include things such as eating or using a cellphone. Some people will say to try to peer pressure approach. If you are riding with someone that is using a phone, ask them to hang it up. If someone calls you from a cellphone, tell them that you will wait until they reach their destination then talk to them because you are concerned for their safety. There are many things we can do now, however, laws setting up punishments for those caught using their cellphone while driving would help deter people from doing it. There are devices that will block out signals to and from the phones that could possibly be installed on major roadways. Of course, with these devices there would be problems since many motorists use their cellphones for 911 and emergency calls.

There are many possibilities, some would work better than others, but we must look at all of them. Too many people have been injured and killed so Joe Yuppie can trade stocks while driving his SUV. We have the phones and they are now an integral part of our lives, but what can be done to make the usage of them safer for motorists?


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Do you use the phone while driving?
o Yes, and I think it's ok. 16%
o Yes, and I must be punished. 3%
o No, but I don't mind if others do. 0%
o No, and we must flog those that do. 40%
o No, I don't drive. 10%
o No, I don't use a cell phone. 29%

Votes: 92
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o comparing it to drunk driving
o Canada
o this survey
o tips for driving with a cell phone
o Also by theboz

Display: Sort:
Cellular phones and bad drivers. What can we do about them? | 43 comments (37 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
Bad drivers... (3.80 / 5) (#2)
by westgeof on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 09:36:40 AM EST

We've all seen them, those people on the road that make you wish your car came equipped with front launching guided missles. I've never been in a real accident myself while driving (i.e., nothing I couldn't drive away from undamaged), but there have been several close calls. I'm always saying that there are just way too many people on the roads who are pretty much not fit to be there.
As for the cell phone issue, I think that's more of a symptom than the problem. These same people would probably drive the same way if they were talking to a passenger. I use my phone while driving myself, though only when someone calls me, and they can always tell I'm driving because I still pay attention to the road, not who I'm talking to. That's the real problem; a lot of people either don't realize or just don't car how dangerous they are in a car, so they don't concentrate on what they're doing. You shouldn't have to do anything special to talk to someone on the phone, yet some of these people just totally zone out of the situation when they're talking to someone. (For the record, I wouldn't trust this kind of person on the road anyway. They're probably just as likely to see something interesting on the side of the road and swerve into my line.)
Well, I don't want to rant, and I can feel one coming on, so I'll leave it at that. (In case you can't tell, I've got quite a few things to say about the idiots on the road :-) Guess I'll have to put in a diary entry tonight:-)

As a child, I wanted to know everything. Now I miss my ignorance
bad drivers (4.50 / 2) (#6)
by Nyarlathotep on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 10:01:14 AM EST

Actually, there is a solution to bad drivers: public transportation. I suppose once our technology gets good enough then we can just ban human drivers near cities and force all cars to drive themselves.

It would be quite easy to enforce this law since if you drove your own car then the computer controlled cars would notice and vote for you to get a ticket. This is a good solution since your own car is not reporting you and it takes a lot of diffrent cars to agree that your driving dose not match theirs for you to get a ticket, so one or two people hacking their ticket assignment system to hand out tickets to everyone would not be a serious problem.

The government would not be able to track your driving habits since cars would not report who they saw unless they did not like someone's driving.

Campus Crusade for Cthulhu -- it found me!
[ Parent ]
Some people can't drive and talk (none / 0) (#41)
by JML on Sat Jan 27, 2001 at 08:23:51 PM EST

As for the cell phone issue, I think that's more of a symptom than the problem. These same people would probably drive the same way if they were talking to a passenger. I use my phone while driving myself, though only when someone calls me, and they can always tell I'm driving because I still pay attention to the road, not who I'm talking to.

This has also been my observation. I occasionally use my phone while driving, and when these studies started to come out I didn't really understand what they were talking about. I mean, sure I am holding the phone up to my head, but I drive an automatic so I only need one hand, what could be so dangerous about driving and talking? Everybody who has ever had a passenger has done that. I thought this could all be solved by waiting for a traffic light to dial...

Then I rode in the car with somebody who wasn't able to talk to me (his front seat passenger) without veering all over the road.

Then I started to pay attention to people on the phone (not driving) and realized that they often stare into space or get blank looks. I am guessing it is the same phone behavior while driving that is causing the problems. I base this conclusion on one study (sorry no reference) which found that people who used hands-free phones were no safer---it was the talking that was the problem, not the fumbling with the phone.

[ Parent ]

What to do? (3.85 / 7) (#4)
by greyrat on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 09:42:50 AM EST

Kill them. Kill them all. If you have to talk to somebody right now go somewhere besides the roadthat I'm on.

What's next? portable toilets for your Dodge Caravan that you can take into the bank or theater with you?

Do the appropriate thing at the appropriate time in the appropriate place

~ ~ ~
Did I actually read the article? No. No I didn't.
"Watch out for me nobbystyles, Gromit!"

