In Defense of Driving and Talking

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Via Tyler Cowen, a study from UC Berkeley grad students Saurabh Bhargava and Vikram Pathania finds no positive link between cell phone use and vehicle crashes. From the UC Berkeley press release:

It's conventional wisdom that talking on cell phones while driving is risky business, but two University of California, Berkeley, graduate student economists report that a spike in cell phone use in recent years and on weekday evenings is not matched by an increase in fatal or non-fatal car crashes from 2002-2005.

"We were quite shocked," admitted Saurabh Bhargava, who with co-author Vikram Pathania set out to satisfy a curiosity about drivers who use their cell phones despite the commonly perceived perils.

The students point to data revealing that the average amount of time a cell phone subscriber spends on calls has surged from 140 to 740 minutes a month since 1993. In addition, about 40 percent of drivers acknowledge using their cell phones at some point while driving, and cell phone ownership is skyrocketing, up from about 2 percent in 1990 to more than 75 percent in 2006.

As Tyler points out, while the authors' results are intriguing, the jury is still out. The authors themselves concede that over 125 other studies argue a causal relationship between phone use and accidents, so don't expect the repudiation of these ridiculous laws any time soon.

Full study from Brookings-AEI here. Nick Gillespie and Tyler Cowen's discuss marginal revolutions and inner economists here.

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  1. The authors themselves concede that over 125 other studies argue a causal relationship between phone use and accidents, so don’t expect the repudiation of these ridiculous laws any time soon.

    This line almost comes across as self-parody…

  2. So, aside from dialing (which is getting easier due to new technology), how is talking on a cell phone different than having a conversation with a passenger?

  3. So, aside from dialing (which is getting easier due to new technology), how is talking on a cell phone different than having a conversation with a passenger?

    May (or may not) tie up one hand, and I wouldn’t be surprised (though this is just my speculation) to see that a phone conversation somehow occupies more attention than talking to someone sitting next to you.

  4. Taktix? | August 22, 2007, 4:53pm | #
    So, aside from dialing (which is getting easier due to new technology), how is talking on a cell phone different than having a conversation with a passenger?

    It’s easier to hang up on someone than to boot them out the door at 65mph.

  5. I can attest that talking on the cell while driving is distracting and I only do it really to get directions.

    However, turning radio stations, eating hamburgers, looking at maps or anything else that requires more than perirpheral engagement is equally distracting.

    Frankly, most of us will be better off when cars drive themselves.

  6. It’s a distraction, Taktix. Just like eating, drinking coffee, smoking a cigarette, reading a billboard, yelling at your kid, yelling at your pet, fiddlefarting with the radio, adjusting your mirrors, adjusting your windows, adjusting your heater/air conditioner, scratching your head, and screaming at the idiot in front of you. Hey, let’s outlaw those things too!

  7. Taktix?,

    Use of a hand or two on the phone (unless hands-free phone which I don’t think we are talking about here) and maybe the head turned sideways and partially paralyzed in position.

    I don’t care for studies, I use common sense and my own personal experience: talking on a hand held device is less safe than not talking on one.

    Having said this, I would pass no law. But I would hope insurance companies would either charge a higher premium, deny a claim, or enact some other penalty for yakkers.

  8. ,i> . . how is talking on a cell phone different than having a conversation with a passenger?

    There were several studies that showed that people get distracted by talking on a cell phone much worse than talking to a passenger.

    I don’t recall ever seeing a theory for why that is true.

  9. Taktix:
    Our brains seem to treat the two differently. Perhaps we are comforted by the physical presence or pick up nonverbal cues with momentary glances. At the very least, no part of our brain is trying to conjure up the image of the invisible speaker.

    Part of it could be the different conversations one would have with a passenger. The passenger can see when you are in a situation that needs your full attention and avoid distratcting you. Your passenger is rarely bringing you an emergency or asking you to recall the quarterly sales figures for the meeting you are driving to. That would make the average cell call more distracting, even if any particular discussion would be about as distracting if you were having it with someone next to you.

    Whatever the reason, some of those 125 studies will explain reasons why.

    The AAA Foundation informs us that the most distracting thing you can have in the car is a small child. They did not research what happens if that small child has a cell phone.

  10. I realize that phones require a hand, but so do stick shifts (and batin’). Should we outlaw manual transmissions?

    It has to come down to the individual, however. Some people are just easily distracted, some are not.

    I can drive my manual Corolla, smoke a cigarette, and talk on the phone at the same time, in Miami, and I have a spotless driving record.

    But when you blame these types of things on a strawman like cellphones, it reeks of the slow yet persistent encroachment of tyranny.

  11. taktix,

    it’s not just cellphones, its everything listed above. turning the radio station while driving too close probably caused more accidents than cellphones. Trying to smack a crying child in the back of the car while driving, the same. Many people can function while distracted by many different tasks. They adjust their driving to do so. But one wonders, how many people avoided YOU that you never even noticed.

    It has been scientifically proven that humans are not really designed to move faster than running speed, our brains just can’t process the information. They cope by ignoring most of it, but every extra task they are asked to do narrows the focus and available knowledge.

    People will be best off when cars drive themselves. That’s the only real solution. Everything else is just a patch.

