Reason Writers Around Town: Katherine Mangu-Ward in NYT on Dialing and Driving

At the New York Times debate blog, Senior Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward mixes it up with a traffic expert, a couple of psychologists, and the head of the National Safety Council on driving while dialing, texting, chatting, or otherwise using a cellular device.

She writes:

We humans are also notably bad at comparing concentrated costs with diffuse benefits. It’s easy to tally up the costs of dialing while driving — there are accident reports and mortality figures. But it’s much harder to add up all the benefits.

Think of every carpool disaster averted, grocery list amended, or stress-relieving traffic update made possible by the use of cellphones in cars. Think of every kid who got through to his mom, every long-distance relationship maintained, every roadtrip rescued. True, these aren’t matters of life and death, but billions of tiny gains in happiness and reductions in stress are too often overlooked in public policy debates.

Read the whole debate here.

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  • ||

    Oahu's City Council just outlawed cell phones while driving. I intend to break this law repeatedly.

    Stupid bastards.

  • Tomcat1066||

    I had the opportunity to debate this topic in a local weekly newspaper a couple of months back. My approach was that basically there's nothing about the pressure from a cell phone to one's ear that make someone mistake a four lane road with a demolition derby arena.

    That and several of my arguments mirror Katherine's rather eerily :)

  • ||

    From the article: As a thought exercise, imagine that someone you loved was killed by someone driving while talking on a cellphone: Would you feel comfortable with that person being absolved in the face of the law?

    Imagine that someone you loved was killed by someone driving while driving alone and watching the road. Should we outlaw that behavior too?

    Prove to me that talking on a cellphone poses the same risk as driving with four drinks in you, then maybe I'd see it differently. But what I'm seeing is legislating from political pandering, not from science-based appraisals of risk.

  • ||

    When I was driving truck, I got very proficient at texting while driving. Talking on my celly while driving was disruptive to my partners sleep. I didn't feel it was a distraction at all.

  • Xeones||

    When i'm driving, i make sure i only text at red lights, when the speed limit is low, or when i really want to.

  • Tomcat1066||

    I refuse to text while driving. My spelling on that damn keyboard is bad enough as it is. To distract me from that with something like driving? I don't think so.

  • Abdul||

    Legalize texting while driving: If it saves just one grocery list, it's worth it.

  • Mike in PA||

    Come now... When the guy next to me cuts me off, what the hell do I care that his grocery list was updated? Driving on public roads requires some responsibility. While I don't necessarily think that we need a law to tell us to use some common sense, I'm pretty sure diverting your attention from safe driving is not a good thing.

    When someone calls me while I'm driving, I'll find a spot to pull over before I'll talk to them. I didn't need a law to tell me that I'd be safer this way. Of course I don't read papers or do my makeup while driving, but I don't hear too many calls for laws there.

    My point is, quit doing this shit! Your putting yourself and others at risk! If that's not enough of an incentive, then quit doing it because it makes government want to become more intrusive.

  • ||

    Of course I don't read papers or do my makeup while driving, but I don't hear too many calls for laws there.

    Well, in WA state, "distracted driving" was already illegal before teh nanny state passed the cell phone law here. The motives were just too great: it's a response to poplulist outrage, and it's a revenue generator.

    It's only a secondary offense for now, and I actually hope it becomes a primary. Every time I pass a cop I will put my hand to my ear. If I get a ticket I will fight it and win. And they will lose. Same old story. What a rush.

  • Ska||

    Talking is fine; texting or reading texts should not be done by a driver in a moving vehicle. Your grocery list can be updated when you stop the fucking car. I've already been nearly run over by someone staring at their phone wile blasting through a stop sign.

  • Shannon Love||

    Missing from the hysteria over cell phones is that accident rates have decreased since the introduction of cell phones. If cell phones were such a risk, we should have seen a spike in accident rates that paralleled the increase in cell phone use. (Those are accident rates, not fatalities. Accident rates do not improve dramatically with improvements in auto safety technology. People still have wrecks they just don't hurt as many people.)

    People blame cell phones for no other reason than they are highly visible explanations for poor driving.

  • dhex||

    i see a lot of folks texting while driving (and moving, not just stopped at a light) these days, which is akin to texting while firing a gun - it's extreme fuckfacery. which will be great news if the olympics ever open up to the fuckfacery decathlon. the americans will field a team that will absolutely swamp everyone; our pan-ethnic makeup will allow us to field the most skilled fuckfaces from across the globe.

    it will be a glorious day for america.