Just wondering. (3.60 / 5) (#5)
by i on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 09:49:23 AM EST

Why talking to a plastic box is any more dangerous than talking to a passenger in the front seat? Especially if you use a hands-free kit (mandatory where I live btw)? This is a genuine interest; I'm to 1337 to either drive or have a cell phone :)

and we have a contradicton according to our assumptions and the factor theorem

Why more dangerous than a passenger? (3.75 / 4) (#13)
by Vygramul on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 10:41:13 AM EST

The telephone is different for a variety of reasons. A passenger is (generally) also aware of the traffic situation, and conversations ebb and flow with the amount of attention required by the driver. As a passenger, if you see a multi-car accident happening ahead, you're likely to cease your discussion of rutabega prices along the upper Yangtzhe and instead react in some way to the traffic threat. If you have a phone to your head, it's likely the person on the other hand doesn't know, and many people are unable to keep from being distracted by trying to listen and react at the same time.

Handsfree systems are way, way better, and some people are capable of driving while on a cell phone. The problem is many people are not, and so we must have laws protecting us from the idiots at the expense of our convenience.
If Brute Force isn't working, you're not using enough.
[ Parent ]

Hands-free kits (none / 0) (#22)
by nstenz on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 12:11:36 PM EST

Some news/informational channel broadcast earlier this week was telling about a study on cell phone use while driving. I don't recall where the study was done (England?), but their findings showed that use of a 'handsfree kit' had almost no effect on the likelyhood of the driver causing an accident. I believe the numbers were something like 300% more likely than a driver not using a phone for both cases. I found that odd, but somewhat believable.

I have yet to purchase the $200+ equipment from Nokia so I can use my phone hands-free while driving- I feel getting my rear shocks and sway bar in decent enough condition to make my car driveable on bumpy roads is more important to my safety than phone equipment would be. I will concede, however, that it IS more difficult to drive when you have a manual transmission and you're slowing down and turning and holding the phone to your ear and you have to look to the side for cars with a bunch of wires strapped to the phone. Honestly, I don't steer half the time when I'm using my phone while driving. Between shifting gears and holding the phone and pushing the clutch and gas, I'm out of hands (and legs). When I have to turn a corner, I shift into neutral and turn... I have to wait until I slow down enough to put the car back in gear, which is usually in the middle of a turn- at which point I let go of the wheel and the car goes where it wants. This only happens for a fraction of a second, and I'm going slowly... but still. No, I don't do it much with other cars around- I just wait until I'm going fairly slow so the car won't drift much. For whatever reason, my car pulls left even after an alignment and new tires. I have to get that looked at.

I hope I haven't scared anyone too much. I've never even come close to getting in an accident because of my phone usage... and I'm not exactly a wonderful driver. However, I wouldn't be overly opposed to legislation requiring a handsfree kit for phone usage while driving... I've heard about some cities passing such laws already. Perhaps they don't statistically cut down on the number of accidents- but having another free hand certainly can't hurt. The expense sucks, but sometimes you just have to eat it. Safety should come first.

So I guess what I'm saying is I'll put the handsfree kit in when I get to it, unless the government makes me do it first. Man, I sound just plain evil.

[ Parent ]
Speaking as a Brazilian driver (4.00 / 5) (#7)
by Flavio on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 10:02:49 AM EST

As you said, here in Brazil we also have the same problem. Let me explain how our driving legislation works first.

The national DMV keeps a file on you which contains your infractions for the current year. Infractions are classified in light, medium, serious and very serious.

Each infraction adds a number of points to your file. When you reach 20 points you theoretically have your license revoked for 1 to 12 months and must take a 1 week course. Most very serious infractions are also crimes. In practice the legislation isn't well enforced because there aren't many policemen around and because one can transfer points to another person, thus virtually eliminating the 20 point limit.

Drunk driving is a very serious infraction. The fine is costs roughly R$900,00 (about US$450,00). You also lose your driver's license, get your car apprehended and risk spending 6 to 12 months in jail if convicted.

Driving while speaking on a cell phone is a medium infraction. The fine costs roughly R$80,00 (~US$45,00) and adds 4 points to your file. (Very serious infractions that don't revoke your license and don't get you jailed add 7 points).

Consider that:

1. running any red light is also a very serious infraction

2. only seriously drunk drivers actually risk losing their licenses and getting jail time

3. driving while speaking on a cell phone can actually cause very serious accidents (albeit not as serious as drunk driving, for the cell phone speaker usually drives slower)

I believe we should have stricter penalties for drivers who insist on using their cell phones. Here it IS allowed to drive and speak on the phone, as long as you have a speakerphone.

We should have extremely strict penalties for everything that's done with blatant disregard for others, like drunk driving and racing on public streets (believe me, you only get a R$540 fine and lose your driver's permit for doing this here; no jail time at all).

My suggestion? Revoke this person's driver's license for 5 years and melt/auction his car.


re (2.00 / 2) (#8)
by westgeof on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 10:16:01 AM EST

Well, i really like the start of your post, very informative and straightforward. However, right at the end it looks like someone else took over, which was quite a dissapointment.