  12. My wife and I have been hit by other drivers four times in total since we were married, and twice the other driver was talking on a cell phone. What people seem to miss is not only is talking on the phone quite distracting, it is also disabling as well- have you ever seen people signalling turns or lane changes while using one? These “ridiculous laws” only ban using hand-held models while driving, and I don’t have a problem with that.

  13. If 125 studies show that talking on your cell phone leads to more accidents, why shouldn’t the activity be banned? We’re not talking about a seatbelt law where you’re only protecting people from themselves. We’re talking about protecting my body and my property from somebody else acting recklessly. I mean, I think .08 is too low of a cut-off for drunk driving, but I still feel that driving at .18 should be illegal because science supports the fact that it’s dangerous.

    The one thing I’ve never understood about many (but not all) libertarians… They seem to selectively champion and ignore science. When it’s evolution or organic foods, science is used to support the “logical”/skeptical position. But when it’s global warming or second-hand smoke, the science is suddenly tossed aside as junk. I’m not saying you have to accept all science, but if you’re going to question certain scientific findings you should have a basis for your skepticism beyond the fact that it doesn’t fit your political leanings.

    I have a problem with banning cell phones while allowing hands-free devices because studies have shown that the risk is equal whether you’re using a hands-free device or a receiver. But I think the government has a legitimate interest in banning activities on public roads that have been scientifically proven to be dangerous to other motorists.

  14. I’ve long felt this crusade against talking on cell phones while driving is bull. Next they will target radio and dvd changers or cigarette lighters, or heck, your kid in the back seat, or that hot MILF in the minivan coasting next to you. All require you to take your eye off the road for a split second. Talking while driving provides millions of people with enjoyment and serenity (think of long commuters) while probably providing minimal risks.

    “The one thing I’ve never understood about many (but not all) libertarians… They seem to selectively champion and ignore science. When it’s evolution or organic foods, science is used to support the “logical”/skeptical position. But when it’s global warming or second-hand smoke, the science is suddenly tossed aside as junk. I’m not saying you have to accept all science, but if you’re going to question certain scientific findings you should have a basis for your skepticism beyond the fact that it doesn’t fit your political leanings.”
    Hey, no one argues with hard core libertarians on this site more than I do about global warming, but in their defense, science cannot tell us what we ought to do. For example I think it uncontroversial that if all handguns were banned 2morrow that some number of lives would be saved. I really believe that (consider accidental shootings and such alone). But you know if we banned pools, or cars, or driving while talking with cell phones, then you could probably save some lives too. Where does it stop? Freedom and liberty are inherently valuable and should trump all but the most obvious and serious risks. IMO of course…

  15. I’m not saying you have to accept all science, but if you’re going to question certain scientific findings you should have a basis for your skepticism beyond the fact that it doesn’t fit your political leanings.

    Besides being factualy correct, science must also be politically correct in order to be true.

  16. if you’re going to question certain scientific findings you should have a basis for your skepticism beyond the fact that it doesn’t fit your political leanings.

    My skepticism about the purported accident risk due to cell phone use comes from the fact that it fails the laugh test. If talking on a cell phone raises the risk of an accident by a factor of four, then if, say, 10% of drivers at any one time are on cell phones, the accident rate should increase by 30 freaking percent. It doesn’t.

    I don’t doubt that cell phones are distracting. I dislike using them myself while driving and will have long conversations only on free and clear freeway. And I notice no lack of idiots driving poorly who turn out to be talking on cell phones. But until accident rates actually rise with the huge rise in cell phone use, observations about cell phone use are simply observations, not scientific proof that they cause more accidents than there would be were they banned.

    Frankly, there should be a simple “driving while distracted” rule. I heard on NPR yesterday a cop who saw someone shaving while driving. The cop couldn’t do anything about it. Similarly, if someone is driving slowly and having trouble staying in their lane, I would want them pulled over whether they were on a cell phone or eating a Big Mac.

  17. Taktix? | August 22, 2007, 4:53pm | #
    So, aside from dialing (which is getting easier due to new technology), how is talking on a cell phone different than having a conversation with a passenger?

    The main difference is that the passenger in the car shares your physical context and adjusts their conversation to your driving needs… pausing when you are busy negotiating a tricky driving task, giving you a heads up when you don’t notice something, etc…The person on the other end of the phone can’t do this.

  18. Cludmedsux, I have to disagree with you about second-hand smoke, for two reasons

    1: Most second-hand-smoke exposure is voluntary

    and

    2: The SIZE of the dangers of second-hand-smoke is actually quite small. Smoking regularly increases your lung cancer risk by ~900%. Living with a smoker for many years increase your risk of lung cancer by ~25%. That occasional involuntary whiff of second-hand-smoke you get exposed to causes so little cancer as it cannot be measured, and is far below other risk-taking behaviors that we all expose each other to every day.

    That being said, anyone who yaps on a cell phone while driving should be flogged. 125 studies to one? You would be an idiot to bet on the outlyer (and common sense…who hasn’t been nearly hit/run over by an idiot blabbing away?)

  19. I would not be surprised if some of the factors they cite for cell phone use (adjustment of driving behavior, experience driving with cellphones) are also found to be relevant for alcohol.

    While people who drink and drive are usually a menace, it is sometimes scary how well a drunk can adjust where and how they drive if they have a lot of experience driving while drunk, so as to avoid accidents or getting pulled over.

    How come there’s no Mothers Against Cell Phone Drivers?