  • ||

    Unfortunately, a large percentage of the population requires threat of legal consequences in order to do the common sense thing. The war on drugs, drunk-driving laws, smoking laws, cell phone laws are all required because people generally don't give a rats ass about how their actions affect their fellow man.

    A big FU to all the drug addict, drunk-driving, smoking-in-public, texting-while-driving idiots in the world that make all this government necessary

  • Naga Sadow||

    How does this compare to driving while old? I'm sick of old people going ten or twenty miles below the speed limit. I'm sick of it! Do you hear me OLD PEOPLE! I'M SICK OF YOUR SHENANIGANS!!! I'M CALLING MY CONGRESSMEN TO GET YOUR LICENSES REVOKED!!! REVOKED!

  • Sean W. Malone||

    From the last piece in the article:

    "As the late visionary Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman put it to me a few years back, "There are so many things that can be forbidden. The stranger thing is that we believe everything that isn't forbidden is allowed.""

    < xeones> Yo, fuck Hans Monderman < /

  • ||

    http://unews.utah.edu/p/?r=062206-1

    Note that the study found driving while using a cell phone, driving while using a hands-free headset, and driving with a BAC of .08 to be about equal in impairment.

    Ahem:

    "Motorists who talked on either handheld or hands-free cell phones drove slightly slower, were 9 percent slower to hit the brakes, displayed 24 percent more variation in following distance as their attention switched between driving and conversing, were 19 percent slower to resume normal speed after braking and were more likely to crash. Three study participants rear-ended the pace car. All were talking on cell phones. None were drunk."

  • Sean W. Malone||

    "The war on drugs, drunk-driving laws, smoking laws, cell phone laws are all required because people generally don't give a rats ass about how their actions affect their fellow man."

    FAIL

  • ||

    A big FU to all the drug addict, drunk-driving, smoking-in-public, texting-while-driving idiots in the world that make all this government necessary



    Drug addicts is neither my business nor yours. Certainly how someone chooses to live his life is not the government's unless they are harming others.

    Drunk drivers are assholes and legal proscriptions are appropriate, but over-done. .08 instead of .10 saves minimal lives at great cost to fully competent drivers.

    By smoking in public I'll assume you're including on the premises of privately owned property like restaurants and movie theaters. That is obviously not the governments business.

    Texting? Should we outlaw eating, correcting children, changing station on the radio or any of the other myriad distractions that drivers commonly experience? I don't think so.

    Out of your four examples of behaviors that you think should be illegal, I agree only that drunk driving should be illegal with the objection that the government has overreacted.

    But I don't want to control everyone else's lives, criminalize behavior I find stupid or even rude.

  • phalkor||

    This is silly; who here has made a phone call while maintaining control over a moving vehicle? I have. and you can bet the law wasn't even in the consideration whether to make a call or not. The considerations are the importance of the call and the relative safety of having my attention divided.

    You can't legislate common sense. Some people will text and drive, eat and drive, read a book and drive, and even fuck and drive. No legislation is going to keep distracted drivers from distractions, ever. Bearing this in mind, drive defensively and employ distractions within your own skill and risk tolerance.

    If you fuck up, well, hope you're insured!

  • ||

    Are there l33tspeak acronyms for the texting while driving crowd?

    Like brb-ks = "be right back - killed someone"

    ttyl-dtcswfb = "talk to you later - drove through crowd of schoolchildren waiting for bus"

  • ||

    Think of every carpool disaster averted, grocery list amended, or stress-relieving traffic update made possible by the use of cellphones in cars. Think of every kid who got through to his mom, every long-distance relationship maintained, every roadtrip rescued. True, these aren't matters of life and death, but billions of tiny gains in happiness and reductions in stress are too often overlooked in public policy debates.



    KMW writes for the Onion now?

    Let me guess, the other participants in the study were unable to question her logic due to wetting themselves guffawing?

  • Zeb||

    If you text while driving, you are a fucking retard. If you make phone calls while driving you are just a regular retard. But all of this can be covered by already existing general distracted driving laws.