Why should talking on a cell phone be punsihed even more strictly than drunk driving? If you believe that it's that bad, then people shouldn't even be allowed to talk to passengers in their car. IMHO, that's even more distracting than talking on a phone. So, if I talk to someone in the backseat, should I be sentanced to life in prison and a $10,000 fine, plus losing my car?

Believe it or not, it really is possible to drive while talking, the problem comes when someone who can't drive well to begin with, or is too easily distracted, tries to drive while on the phone. As far as I'm concerned, these people shouldn't be on the road in the first place. I've always said that it should be much harder to get, and keep. a drivers license.

As a child, I wanted to know everything. Now I miss my ignorance
[ Parent ]
You misunderstood me (none / 0) (#12)
by Flavio on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 10:36:40 AM EST

> Why should talking on a cell phone be punsihed even more strictly than drunk driving?

I quote myself: "We should have extremely strict penalties for everything that's done with blatant disregard for others". Drunk driving is on the list's header, along with racing on public streets and purposely trying to scare other people.

> If you believe that it's that bad, then people shouldn't even be allowed to talk to passengers in their car.

Talking to other people isn't blatant disregard for others.

> So, if I talk to someone in the backseat, should I be sentanced to life in prison and a $10,000 fine, plus losing my car?

No. If you keep turning around to talk, though, I'll probably want to take your car and license away for a couple of months.

The same goes for women who like to retouch their makeup by using the rear view mirror while driving.

> Believe it or not, it really is possible to drive while talking, the problem comes when someone who can't drive well to begin with, or is too easily distracted, tries to drive while on the phone.

I never disagreed with you on this.


[ Parent ]
Honk! Honk! Honk! (3.83 / 6) (#9)
by error 404 on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 10:19:58 AM EST

Works best if the bozo is driving a convertible with the top down while trying to read a completely unfolded map and talk on the phone and drive at the same time. (No, I'm not making that up.)

What I like about honking is that it directly addresses the problem. Sure, a jamming signal would be better, but the damned FCC gets hissy fits when you do that.

Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
- Donovan

2 comments (5.00 / 2) (#11)
by westgeof on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 10:30:49 AM EST

First of all, honking only works if they know you're honking at them. Many times I've seen several people look around when someone honks, trying to figure out who honked, and at who. There's an accident waiting to happen right there.

Secondly, the jamming would also probably be dangerous. The kind of person who can't concentrate on the road while speaking would probably have an ever harder time staying in a straight line if they were trying to figure out why their phone wasn't working.

The easiest solution would be to give me a tank, then I wouldn't care what any of those morons did ;-)

As a child, I wanted to know everything. Now I miss my ignorance
[ Parent ]
Works even if they don't know why (none / 0) (#42)
by error 404 on Mon Jan 29, 2001 at 01:41:54 PM EST

Honking, if it is audible inside the dofus' vehicle, interferes with the ability to carry on a phone conversation.

Even if they don't realize you are honking, much less at them, the noise level is higher and call is less convenient, thus encouraging them to make the call in a less noisy environment.

But, in fact, I very, very rarely use my horn. For anything. I leave the behavior of other drivers to the cops. If there is a situation that warrants honking, it almost always involves a situation where my hands aren't leaving the wheel.
Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
- Donovan

[ Parent ]

Poor Drivers (4.42 / 7) (#15)
by finkployd on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 11:07:19 AM EST

From my own experience (I usually put about 30k miles/year on my poor Civic) the cell phone problem is overrated. The real problem is bad drivers. I've noticed people on cell phones while driving and while I tend to be a little wary of passing them or merging with them (in the highway sense, not the DBZ sense), I've never seen one cause trouble. However, I've seen plenty of bad drivers, who aren't talking to anyone. And they aren't all driving Evil SUV's (tm), I got cut off by someone driving an Insight (hybrid small car) the other day.

I agree that cell phone usage DOES impair your ability to drive. So does driving while angry, sleepy, hungry, stupid, debugging DCE IDLs, or after watching any Tom Cruise movie. Let us rethink this whole 'blaming cell phones and SUVs for all the ills of the road' and place the blame firmly where it belongs, bad drivers. They drive in all cars (even geek approved cars, which as far as I can tell include everything except SUVs), work in all jobs, and live in every country that has roads and internal combustion technology. I would rather know what we can do about them.

Sig: (This will get posted after your comments)
Cell phones and driving (3.66 / 3) (#16)
by YesNoCancel on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 11:10:25 AM EST

In some countries (most EU states, I think) it's already illegal to use a cell phone without a hands-free speaking system while driving a vehicle, and I guess similar laws will be passed in the US soon (given that the US lags only about 1-2 years behind the EU regarding cell phone market penetration). And IMHO that's a good thing. You shouldn't be allowed to perform a distracting activity (like using a cell phone) while doing something that needs your full concentration and can be potentially harmful to others.