  20. Having said this, I would pass no law. But I would hope insurance companies would either charge a higher premium, deny a claim, or enact some other penalty for yakkers.

    Maybe an insurer could offer reduced rates for drivers who agree to have some smart device monitor their driving. With appropriate penalties meted out for being involved in an incident while fiddling with the radio, texting, or putting on nylons.

    L_I_T, I, too, await the cars that drive themselves!

  21. I’ve been almost run into by enough idiots yapping on cell phones that I have no sympathy, none.

    It’s not the people who know that using a cell phone requires extra concentration to the road and to what’s around you–it’s the idiots who merrily shut off their brains to everything else, sail around corners into pedestrians or through red lights because THEY’RE NOT NOTICING WHAT IS GOING ON.

    Of course, after the bimbo-in-the-SUV has squashed the pedestrian or broadsided the car, of course she’s sorry. Fat lot of good it does then.

  22. So, aside from dialing (which is getting easier due to new technology), how is talking on a cell phone different than having a conversation with a passenger?

    Before internet use (graphical browser WWW) was widespread, “cyberspace” was explained as where you are when you are talking on the telephone.

    (Neu makes a good point above as well)

    Should we outlaw manual transmissions?.

    It would make more sense to mandate them. Manual transmission’s engage and integrate one with the mechanical operation of the auto while providing more feedback on the road and your driving situation.

    Anecdotally, I have observed a lot more people driving at slow speeds in the left lane,failing to notice signal changes to stop or go, lane crossing in multi-lane left turns, merging obliviously and much more; nearly always these people are on the phone.

  23. For those who desire a car that drives itself, please don’t wait for the technology: Take the Fucking Bus!

  24. From personal experience, I agree that talking on the cell phone is distracting to a certain degree. However, as mentioned in several other comments, there are many things that people do while driving which are equally or more distracting. I don’t think that the solution is to ban every activity. However, I do think there should be stiffer penalties when some distracted driver causes serious injury to another person. Too often, drivers get away with minor citations, if that, when involved in serious accidents. If the penalties were stiffer, people might consider driving less distractedly.

  25. Anecdotally, I have observed a lot more people driving at slow speeds in the left lane,failing to notice signal changes to stop or go, lane crossing in multi-lane left turns, merging obliviously and much more; nearly always these people are on the phone.

    Perhaps idiots on cell phones force all of us far superior nonidiots to be more defensive and generally better drivers, and that is why accident rates have not shot up with cell phone use.

    Bless them, then. Bless them.

  26. On the flip-side of the anecdotes from the people who have been in near accidents with “yappers”, in most of my near accidents (while driving, cycling, or walking) I have not noticed drivers on the phone. Most times they are just idiots being idiots, and that’s where the problem is.

  27. I think people who speak on cell phones while driving are bad drivers. If they hang up they are still bad drivers. No diff.

  28. “Next they will target radio and dvd changers”

    I believe when car radio’s became popular a number of state governments attempted to ban them citing them as a distraction that led to unsafe driving.

    None of that legislation ever passed because most people thought it was invasive and only addressed a symptom instead of the real problem (the driver).

  29. None of that legislation ever passed because most people thought it was invasive and only addressed a symptom instead of the real problem (the driver).

    Surely you’re not suggesting that the strong arm tactics of Motorola had nothing to do with it.

    There was a time when hearing the words “Hello Moto” would make one’s blood run cold…

  30. .. there are already perfectly good laws against people who are doing stupid things while driving .. it’s called “careless driving” .. if someone can use the phone while not driving like an idiot, let them be .. if they can’t drive while changing the radio station, charge them with careless driving .. we don’t need more laws, just enforce the ones that we have ..

    .. Hobbit

  31. “As Tyler points out, while the authors’ results are intriguing, the jury is still out. The authors themselves concede that over 125 other studies argue a causal relationship between phone use and accidents, so don’t expect the repudiation of these ridiculous laws any time soon”

    Yeah and maybe the 100s of studies demonstrating the link between alcohol and automobile accidents won’t prevent us from repealing those bullshit drunk driving laws either. And there is absolutely no antecdotal evidence either that driving while on a phone makes you drive like shit either. I for one have never ever been on the highway behind an asshole who is weaving all over the road or going 20 miles under the speed limit only to see he is talking on the phone when I pass him.

    Furthermore, I am consistently amazed that a free society can function when people are prohibited from talking on their cell phones while driving.

  32. This is precisely why libertarianism will never, ever gain a foothold in this country. Some individuals on this board practically equate the passage of common sense laws like this with a renewal of the Alien and Sedition Acts.
    One study does not refute 125 others, and frankly passing laws that protect the other people driving on the road with you should not have people using “slippery slope” and “Soviet Russia” in the same sentence. Such silliness is a huge turn-off to the huge majority of people in this country

  33. Moynihan, do you really think headset requirements for drivers is ridiculous? I commute on bicycle in NYC, and it is dangerously obvious when a driver is talking on a cell phone, particularly when they’re making a turn, and I consider these drivers to be in reckless disregard of my life.

    I accept a certain amount of risk on the road and cell phone use is not the only distraction out there, but a headset requirement is hardly invasive. In addition to the 125 other studies that contradict the finding of this study, there are the “70 percent of Americans in a 2003 Gallup Poll who said drivers on cell phones cause accidents.” But feel free to disregard driver experience for your nights and weekends study.