    As someone who does not have, want or need a cell phone, I have no sympathy for people who seem to think that it is necessary to be on the phone while driving. It is distracting enough talking to someone in the car with you, but at least they can tell you that you are about to run a red light or hit something.

  • Sean W. Malone||

    Ya know... I'm gonna throw this out there:

    I've been driving while talking on the phone for 10 years.

    Guess how many accidents I've had in 10 years?

    (PS... the answer's ZERO)


    Put a more mathematical way (yet still anecdotal of course), lets say a good estimate for that 10 year period is 60% of days that I've driven and used the phone.

    That's... 0/2190 accidents.

    This is clearly a high-risk activity for me.

  • Naga Sadow||

    Zeb,

    What about music? Loud music? Is there a certain level of loudness that is permissible? Or should radios, cd players, iPods, etc, be banned as well? Is a certain media player preferred?

  • ||

    I don't think texting while driving needs to be illegal, but if some one runs over me while they are texting I don't think it should be illegal for me to arrange to have them gang-raped by werewolves.

  • Tomcat1066||

    The war on drugs, drunk-driving laws, smoking laws, cell phone laws are all required because people generally don't give a rats ass about how their actions affect their fellow man.

    Then prosecute them for what crosses into other people's lives. Don't punish everyone because of a couple of turdnuggets who can't keep their own shit straight.

  • Naga Sadow||

    SugarFree,

    Werewolf summoning, gang raping, necromancer that you are shouldn't need me to point out there is no law against werewolfs, gang raping people. Glad to be of help.

  • ||

    What about music? Loud music? Is there a certain level of loudness that is permissible? Or should radios, cd players, iPods, etc, be banned as well? Is a certain media player preferred?

    The tendency of the music to induce pantomimed instrument performances needs to be taken into account, along with the introduction of a new test to determine the licence holder's susceptibility to such behaviour.

  • kilroy||

    Why is it okay to drive recklessly when you're not texting and not okay to drive recklessly when you are?

    Oh, it's illegal to drive recklessly any time?

    What was your point again?

  • perilisk||

    Texting isn't so much a distraction in attention as it is something that has your eyes on something other than the road for non-negligible amounts of time (unless you text without looking). Talking is more comparable with other normal distractions. I almost had an accident the other day just glancing at my phone for about 1 second when traffic in front of me unexpectedly stopped.

    Still, if they felt the need to legally restrict it, they could just use a 3-strikes mechanism, and let you regain strikes over time. It would differentiate between people who had to take some fairly important call, and people who spend most of their driving time with a phone on their ear.

  • Naga Sadow||

    dbcooper,

    Anything beyond a quick profiency test(DL test) is just a needless hassle. Insurance companies will quickly price how retarded your driving is without the need for a "distraction" test paid for by taxpayers.

    I've never been in a wreck. I drive like an old man . . . until I get on anything resembling an open road. My insurance is through the roof due to my speeding.

  • ||

    Yeah, how come it's not illegal to jab screwdrivers into your eye sockets while driving? That's more distracting than talking on your cell phone.

    Then again, the law against celling while driving does give me a handy excuse to miss calls from my mom, so it's tough for me to decide on this issue.

  • Naga Sadow||

    perilisk,

    How do you explain people who trip over things right in front of them? Same thing with respect to driving. Accidents by their very nature are preventable yet they happen anyway.

  • bubba||

    Car and Driver recently conducted an experiment on the effect of texting while driving, and used BAC of 0.08 as a control.

    http://www.caranddriver.com/features/09q2/texting_while_driving_how_dangerous_is_it_-feature

  • ||

    Naga,

    I think a lot of the legal issues revolve around whether a werewolf is considered an "implement of rape" that I "wield." It's a murky area of the law; the only legal precedent to go by is the French case Loup-Garuo v. Toulouse-Lautrec and it seems only pertinent to werewolf on midget rape cases.

  • ||

    Ya know... I'm gonna throw this out there:

    I've been driving while talking on the phone for 10 years.

    Guess how many accidents I've had in 10 years?

    (PS... the answer's ZERO)


    I have friends that can say the same thing about drinking and driving. Data is not the plural of anecdote.

    I'm not going to lie, I have the same statistic re: cell phone talking and accidents, but I'm not delusional enough to say that I'm not distracted or that my reaction time is anywhere near as good.