Give us some real data (3.66 / 6) (#17)
by delmoi on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 11:23:53 AM EST

You're article was surprisingly free of any relevant statistics.

In a recent poll it was found that the majority of Americans believe using cellular phones while driving can be distracting and lead to more accidents
My god! If a majority of people believe it, it must be true!

Experts calculate the costs of the damage caused by cellular phone use in vehicles to be $1.2 billion per year.

Calculate how? You mentioned a stat later about people using a cell phone in the 10 minutes before their accident, in my mind that doesn't prove anything. If you're not on the phone when you have an accident, I don't see how you can blame the phone. And secondly, how much do 'regular' car accidents cost? You don't give us any numbers to compare to, so I can only assume that it's an attempt to convince us through peripheral queues, "wow, that's a big number, cell phones must be bad!" Accident Analysis and Prevention Journal in 1996 concluded that drivers who used their cell phones more than 50 minutes a month were five times as likely to be involved in an accident as those with no mobile phone.

Again, what the hell does this have to do with anything? How many of those people were talking on the phone when they had an accident? If anything, this stat only proves that people who use cell phones are already more likely to be more reckless drivers regardless of conversations that they may or may not be having. Taking away their phones is not going to make them better drivers. It certainly doesn't prove a causal correlation.

Too many people have been injured and killed so Joe Yuppie can trade stocks while driving his SUV.

Ohh... classical populist appeal. Classically lame as well.

Your article is a mesh of half-information, the kind of statistical-perversion used in mainstream media because they have an agenda, and because they take their audiences for fools.

A few months ago, I literally heard this stat on CNN when talking about the death penalty "The majority of those who do not support the death penalty have never been victims of violent crime". Well, no shit. The majority of any one has never been a victim of violent crime. I tried to use that quote as my slashdot sig, but people thought I supported the death penalty...

K5 is not a place for idiots, why don't you actually go out and read those reports, and give us the real, relevant data. Not these one-sided meaningless statistics. I don't equate the intelligence of a k5 reader to a CNN 'eyeball' and I don't think they deserve the same treatment.

"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
Another whipping boy (3.85 / 7) (#18)
by jabber on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 11:31:35 AM EST

Guns don't kill people, people do.

Phones don't cause accidents, people do.

I sometimes talk on the cell while driving (and I drive manual cars most of the time). The thing is, if there is other traffic on the road (I usually drive late, when traffic is very light), I get in the slow lane and stay there until I hang up. I tend to keep my phone OFF unless I need to use it, so I rarely get a call when driving. I consider this to be responsible phone use, and I have never had so much as a close call in which I was at fault. I've never had a close call while on the phone. I've never missed an exit, drifted into another lane, etc, while talking on the phone.

I get into the slow lane when changing tapes or CD's. I do the same whenever I need to check the map, or written directions.

Anything that takes your senses off the road or limbs of the controls is a bad thing to do while driving. Anything that distracts you should be kept to a minimum. As a responsible individual, a driver needs to know and respect this.

I feel, and have experience to show, that I am a safe driver while using the phone. I make a point of being responsible with it. Ideally, I would pull over to make of take a call. If the call gets complicated, I do exactly that. I respect other drivers, and the people I talk to, and prefer to give both undivided attention in anything but trivially simple situations. I never use the phone when driving in snow or heavy rain, for example.

Using a phone while driving is no different than doing anything else that divides your attention. Regulating talking on the phone is a symptomatic fix. To be fair, you'd have to have a law against changing CDs while driving, drinking coffee while driving, picking your nose while driving... The solution is to make drivers less arrogant about their sense of control. Educate people about the level of distraction, and instill better habits - such as removing yourself adequately from the traffic before making a call. Unforunatelly arrogance and supidity is not against the law.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

Existing Laws (3.75 / 4) (#20)
by leviathan on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 11:37:14 AM EST

I'm not sure about other countries, but in the UK there is an existing law for this - it's called driving without due care and attention.

So it's not a question of legislation, not there at least, more a question of implementation by the police and the judges. It has been used in the past for convicting phone using drivers, to the best of my knowledge. Possibly there is an issue with the penalities which can be given out, but I suspect the main issue (if it's still considered a problem) is raising awareness in the general culture, hence including the police. They will then be more likely to pull those drivers over (leaving alone those who can responsibly make use of phone technology in the car)

I wish everyone was peaceful. Then I could take over the planet with a butter knife.
- Dogbert

Don't think that hands-free is the solution. (4.66 / 6) (#21)
by gauntlet on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 12:03:12 PM EST

The ICBC(government monopoly insurance agency in the province of British Columbia) just yesterday released a study they did on cell-phone use in cars. The study was on the effects of hands-free cell-phone use in basic driving skills.

They showed footage of the tests. They used different complexity levels of conversation, and tested the drivers ability to react to changes in the environment.

They found that while having a cell-phone in one hand may physically limit your reaction to something, it's actually the conversation that limits whether or nor you react.