    If you’re on a cell phone and you almost hit me, expect a boot through your driver side window at the next light.

  34. … should not have people using “slippery slope” and “Soviet Russia” in the same sentence. …

    Clever, considering you’re the first person to use either of those terms on this thread.

  35. “I for one have never ever been on the highway behind an asshole who is weaving all over the road or going 20 miles under the speed limit only to see he is talking on the phone when I pass him.
    Furthermore, I am consistently amazed that a free society can function when people are prohibited from talking on their cell phones while driving.”

    If this asshole is weaving all over the road and or driving too slow then he should be pulled over for weaving all over the road or driving too slow, not pulled over because he is talking on the phone. Maybe I don’t weave all over the road or drive too slow when I’m on the phone in my car. Why should I be pulled over simply for using my phone? The problem with cell phone laws is they aren’t about making the roads safer, they are about extracting more money out of the population who use them. These laws are about pulling you over for talking on the phone so they can give you a ticket for various other infractions on top of the cell phone ticket, or even worse, search your car.

    In the grand scheme of personal freedom these laws are very minor, but they add up when stacked up the other various ways the government extracts money out of joe public. This is just another tax in the name of road safety and it will do nothing to make our roads any safer.

  36. “The authors themselves concede that over 125 other studies argue a causal relationship between phone use and accidents, so don’t expect the repudiation of these ridiculous laws any time soon.”

    I am curious, how many studies have to demonstrate that driving while on a cell phone is dangerous before you conclude these laws aren’t ridiculous? Or will you only be happy when you are totally unfettered by any laws at all? .

    The anti-governemnt purity on this site rises to levels that are so absurd, it is pathetic. I don’t remember who it was, but a political commmentator recently summed up what, I think, a majority of individuals feel about libertarians in this country. He wrote (I am paraphrasing): Libertarians take the views they do not for intellectual reasons, but merely to show how edgy they are.”

    You know, I think I read a study indicating driving without headlights at night is unsafe, but how dare the government tell me to turn them on.

  37. “The problem with cell phone laws is they aren’t about making the roads safer, they are about extracting more money out of the population who use them. These laws are about pulling you over for talking on the phone so they can give you a ticket for various other infractions on top of the cell phone ticket, or even worse, search your car.”

    As opposed to other traffic laws? Maybe we should do away with those as well.

    If there is a demonstrated relationship between talking on the phone and unsafe driving then it should be prohibited, just as drunk driving is illegal. You are not the only one on the road, and if the call is that fucking important, pull over and talk.

  38. It’s funny in this country (not this site) how people are willing to have their emails read, their phones tapped, and their asses probed to prevent a terrorist attack. But god forbid you implement road safety measures and everyone fucking flips. 250,000 car accident deaths since 9/11, but goddamnit it’s my fucking constitutional right to hold my cellphone to my ear while driving!

  39. “If there is a demonstrated relationship between talking on the phone and unsafe driving then it should be prohibited, just as drunk driving is illegal.”

    As others have posted there are demonstrated relationships between doing all sorts of things and unsafe driving. Why are all those other things not illegal as well?

    Why not simply pull over people who drive in an unsafe manner (swerving in lanes, speeding, cutting people off regardless of why) as opposed to pulling over people who have a cell phone up against their ear and are otherwise driving safely.

    Cops should pull people over for what they do (driving in a reckless way) and leave the “why” out of the equation.

  40. Tim,

    Who’s flipping? The only sound I hear is “baaa”.

  41. MikeP,

    I quit driving due to road rage. But your baaa makes no sense to me.

  42. “I am curious, how many studies have to demonstrate that driving while on a cell phone is dangerous before you conclude these laws aren’t ridiculous? Or will you only be happy when you are totally unfettered by any laws at all? .”

    Well, we might think that it is not correct to jump and prohibit everything that studies suggest has a causal relationship to some danger. Studies suggest having a gun in a home raises the risk of an accidental shooting, or having a pool in the backyard raises the risk of a child drowning. Surely your car radio, cigarette lighter, etc., has a causal relationship to accidents as well. The thing is, that at some point the risks involved may be statistically significant but are not so dramatic as to warrant the many tiny infractions on our freedom and quality of life that prohibiting everything that has been linked to danger would. It seems easy for someone like you to take the high ground, your talking about saving lives dammit and we are talking about the pleasure of making calls. But even with a “demonstrated relationship” between phone use and accidents most folks phone use will never cause them to be in any accident, and our phone use will bring us many, many hours of joy and comfort. You’re asking us to give that up for some slight (though adimittedly perhaps statistically significant) increase in the risk of traffic accidents.
    Heck, I believe in laws. We have to have some. Some activities are such direct and obvious dangers and violations of anothers rights that we must restrain them. But people drive by me all the time every day talking on the phone and do me no harm. I don’t want to restrict their lives because of the slight increase in risk they provide by doing that.

  43. our phone use will bring us many, many hours of joy and comfort. You’re asking us to give that up

    Mr. Nice Guy,

    No, just wear a headset.

  44. Tim,

    In my observation, bills to ban cell phone use that make it into legislatures gets passed without complaint. There are no letters to the editor indicating that anyone is flipping out. There is a clear sense that experts said some behavior is bad, the state is doing something about it, and the people get to comply. Baaa.

  45. “Cops should pull people over for what they do (driving in a reckless way) and leave the “why” out of the equation.”