  • ||

    I simply distrust all drivers and assume everyone is high, drunk, texting, yelling at their kids, putting on make-up, talking on their fucking bluetooth which makes me think they are talking to themselves, rubber-necking (I swear to FSM I hate these people the most), or checking out the scenery which is sometimes just a hot chick in the car next to them (guilty). Therefore, I just drive and try not to think about my impending doom from the people around me. Save from eliminating driving we will never be able to eliminate distractions while driving.

    The best way to avoid these assholes is to be an aggressive driver. Defensive drivers always seem to get in wrecks because they keep braking at every little thing in front of them. Aggressive drivers avoid them by getting where they need to go quickly and getting off the road entirely.

  • JB||

    Drunk drivers are assholes and legal proscriptions are appropriate, but over-done. .08 instead of .10 saves minimal lives at great cost to fully competent drivers.

    .08 is such bullshit. I'm likely a better driver at .08 than 95% of age 70+ drivers. If I am not allowed to drive at .08, they shouldn't be allowed to drive at age 70+.

  • Sean W. Malone||

    Mo - I think it's specifically because I'm not delusional enough to think my reaction time isn't impaired while I'm driving somewhat distracted that I haven't been in any accidents.

    I deliberately correct for my cellphone usage by signaling every turn/lane change, making sure I look around and by leaving a few more feet in front of me than I might otherwise.

    All in all when I'm on the phone I'm probably a much more careful driver simply because I'm deliberately focused on correcting for whatever distraction the phone might cause.

  • Sean W. Malone||

    Oh... PS. I've lived in Los Angeles for the past 2 years, so I think my good statistics should be doubled or tripled by product of the much higher opportunities I've had to get in accidents here.

  • ||

    I deliberately correct for my cellphone usage by signaling every turn/lane change, making sure I look around and by leaving a few more feet in front of me than I might otherwise.

    Maybe you should drive that way all the time, Sean.

  • Tricky Prickears ||

    Nobody has mentioned anything about "sexting" while driving. I tried it once, but the girl's head kept hitting the phone.

  • ||

    My point is, quit doing this shit! Your putting yourself and others at risk!

    You're putting yourself and others at risk every time you drive. The question is whether talking on a cell phone imposes such outrageous risks to others that is should be banned, compared to the normal risks imposed by driving.

    P.S. The answer is "some -- most -- individuals are capable of compensating for the additional risk of using cell phones by slowing down (same deal for driving with .08 BAC). Neither should be illegal.

  • Sean W. Malone||

    My point Dean is that when I use the cellphone I do *more* than necessary to correct for it.

    Incidentally, since I use the phone at least once virtually every time I drive anywhere, I really am over correcting all the time.

  • ||

    "Drug addicts is neither my business nor yours. Certainly how someone chooses to live his life is not the government's unless they are harming others."

    Yes, because we all know drug addicts, but for their drug addiction, are pillars of society who only do drugs in the privacy of their own homes after working responsibly for 40 hours a week to earn money to purchase them. Then, once high, they never go out and harm anyone, and they never drive while intoxicated. They also all have their own health insurance and liability insurance to cover any unintended "incidents" that happen during their drug use.
    Oh, and I forgot to mention what responsible parents they end up being...


    "By smoking in public I'll assume you're including on the premises of privately owned property like restaurants and movie theaters. That is obviously not the governments business."

    I agree, but the reason the smoking nazis got into power in the first place was the fact that so many people smoked in restaurants without considering that non-smokers might be present and not want to inhale their smelly soot. Again, lack of common sense.

    As for texting, the reason it's different than eating, changing radio, etc. is that it requires the drivers attention for significant chunks of time. You can take a bite of a hamburger while keeping your eyes on the road.

  • Sean W. Malone||

    "Again, lack of common sense."

    For who? The smokers or the non-smokers? There's no right to go eat out at this or that restaurant!

    You go if it suits you and if it doesn't you can go somewhere else... What you don't get to do is tell owners of private property what legal activities are permissible. That's just totalitarian bullshit.

    Anyway, the smoking nazis came out of academia, not out of any kind of grassroots hatred of smoking - most restaurants had already adopted ventilated & walled off smoking sections before the bans anyway, which frankly is a thousand times better a solution since everybody wins that way.

    Lastly - what happens when you take a bite of that hamburger and it drips ketchup on your new suit? You still looking at the road?