From the study:

Drivers who were listening and responding to messages while attempting a left-hand turn accepted significantly shorter gaps in the oncoming traffic to make their turn.

The problem that I have is, if you make the use of a hands-free cell-phone in a car a crime... how far is that from making having a conversation with someone else in a car a crime?

You can't outlaw loud children. I say we make a commitment to educate people on the risks of conversational distractions in driving, and make questions on the subject a standard part of driving license tests. After that, we have to trust people to use their own judgement as to the amount of attention they can take away from the road, and give to their phone.

Into Canadian Politics?

In Australia (none / 0) (#30)
by Robert Gormley on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 04:17:44 PM EST

... (or Victoria at least) you are looking at a $2,000 fine for talking on your mobile phone.

The problem is only partially that of the attention factor. It's also the distraction factor. Fumbling in a handbag for the phone before it goes to voicemail, fumbling to get a CD out of its case and into the cd player, or to light a cigarette, or open the lid on a cup of coffee... or even (without being sexist) to look at a girl on the sidewalk.

These are all major causes of accidents, though few would own up to it... "Oh yeah, I ran into the back of you, cause, y'know, one of my girlfriends was calling". Your insurance company would tear you a new asshole.

[ Parent ]

conversation seems okay (none / 0) (#34)
by mikpos on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 07:35:10 PM EST

When I was taking drivers' ed, I was told that conversation with other passengers in the car was a good thing, as it keeps you alert, and I tend to agree. When you're having a conversation with a passenger, it tends to be along the lines of "where do you want to eat?" or "do you think it's too hot in here?". Problems come when the conversation is complex, requiring a lot of attention. Simple chit-chat keeps your brain "warm" whereas complex conversation steals too many brain "cycles" away from driving, I suppose.

Probably the problem comes from the fact that when people talk on the cell phone in their car, the conversation generally tends to be complex; maybe they're calling work or calling a client or something, where there are more important things at stake than "is it too hot in here?".

[ Parent ]

What makes impairment (none / 0) (#36)
by scruffyMark on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 11:53:56 PM EST

If I recall my drivers' ed. course from all those years back, the law (in Saskatchewan at least) covers all sorts of impairment under the offence of driving while impaired. For example, being very tired, or having a baby in your lap are both potential causes for arrest for DWI.

That said, the way the law is enforced, they are really only looking for people who are drinking, and given that it is the drunks that cause most of the accidents (in Saskatchewan more than any other province, IIRC) that is fairly reasonable.

[ Parent ]

Hysteria (3.83 / 6) (#23)
by davidduncanscott on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 12:57:38 PM EST

78 estimated fatalities

We kill some 40, 000 Americans on the road anually, and you're worried about 78 of those deaths?

No, it sure isn't AIDS. This is on the order of people killed by lightning.

I'm just grateful that we're no longer subject to the menace of lawn darts.

Misleading (3.75 / 4) (#24)
by GreenCrackBaby on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 01:49:25 PM EST

That number 78 is misleading. Most police forces do not, or are just starting to, keep track of incidents involving cell phones. Until the new numbers roll in it isn't fair to blast them because they are so low.

[ Parent ]
Low numbers (none / 0) (#33)
by davidduncanscott on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 07:05:39 PM EST

I'm not blasting them because they're low, but I seriously doubt that they will hold a candle to the death and mayhem already out there no matter how carefully they are counted. Maybe they're off by an order of magnitude and almost 1, 000 people died because of cell phones -- that's still what, 2.5%?

Worry about the drunks. Last estimate I heard they were held responsible for about half the deaths, which is to say some 20, 000.

Jeez, just use the damned turn signals and at least I won't haul you out of your car and kill you myself!

[ Parent ]

Car Talk's Drive Now Talk Later campaign (4.50 / 2) (#25)
by hugorune on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 02:04:14 PM EST

Tom and Ray from the Car Talk show on NPR have their own campaign against cell phone use while driving including this story and an actual cell phone accident (real audio).
Phil Harrison
Car Talk's Drive Now Talk Later campaign (3.80 / 5) (#26)
by hugorune on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 02:05:03 PM EST

Tom and Ray from the Car Talk show on NPR have their own campaign against cell phone use while driving including this story and an actual cell phone accident (real audio).
Phil Harrison
easy enforcement (3.00 / 5) (#27)
by mircrypt on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 02:47:42 PM EST

I drive. A lot. In fact, I often think that I spend an inordinate time behind the wheel. More often than not, this time is not actually spent in motion, but rather stuck behind some god-awful traffic jam. Anyone who's ever driven on the beltway, or through Washington, D.C. will understand that traffic during rush hours is not a pleasant experience. Ok...so I'm in traffic. It's not moving. I pull out my phone and make a few calls. I hang up, switch CDs, light up a cig, and hum or sing along. Which of those actions do you consider the more dangerous? Talking on the phone...hmm...not in my book. Each of the other activities I've mentioned takes both my eyes and attention away from the road...isn't that a bit more dangerous than speking a name and talking while mainting the road and traffic movement, or lack thereof, in view?