    Indeed, because there is no relation between the what and the why. And as we all know,
    because a person is not weaving when they pass you or a police officer it means they will not do so down the road. Just like when people never slow down when they see a cop with a radar gun.
    And the inpinging on your liberty is totally bogus. Is being able to talk on a cell phone when you are driving the true hall mark of a free society? This is exactly the point I made in my earlier posts. Common sense laws like this are not akin to outlawing freedom or assembly, or religion etc. etc. It is this inflexible absolutism in the face of all evidence and common sense that will forever relegate libertarianism to the back benches.

  46. So I spent some time looking for a study — any study — that indicates definitively that cell phone use leads to traffic accidents. I failed.

    Can any of you bring one to light?

  47. “No, just wear a headset.”

    See, this is where this stuff gets me. So is it just the fact that I have one hand not on the wheel that is supposed to be the danger? Because honestly before cell phones came out I very rarely drove with both hands on the wheel (i’m talking fairly open freeway here, I often use both hands when navigating denser urban and suburban areas, I also don’t use the phone there). I mean do you guys really drive your entire drives with both hands on the steering wheel? That’s beyond my belief, really. The only other thing the phone could bring would be noise, but again who doesn’t play their radio and drive?

  48. MikeP,

    Actually, people were flipping out in California while I lived there every time a handheld ban was proposed. (It finally passed last year, but isn’t yet in effect, I believe.) I heard the “it’s my right” argument over and over, especially from the liberal Hollywood crowd. I think enough people got sick and tired of people on cell phones hitting them or nearly doing so to allow its passage.

    Moooo.

  49. Tim,

    If you are saying people here are flipping out, well, you may have a point.

    First One-thousand-four-hundred-and-fifty-seventh they came for my cell phone, but I didn’t use a cell phone while driving.

  50. I guess an eventual question will be: If cellphones are outlawed, shouldn’t police radios be as well? They are just as distracting.

  51. Mr. Nice Guy,

    In my experience it’s not the loss of one hand that increases the risk, but the loss of peripheral vision and road concentration. Try to check out your blind spots with the phone up to your ear – there’s a serious loss of road awareness.

    And for some reason when people are on the phone they refuse to put it down when situations require. Haven’t you seen people try to make turn one-handed through a busy intersection? I don’t understand the impulse that causes people to do this, rather than simply put the phone in their lap while they make the turn or deal with traffic, but they do.

  52. Tim,

    Blind spots are easy with proper positioning of mirrors. You position the rear-view to cover directly behind you and to your right rear quarter; you position your right side-view outwards enough to barely catch the side of your car, but mostly a few feet out from the side of your car; you position the left side-view mirror in the same manner; Blind spots eliminated. Even more so if you pay attention, peripherally, to all mirrors at all time, thus knowing which cars are coming up behind you, etc. I am always bothered by people who insist on turning their eyes so far away from the road ahead of them in order to check the “blind-spots”. Unless you are in box truck, there is no need for this (even then, you can position the “bubble mirrors”, for lack of a better word, to catch your “blind-spots”).

    As far as turning the steering wheel with one arm, give me a break!! Do you really find it that hard of a task to accomplish? You really should stay off the road if that’s the case. Really.

  53. Concentration, I will give you. It does diminish it a little. But as before, so do many (countless) other distractions…

  54. You really should stay off the road if that’s the case. Really.

    Like I said, I quit driving due to road rage.

    As for turning with one hand, I never had that problem, but many shitty reckless drivers do, and there are a lot of shitty reckless drivers out there willing to put others’ lives at risk. Yes you can eliminate blind spots for purposes of casually changing lanes, but should you need to react quickly, your hand at your ear will reduce your peripheral vision and your ability to maneuver safely.

  55. Turning with one hand problems – “many shitty reckless drivers do”…well, there’s your problem…they’re shitty reckless drivers with or without a cellphone.

    “but should you need to react quickly, your hand at your ear will reduce your peripheral vision and your ability to maneuver safely.”…..should you need to react quickly either:

    (a) You weren’t paying attention because you’re a shitty, reckless driver…cell phone or not.
    (b) You were paying attention, but some other shitty, reckless driver caused a situation wherein immediate action is required. Most people on their cellphones will drop the phone and react accordingly…a small percentage are shitty, reckless drivers who won’t act accordingly.
    (c) Sometimes, cell phone or not, accidents are hard to avoid (vehicle next to you has a blowout and sideswipes you).

    (A&B) Eliminate shitty, reckless drivers, not cellphone users.
    (c) Simply hope that this or something similar does not happen.

  56. I guess an eventual question will be: If cellphones are outlawed, shouldn’t police radios be as well? They are just as distracting.

    But then how will they radio the SWAT team when one of their paid criminal perjurers tells them an octogenarian is slinging rock while carrying a surface-to-air missile for protection?

  57. Eliminate shitty, reckless drivers, not cellphone users.

    jimmydageek,

    You do realize that now you’re calling for far greater regulation of drivers than a simple ban on handhelds. I’m all for it, but without mass transit options for most people it just won’t work.

  58. >>> Frankly, most of us will be better off
    >>> when cars drive themselves.

    Especially the tort lawyers.

    Automated highwys will never happen because of the vast legion of asshattery known as the American legal system.