    Quit being a nanny.

  • Tricky Prickears ||

    For who? The smokers or the non-smokers? There's no right to go eat out at this or that restaurant!

    Not that I necessarily agree with this, but the smoke free restaurants and bars are supposedly or the benefit of the workers, not the customers. So, it's a worker's rights, safe workplace, whatever issue. The problem I've always had with that is, they usually don't allow exemptions for places that wish to install an enhanced fresh air ventilation system.

  • ||

    "Yes, because we all know drug addicts, but for their drug addiction, are pillars of society who only do drugs in the privacy of their own homes after working responsibly for 40 hours a week to earn money to purchase them. Then, once high, they never go out and harm anyone, and they never drive while intoxicated. They also all have their own health insurance and liability insurance to cover any unintended "incidents" that happen during their drug use.
    Oh, and I forgot to mention what responsible parents they end up being..."

    Wow! It's like they fucking know me!

  • Sean W. Malone||

    Tricky - I think the same applies to a lesser extent in work environments though. My general advice is, if you don't want to work in a smokey workplace, then don't work in a bar. It's one thing to stop people from having work places where they're deliberately taking risks with your life, but the actual risks of second hand smoke are pretty minimal and can often be almost entirely circumvented by ventilation. Problem solved. No nanny state needed.

  • ||

    Yes, because we all know drug addicts, but for their drug addiction, are pillars of society . . .

    Actually, they pretty much are.

    Irony is tough, NAL. Keep working on it, though.

  • ||

    There are lots of libertarian approaches that appeal to me, but I've never understood why there seems to be such support for driving while talking on cell phones. Is it disagreeing that it's a danger, or agreeing it is a danger but the state should not interfere?

    I live in a large city, I and many people I know have anecdotes (i.e. personal experience) of almost being hit by cars while crossing the street (i.e. as pedestrians) and looking at the driver, guess what, they were on a cellphone and (presumably) not paying attention. A system of driving requires rules to function reasonably safely.

    I totally agree that "flavour of the month" lawmaking is a problem. I don't see a law enacted to deal with a genuine specific problem that occurs regularly, falls into that category.

  • Doug||

    fuckfacery



    LOL. A new word. A good word. That one goes in my personal dictionary.

    I don't want a law prohibiting the use of cell phones while driving ONLY if there is no law limiting the amount of damages I can collect when I get hit.

    My sister in law once spun their use of cell phones while driving as "communicating". Let me tell you, if a marriage is so on the rocks that you have to put kids' lives at stake to keep up your "communication", then you need to get counseling...and fast...and preferably from parents who had to figure out how to "communicate" without such things. I call horseshit.

  • ||

    # NAL | July 20, 2009, 12:55pm | #

    # A big FU to all the drug addict, drunk
    # driving, smoking-in-public, texting-while
    # driving idiots in the world that make all
    # this government necessary

    Not necessary, really. Merely salable.

  • MJ||

    "...but if some one runs over me while they are texting I don't think it should be illegal for me to arrange to have them gang-raped by werewolves."

    That's good, but I'd settle for them being convicted of attempted murder or capital murder if they actually kill someone.

  • B||

    "Think of every carpool disaster averted, grocery list amended, or stress-relieving traffic update made possible by the use of cellphones in cars. Think of every kid who got through to his mom, every long-distance relationship maintained, every roadtrip rescued."

    The above sentence is perhaps the stupidest defense I have ever read of texting and using a cell phone while driving.

    More and more studies are coming out demonstrating that talking on a cell phone while driving is dangerous. And everyone and their brother can provide anecdotal evidence about the asshole driving in two lanes while going 45 on the highway because he was on his cell phone. Texting while driving is so stupid and so dangerous, one need not even present an argument for its banning. But hey, if I can amend a grocery list or comfort a jilted girlfriend while I am driving in downtown traffic or on the highway, fuck the dangers, right? Seriously, the defenses of cell-phoning while driving are becoming increasingly desperate and stupid and are reminiscent of the assholes who claim they drive better when they are drunk.

  • MJ||

    "All in all when I'm on the phone I'm probably a much more careful driver simply because I'm deliberately focused on correcting for whatever distraction the phone might cause."

    And disrupting the normal flow of traffic because you are driving very sloooowly, and probably in the left hand lane too, ya bastard.

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