Trying to suggest that cell phones cause death is about on a par with suggesting that jogging is a primary cause of heart failure. You have no solid evidence. As several comments have pointed out, the data set available for how many accidents are caused by cell phones is still insufficient from which to draw a conclusion. Instead of addressing an issue that is a REAL danger, legislatures and law enforcement would rather choose a more inane and easily identifiable problem...no, not drunk driving, or driving while under any other influence...cell phones... with the help of insipid technophobic anachronisms such as yourself. Right. The guy on the phone calling his girlfriend to tell her he'll be late for dinner is as criminally negligible in his actions as is the guy who chugs a 40 of schiltz and gets behind the wheel. Give me a break. Look at this argument from an objective standpoint.

I for one don't often talk while driving. Yes, it happens, but it's nothing that I feel ashamed or guilty about. I move over to the right lane, or slow down to make sure I've got plenty of space in front of me and the next car. Granted...most people don't do this. I've seen more than one idiot run a light, or a stop because they were on the phone. Does this make driving while on the cell dangerous? No. I've seen even more people do exactly the same thing...by a factor of ten...with absolutely no excuse whatsoever except for distraction or a belief that they could get away with it.

You say that Too many people have been injured and killed so Joe Yuppie can trade stocks while driving his SUV. Not only that, you suggest that blocking cell phone signals from roads might be a good idea. What in the name of (insert your own interpretation of a cosmic being) are you thinking????? Do you think falsely stereotyping cell phone users in cars will help the argument? Do you feel that by triggering that visceral reaction that many have to the term "yuppie" is going to help further the argument? As for blocking out the signals on the highway. Impracticality aside, pray tell how would you feel stranded on a roadside at some pre-dawn hour in the freezing cold with a car that won't move and no way to call for help??? Having been there, I'm glad that I had a cell. The way you're putting it, things would have worked out for the better for all other motorists on the road if I'd had to freeze my ass for hours on some back country road because that's better than having a damn cell phone.

I'm afraid this rant of sorts has gone on for some length, but I haven't seen it put forward strongly enough that an article like this deserves some serious critique. You're right of course, it is a very big problem. It's fuck-off massive debacle when someone is capable of suggesting that cell phone use while driving is of greater concern to the public than guns, drugs, or AIDS. Perhaps overfrequent use of your own cell phone has adled your grey matter a bit? Hmmm? How dare you compare cell phone deaths to drunk driving? I know two people who were killed by drunk drivers in the last three years. I'm sure they and their families would appreciate your apparent concern for drivers' well being by deflecting the problem away from drunk driving...still the number one cause of accident fatalities...and onto such a banal and irrelevant tangent. Do some objective research next time, and try and avoid stereotyping and broad generalizations...it might help mitigate the lack of substance of your next piece by at least making it less painful and offensive to read.
"Experience is not what happens to you; it is what you do with what happens to you". - Aldus Huxley -

cell phones inspire stupidity (3.66 / 3) (#28)
by xah on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 03:12:01 PM EST

I don't know what it is, but cell phones seem to always bring out the stupidity in otherwise good people. The other day, for example, I was sitting in the library, reading for a class that was to start in about 30 minutes. Unlike my ususal experience, I had found a nice, quiet corner to read. There were a few people in that back corner of the library, but they were not making any noise. Then somebody started talking. You could tell immediately that it was a cell phone conversation, since you could only hear one end of it. As everyone knows, it is incredibly annoying to have to hear one half of a cell phone conversation. This person was trying to be nice, though. He was trying to shield his voice by standing behind a row of books. Because his arrhythmic voice was in contrast to nearly pure quiet, it was impossible to concentrate. I got up and walked by him, looking at him. He continued. I sat in a different carrel, pretending to read, looking directly at him. At last he wrapped up his incredibly trivial conversation, and the rest of us could get back to work. Since this is New Jersey, I didn't want to outright confront him. He could have produced a revolver.

What is wrong with people? Is it really that important to talk to somebody about nothing? Talking in cars is even worse. As far as I'm concerned, non-emergency cell phone use should be prohibited of drivers. If people want to use the phone, they should carpool and get somebody to drive who doesn't need to talk.

The punishment should be locking them up in a room for an entire day, forcing them to listen to halves of cell phone conversations.

Rude people suck (5.00 / 1) (#38)
by CrayDrygu on Sat Jan 27, 2001 at 01:41:40 AM EST

Amen to that. I always make an effort to leave the room and go somewhere like a stairwell or hallway, or outside, if I need to take/make a call where I think I'd bother other people. (Besides, you usually get better reception outside =) Not to mention, I turn the thing off when I go into the library (it doesn't have a vibrating ring or I'd use that). Now if only everyone else would be so considerate...