    As for the phones, just about every fricken’ close call I have on the road these days, it’s running about 90% some numbnut or numbnutette on a cell phone. One recent incident was in June. Some soccer mom completely blew through a stop sign with three kids in the car. I nearly broadsided them at 40 mph.

    She waved as if it makes it all better.

    The great part was we were both headed for the local Togo’s sammich shop, and she recognized me. I just stared at her like a mental patient for the whole time, never saying a word. She kept glancing at me nervously and corraled her kids close. Hee hee. God, I love being an amoral SOB sometimes. 🙂

  59. Quiet Desperation brings up a good point. When I notice shitty driving, its way more often a woman in an SUV than someone on a cell phone. Then again, when I notice a shitty driver on a cell phone, its usually a woman in an SUV too…

  60. Mr. Nice Guy:

    For example I think it uncontroversial that if all handguns were banned 2morrow that some number of lives would be saved.

    Not to go off-topic, but guns & cellphones are different issues. First, this isn’t banning cellphones entirely – you can still talk on a cellphone while walking or in a restaurant, annoying everyone around you. Second, the right to bear arms is an insurance policy against tyranny, and is protected by the 2nd Amendment. There is no such amendment regarding cellphones in cars.

  61. I heard on NPR yesterday a cop who saw someone shaving while driving. The cop couldn’t do anything about it.

    Good. What is wrong with shaving? It may look odd, but it’s hardly distracting at all. Certainly much less distracting than a conversation with a passenger.

    I’m talking electric, of course!

  62. Tim,

    I am not calling for greater regulation of drivers. I’m calling for stricter penalties for those reckless drivers. As a sort of deterrent and as a way to keep them off the streets for a good while should they severely injure or kill another. If they can go their whole lives driving stupidly and not cause any wrecks, then god bless them.

    Also, is there solid evidence / stats which show that the rate accidents (proportional to growth of number of commuters) have increased since the invention of cell phones? Until that is proven I will not support a ban on cell phone use. I think it all boils down to idiot drivers…and they, as just about everybody, happen to be using a cell phone at the time.

  63. Nothing is perfect. There seems to have been enough of a correlation between cellphone use while driving and loss of concentration that laws are getting passed. This is an imposition on the segment of the population who could talk on a cell phone while driving and not have their reaction time go down, but the same argument could be made about drinking and driving. We still have laws against DWI.

    If you were going to simply wrap yourself and your kids around the next available concrete pillar, I wouldn’t care. Get–get yourself out of the gene pool–we won’t miss you. The problem is (as several commentators above) is you make yourself a much more dangerous object to other drivers on the road.

    And if talking on the phone is so goddamn important to you, then pull over. I don’t see where Libertarianism means we have to allow people to be clueless missiles to everyone around them. It’s my car/bike/person that you’re going to smash into, lady.

  64. Many of you here are assuming that you have some inalienable right to drive a vehicle with your current STATE ISSUED license on government roads. If the roads were privately owned, the owner of the road could possibly tell you that you are not allowed to use a handheld cell phone while driving because it impedes traffic flow (stupid drivers), increases instances of road rage, and ultimately runs a risk of decreasing the amount of cars they can move on their roads, thereby costing them (or running the risk of costing them) money. What say you then?

    Honestly, the government does a lot of stupid shit. But arguments that you have some unalienable right to talking on your phone while driving are ridiculous. If you think it doesn’t actually pose a risk, that’s one thing. But those of you who admit it’s a terrible distraction to people who shouldn’t be allowed to drive in the first place (again, a matter for the private owner of the road to decide which licenses he/she will accept, etc.) yet still advocate that they should be allowed to continually do so are not getting the actual picture here. In a proper libertopia, if talking on a handheld cell phone while driving was a significant enough risk to others, it would not be permitted by road owners for their own good (insurance, road maintenance, etc.), and alternatives (blue tooth connections, etc.) would be found?

    Derrrrrr?.

  65. Reinmoose,

    I think the point that most people are missing is that cellphone use is just one tiny additional thing that causes distractions. You might as well regulate all other distractions (radio, kids, make-up mirrors, food, drinks, reaching behind for a purse, looking for coins for a toll, etc, etc, etc.)…

    …stupid people will find ways of doing stupid things…banning cellphones is not the answer.

  66. Edward,

    At least it will allow us to say “I told you so” when this becomes a nanny/police state.

    Should we ban people with ADD/ADHD from driving? I am a far less distracted driver when talking on a cell phone than some of my ADD friends are when they are 100% trying to concentrate on driving.

    I probably talk on the phone every time i drive. 0 accidents in 10 years….

    now shotgun ****jobs… that shit is distracting.

    adrian

  67. jimmydageek –

    I agree that there are other things one can do while driving that are also terribly distracting (and I’ve probably engaged in most of them). The thing is that it should be a matter of risk management. I (clearly) am against government ownership of roads, so I would rather be told whether or not I can talk on my handset by someone who uses a risk-assessment model to determine if it is a significant enough risk to others that it warrants restricting, and someone whose roads I’m paying to use with a certain level of service promised (well-paved roads, no retarded drivers, etc.). If it’s extremely popular and people find that they like driving on roads where people aren’t talking on a cell, those roads may be more frequented and other road owners who do allow people to talk on handsets may also adopt the ban in order to get more business. Seriously.

    Has anyone advocating allowing people to be really bad drivers and still possess a driver’s license been in a serious accident involving a really bad driver?

  68. Garth

    I don’t care for studies, I use common sense and my own personal experience

    Sounds like Colbert. Or Chertoff, who doesn’t look at the data but instead feels in his “gut” that another terrorist attack is coming.

    More seriously, common sense and anecdotal evidence is often wrong and/or contradictory. For example, two common sense phrases: (1) absence makes the heart grow fonder and (2) out of sight, out of mind.

    Both are common sense, but they contradict each other. That’s why we have this thing called “the scientific method,” to gather data and determine the truth rather than relying on what we think we already know.

  69. DRIVIN AND BATIN. NUFF SAID.

  70. Reinmoose

    If the roads were privately owned, the owner of the road could possibly tell you that you are not allowed to use a handheld cell phone while driving because it impedes traffic flow (stupid drivers), increases instances of road rage, and ultimately runs a risk of decreasing the amount of cars they can move on their roads, thereby costing them (or running the risk of costing them) money.

    Those are the indeed ffects of using a handheld cell phone, but why would the owner of private roads and highways want to tell drivers they cannot use cellphones? Doing so would drive (no pun intended) customers away, and while they may gain customers who don’t like to be on a road surrounded by cellphone-using drivers, I’m sure that policy wouldn’t pass a cost-benefit analysis since the owners of the roads don’t really pay for the increased danger–that’s all borne by the drivers.

  71. Here in Connecticut, there’s a law against using a cell phone while driving.

    Except if you are driving a taxi.

    Oh yeah… and an 18 wheeler.

  72. Those are the indeed ffects of using a handheld cell phone, but why would the owner of private roads and highways want to tell drivers they cannot use cellphones? Doing so would drive (no pun intended) customers away, and while they may gain customers who don’t like to be on a road surrounded by cellphone-using drivers, I’m sure that policy wouldn’t pass a cost-benefit analysis since the owners of the roads don’t really pay for the increased danger–that’s all borne by the drivers.

    Even if few people agree that cell phones are an actual danger, many many more will agree that they cause people to drive worse. Poor drivers cause a reduction in traffic flow, which can reduce the revenues of a road owner, especially if people choose to use alternative roads. If the choice is to either increase the number of lanes or increase the efficiency with which the traffic moves, the owner will probably choose the cheaper option. Also, accidents jam traffic and cause customer unhappiness. Again, they may choose to take a different route the next time.

    I’m not saying that policies against cell phones would *definitely* happen, just that the restriction of use of handsets is not a completely and totally unlibertarian thing.

  73. MikeP,

    Here is a review article.
    http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~content=a748691723~db=all

    Cell Phones and Driving: Review of Research
    Authors: Anne T. Mccartt a; Laurie A. Hellinga a; Keli A. Bratiman a
    Affiliation: a Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Arlington, Virginia, USA
    DOI: 10.1080/15389580600651103
    Publication Frequency: 4 issues per year
    Published in: journal Traffic Injury Prevention, Volume 7, Issue 2 July 2006 , pages 89 – 106

    Abstract
    Objective. The research literature on drivers’ use of cell phones was reviewed to identify trends in drivers’ phone use and to determine the state of knowledge about the safety consequences of such use.

    Methods. Approximately 125 studies were reviewed with regard to the research questions, type and rigor of the methods, and findings. Reviewed studies included surveys of drivers, experiments, naturalistic studies (continuous recording of everyday driving by drivers in instrumented vehicles), studies of crash risk, and evaluations of laws limiting drivers’ phone use.

    Results. Observational surveys indicate drivers commonly use cell phones and that such use is increasing. Drivers report they usually use hand-held phones. Experimental studies have found that simulated or instrumented driving tasks, or driving while being observed, are compromised by tasks intended to replicate phone conversations, whether using hand-held or hands-free phones, and may be further compromised by the physical distraction of handling phones. Effects of phone use on driving performance when drivers are in their own vehicles are unknown. With representative samples of adequate size, naturalistic studies in the future may provide the means to document the patterns and circumstances of drivers’ phone use and their effects on real-world driving. Currently, the best studies of crash risk used cell phone company billing records to verify phone use by crash-involved drivers. Two such studies found a fourfold increase in the risk of a property-damage-only crash and the risk of an injury crash associated with phone use; increased risk was similar for males and females, younger and older drivers, and hands-free and hand-held phones. A number of jurisdictions in the United States and around the world have made it illegal for drivers to use hand-held phones. Studies of these laws show only limited compliance and unclear effects on safety.

    Conclusions. Even if total compliance with bans on drivers’ hand-held cell phone use can be achieved, crash risk will remain to the extent that drivers continue to use or switch to hands-free phones. Although the enactment of laws limiting drivers’ use of all phones is consistent with research findings, it is unclear how such laws could be enforced. At least in the short term, it appears that drivers’ phone use will continue to increase, despite the growing evidence of the risk it creates. More effective countermeasures are needed but are not known at this time.

  74. Effects of phone use on driving performance when drivers are in their own vehicles are unknown. With representative samples of adequate size, naturalistic studies in the future may provide the means to document the patterns and circumstances of drivers’ phone use and their effects on real-world driving.