[ Parent ]

Technology amplifies the power of idiots to annoy (4.25 / 4) (#31)
by pmk on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 04:52:48 PM EST

I finally got tickets to see the last showing of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" in my town last night. Excellent film. Two morons received calls on cell phones with audible ringers during the movie. One of them took the call and had a conversation containing such brilliancies as "What? I'm at a movie. I can't hear you."

If I thought that these idiots were likely to kill themselves in their SUVs while chatting on their cell phones before they had opportunity to breed, I would resist laws like the one suggested in this story. Unfortunately, these slackjawed gomers in their gas-guzzling overweight deathtraps are actually more likely to kill somebody else. So yes, I'll support a ban.

I'd be sympathetic to the view that we already have existing laws against reckless driving and endangerment that would cover the case of a pinhead yapping on a cell phone while attempting to drive, but it appears that in my town that we've completely given up on law enforcement on the roadways. So the best that I think we can do is to have something about cell phones on the books that can be used by the survivors of their victims when seeking punitive damages.

Cell phones in movies (none / 0) (#37)
by CrayDrygu on Sat Jan 27, 2001 at 01:35:16 AM EST

I finally got tickets to see the last showing of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" in my town last night. Excellent film. Two morons received calls on cell phones with audible ringers during the movie. One of them took the call and had a conversation containing such brilliancies as "What? I'm at a movie. I can't hear you."

I am not, by any means, a violent or confrontational person...but I swear, if I were at that movie, and this second person you mentioned were close enough, I would have reached over, grabbed the phone, and tossed it across the theatre. I don't even bring my cell phone into the theatre with me most of the time, let alone keep it turned on and actually use it in the middle of a movie!

I was at the movies a few months ago (I forget what I was seeing now), and some girl was loudly yapping on her cell phone during the ads they show before the previews, and even that annoyed me. That's the other thing, people tend to talk more loudly on cell phones, because your voice doesn't get pumped back out the speaker like in normal phones.

Anyway, the problem isn't with cell phones, it's with the people who use them, and thier lack of respect for the people around them. Unfortunately, since it's hard to enforce laws that only apply to people with no common sense, the next best thing is laws against using the phones.

[ Parent ]

Thank you for amplifying my point (none / 0) (#40)
by pmk on Sat Jan 27, 2001 at 07:22:46 PM EST

When our ancestors lived in small hunter/gatherer groups, the band members filling out the left-hand tail of the ol' bell curve were limited in their ability to make everyone else miserable. Not that they want to, then or now, but really the worst they could do in their more-or-less random lives probably involved throwing large rocks up into the air to see were they'd come down. Or something like that.

Fire technology came along and was a great thing. Cooking food, keeping warm, fending off marauding predators; hard to see a down side to it, really. Life expectancies probably climbed up into the teens. And Bogg the Tribal Idiot now had a new toy to play with. And the others had to suffer when Bogg decided to fool around with the hot orange logs.

Fast forward several millennia (with Bogg's descendants fearing the collapse of civilization and/or the triumphant return of religious martyrs each time, no doubt), through the Renaissance, when Bogg's kids discovered the printing press and Pope Boggus IX invented the Inquisition, up to today.

Now our village idiots have cell phones, automobiles (large, large automobiles), e-mail, guns, corporate power structures, and democratic elections to play with. These are all wonderful things to have, in general. But when they fall into the hairy-knuckled hands reaching up out of the shallow end of the gene pool, they enable way more havoc to ensue. Where Bogg could, at worst, piss off one neighbor, today's modern clod can annoy thousands on a good day.

(A further amusing diatribe against cargo-cult management and their company-supplied electronic toys was deleted at this point as nontopical. Sigh. Bogg's children all have MBA's now, too.)

[ Parent ]

Time for self-regulation (3.00 / 2) (#32)
by bjrubble on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 05:37:40 PM EST

Here's my solution, not just for bad cell phone drivers but all bad drivers.

Set up a phone number that people can call. Run Nuance or something behind it. If you see a dangerous driver, you call and speak their license plate number. The system correlates your call with any others it receives within a given period of time regarding that particular license plate. If somebody receives more than x complaints in any y minute period, some consequence results. Maybe it sends them a nasty letter, maybe it calls the police and recommends they watch for that car, maybe it actually issues a ticket.

There are definitely issues with this -- it may be prone to abuse, at some point you're effectively deputizing people, etc -- but I see drivers perform outrageous acts of endangerment on a regular basis, and I think the low risk of consequence is a major factor. Even a small consequence, if it were virtually guaranteed, would greatly discourage this.

and what? (4.00 / 1) (#35)
by chimera on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 10:31:12 PM EST

here [ http://www.vagverket.se/traf_sak/barom/index.htm Source: Vägverket, Swedish National Road Administration]are some statistics taken from Sweden covering the last 10 years of traffic accidents killing or seriously injuring people. [for outsiders.. the upper graphs are 'killed', the lower 'seriously injured']

Now, even though these graphs doesn't disprove the notion that mobile phones kill people in traffic accidents, it sure does prove that the impact of mobile phones doesn't have to be outrageous either. So please, stop using any references to AIDS or main polls from America where a lot of people doesn't seem to acknowledge the difference between Idiocracy and Democracy, it's only offensive to those that actually do suffer from AIDS or are close to someone that does.