    Studies to me seem to mostly involve non-real world situations. Obviously, people involved know that they are being studied and might alter their driving behavior…either driving too cautiously, or driving in other manners inconsistent with their personal habits. I tend to drive a little more nervously and distracted when a cop is behind me. As they claim, there’s no real evidence in those studies to suggest harm, and more naturalistic studies are required. That said, no need to ban cellphones while driving.

    urrently, the best studies of crash risk used cell phone company billing records to verify phone use by crash-involved drivers. Two such studies found a fourfold increase in the risk of a property-damage-only crash and the risk of an injury crash associated with phone use;

    As I said before, cellphone use has increased tremendously. The fact that there are more crashes in which people are using cellphones does not adequately show that cellphones are the cause of the accidents. Again, no real reason to ban cellphones while driving.

  75. jimmy,

    Not sure about this, but I seem to remember the studies used cell phone records to identify crashes that occurred while the person was using their phone.

  76. Neu,

    I understand that, but again, the fact that cellphones were in use when the crashes occurred does not equate to cellphones being the cause of the crashes. I’m sure many crashes occur when people are chewing gum. Is gum to blame for many crashes?

  77. Not sure about this, but I seem to remember the studies used cell phone records to identify crashes that occurred while the person was using their phone.

    One must assume that they also used those records to identify crashes that occurred while the person was not using their phone. And to identify noncrashes that did not occur while the person was using their phone.

    Presuming they did all that, how did they control for the idiot factor? That is, idiots drive poorly and crash cars. Cell phones are a new feature of driving, the careless use of which will contribute to driving poorly. Idiots will gravitate to cell phones more readily than nonidiots and use them more carelessly and more often than nonidiots. So the person having an accident while on the phone is more likely an idiot. Would the idiot have had the accident without the phone?

    Presuming they were able to control even for that, why haven’t accident rates skyrocketed?

  78. MikeP,

    I am not taking a position on the issue here…just reporting.

    But as an evironmentalist, I of course, think the solution is to ban cars, not phones.

    /;^)

  79. Jimmy,

    cause of the crashes

    These studies don’t make claims about cause… they are talking relative risk.

  80. Neu,

    We’re going around in circles here…

    …again, data showing cellphone use during crashes does not equate to a higher relative risk because of the cellphones.

  81. jimmy,

    You’re just wrong on that one.

    Relative risk is just calculated from correlation…they found a correlation.

  82. Jimmy,

    To clarify.

    “Because” implies that the study is claiming a causal link between one thing and another. Relative risk just claims that one things is more likely when another thing obtains.

  83. So there is a relative risk involved when chewing gum as well. Right? When wearing black shoes as opposed to brown? Maybe Edward was right LOL…maybe I do fill up both the moron and idiot categories 🙂

  84. A decent primer or two on relative risk

    http://www.priory.com/anaes/stat.htm

    If the relative risk is calculated at 4.0, then the risk of becoming diseased if you are exposed is four times that of people who are not exposed.

    Just replace “diseased” with “a victim of car crash” and “exposed” with “driving while on your cell phone.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relative_risk

  85. Jimmy,

    You can calculate relative risk of driving while chewing gum. If it isn’t at least 2 or 3, it ain’t important.

    A relative risk of four is worth mentioning.

  86. Relative risk of death in a plane crash increases significantly when you board a plane. It does not cause the plane to crash, however.

  87. Relative risk of death in a plane crash increases significantly when you board a plane.

    Boarding the plane, however, is not the cause of your death.

  88. Jimmyda:

    what about BATIN? The only relative risk with BATIN is that you’re related to yerself!

  89. VM,

    Don’t forget the relative risk of getting something in your eye… :/

  90. that’s why you need the URKOBOLD dong-ring and shot shield.

    It will deflect any, um, “air strike ordinance” away from your face and on to your passenger’s.

    URKOBOLD has a whole line of bukkake products. Perfect for stocking stuffers, Grandma, and other, assorted jocularity.

  91. My personal theory is that cell phone-enabled driving is, indeed, more distracting than most of the other activities noted above (kids, radio tuning, ‘batin, etc.)

    The absence of data showing an increased risk of accidents for cell phone-using drivers has to do not so much with whether there is, in fact, an increased risk (several anecdotes in this thread point out the obvious), but that a driver weaving and slowing down and running stop signs can be identified as a cell phone-driver, and the rest of us can take defensive action in a more timely fashion, thus mitigating the risk at that particular moment.

    I’ll bet the incident with the SUV-driving cell phone user with the 3 kids blowing through the stop sign was mitigated by a near-instantaneous recognition of the risk by the defensive driver who avoided the accident. Amusingly, if that same defensive driver had also been engaged in a cell phone call, they probably would have collided.

    If someone is driving too slow or weaving across lanes, and if they have a cell phone to their ear, we can take action knowing that we can predict their behavior to a certain extent, especially when compared to a similar driver who has no phone and therefore might be drunk (hard to predict) or ancient (hard to predict, but easier to pass than a drunk) or having some kind of short-lived issue (radio tuning, et al.) that will iron itself out quickly and restore a safer driving environment.

  92. Oops … badly written … I was talking on a cell phone …

    My theory is that studies don’t illustrate the actual danger cell phone drivers pose because they are more easily recognized by other drivers, who then adopt a more defensive posture.

  93. but you mentioned BATIN, so it’s a well-worthy post to read!!!

  94. Cellphone usage more distracting than batin’…hmmm…interesting. I’ll have to research that later on…I’m betting my call will encounter some connectivity problems…

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