To prove my [stat]point you ought to understand that the number of mobile phones in Sweden has risened from 1.4 million in 1994 to 5.7 million in june 2000 [source: SIKA - SWEDISH INSTITUTE FOR TRANSPORT AND COMMUNICATIONS ANALYSIS ]. A second note; there are 7.8 million registered vehicles in the country. A third note is that Swedens population now stands at 8.9 million, which ought to give you a pretty decent percentage calculation, which you can perform for yourself.

As for safer traffic there are already established three criterium that will achieve that: better safety-designed cars, fewer SUVs, less booze in driver.

Not the correct conclusion.... (none / 0) (#39)
by cenotaph on Sat Jan 27, 2001 at 01:44:03 PM EST

It doesn't look like anyone else has picked up on this, so I'll say it.
But only 35 percent said they thought it likely that such laws would be obeyed." Why is it that over ninety percent realize this is a problem, but so few would obey these laws?
The question was not if the person taking the servey would obey those laws, but if they thought the laws would be obeyed in general. Would I obey the laws if passed? Yes. Do I think that a significant number of other people would? No.

As for weather we need these laws or not, I don't think we do. I don't hold this view because I feel that talking on a cell phone doesn't impair your ability to drive. I know it does. I hold this view because most (all?) jurisdictions have laws dealing with distracted driving. It's these laws that should be more strictly enforced. We don't need to add laws dealing just with cell phones because there are usually already laws on the books that could be used.

"He knows not how to know who knows not also how to unknow."
-- Sir. Richard Burton

extralegal behavior modification attempts (none / 0) (#43)
by peterpo on Wed Feb 14, 2001 at 01:52:34 PM EST

sidebar: I hate finding an interesting thread three weeks late, it's usually a guarantee no one will ever read the comment (plus it will probably be buried at the bottom -- classic "first post" problem, though not as bad as /.) I think legislation will be largely irrelevant, and unlikely to pass anyway. Passage would of course allow insurance companies to institute penalties and rate increases immediately and with easier detection/enforcement (if the police report tracks this for them). However, there are strong signs that insurance companies are already poised to do these things. And after all, it shouldn't be too hard to get your phone records if you make a claim. That's just the first step, if you look at ancillary efforts in their other safety campaigns: i.e. publicizing the issue, driver education, lobbying for age/experience restrictions (such as with provisional licensing of minors.) I can't see why the FCC doesn't license limited range jammers. Sure, not jamming emergency/law enforcement phones would be an issue to be resolved, although I think it is dumb for those services to rely on the public phone system (check out the RISKS archives for lots of examples when it has failed them anyway.) I say if someone within 50 m doesn't want to hear half your phone conversation or watch you drive like an idiot, that is the greater public good. Go find someplace where you're not bothering anyone. Granted, that doesn't completely solve the problem. But don't try to tell me police patrols aren't random and capricious, and RARELY are on hand for the momentary, but egregious offender. I agree in general that all kinds of driving-while-distracted is risky. Somehow though, cell phones are different, in that I've noticed a marked increase in oblivious drivers. And 9 times out of 10, when I pull abreast of the driver, sure enough they are talking away. Part of the problem is that a phone call is a lot like TV: most people can't just pause or stop in mid thought and switch context to the environment around them. Few people attempt to change CDs while making a left turn against traffic, I'll bet. But if you're already on the phone, it would be "rude" to just hit mute, in any other context except driving (I don't even know if my old phone has a mute?!) The way I interpret the New England Journal of Med article that found no improvement in distraction scores for hands-free use is that a remote (phone) conversation leaves out many important cues that increase reaction times. In a normal face-to-face conversation, esp. in the car, the passengers see the traffic situation, they can infer your emotional state (anxiety), and pause conversation much more reactively. I actually have an even better idea that I think could help a lot with road rage and poor driving. I don't want to divulge too much, so I'll just say this. Think about how eBay allows sellers to build a convincing reputation, and the subtle behavior change caused by sellers knowing that future sales are contingent upon current/recent ones. That is what society is about. Anonymity is necessary for some people, some of the time, in some contexts. In the automobile, we have made everyone anonymous all of the time, and there is no accountability. Final note: I honk more than most people, but I've been told by various (older) people that it is illegal here for non-emergencies (I doubt it). Incidentally, I realized recently that I actually drive "the original SUV" -- a VW Bus. Granted, it would be the worst car for a collision, but as far as gas usage, having more capacity than I usually need, blocking the view, and feeling of superiority on the road, it fills the bill. Lastly, we share a cell phone between us, averaging 20 min/mo -- I can think of only once that I even answered a call while driving. I'd like to think it's self-restraint, but it's also lack of opportunity.

Cellular phones and bad drivers. What can we do about them? | 43 comments (37 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
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