Texting Bans

New Round of Fearmongering Over Texting and Driving

Fatal accidents down over recent years, and distracted driving makes up a small portion of those.


Bob Jagendorf

If you went by the breathless reporting on texting and driving, or the word of law enforcement or "traffic safety advocates" you'd think at any given moment someone is careening to their death because they or another driver had their eyes on their cellphones and not on the road.

The latest entry comes from the AP with the headline "Police Losing Battle to Get Drivers Down to Put Down Their Phones". Police around the country are handing out tickets ranging between $20 and $500 (Lousiana), according to the AP, but say they can't catch everyone on a cellphone because it's so prevalent. Cops use bicycles, tractor trailers, and even dress as homeless people to catch drivers using cellphones while theirs cars are moving or while they're stopped at red lights or stop signs. Fortunately some states, like Florida, treat texting and driving as a secondary offense so police won't stop you merely for that infraction.

The AP, and the police officers they spoke to, doesn"t offer much in the way of statistics to back the assertion that texting and driving is such a big problem vis a vis traffic accidents. The AP quotes data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) which estimates 3,500 people died in crashes involving distracted drivers in the U.S. and Puerto Rico in 2015, with 476 of those being drivers who use their cellphone. The AP also notes that safety advocates question those numbers because of the self-reporting involved.

Let's take a look at wider numbers. According to the Pew Research Center, nine out of ten Americans now own a cellphone and nearly two thirds own a smartphone. Data from The Wireless Association, meanwhile, shows more than 300.5 million cellphone subscribers in the U.S. in 2010, up from 109.5 million in 2000 and 340,000 in 1985, the first year for which the association has data. In the same time periods, fatal traffic accidents have been down. According to the NHTSA, in 2014 there were just under 30,000 fatal crashes, down from just over 30,000 in 2010 and about 37,500 in 2000. The drops are more significant when taking into account miles driven and the number of drivers on the road, and the scope of the problem is a lot smaller. In 2014, there were 1.08 fatalities per 100 million miles travelled, down from 1.11 in 2010 and 1.53 in 2000. There were 15.26 fatalities per 100,000 licensed drivers in 2014, 15.71 in 2010 and 22 in 2000.

Some of this, of course, has to do with technological advancements that have made cars safer to drive. But the numbers don't support the idea that smartphones are contributing to a rise in traffic fatalities, nor the contention that catching so-called distracted drivers ought to be a high law enforcement priority. Auto safety experts have warned about the obsession over texting and driving before; in short, the theory goes that cellphones are just replacing previous driving distractions (like reading a newspaper, doing your make-up, or eating breakfast) rather than adding to them. But an industry has sprouted up surrounding the idea that texting and driving is a grave problem; there's government money available to proselytize about it and of course a new revenue stream for law enforcement and local governments to exploit, and a new problem for them to demand more money for.

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  1. Focusing on fatalities seems like moving the goalposts. How about accidents and the traffic problems that come from a whole lot of drivers not paying attention?

    1. I couldn’t find exact numbers year-by-year, but police-reported crashes per 100 million miles were down 28% from 1995 to 2014.

      “Traffic problems” are impossible to quantify,

      1. “they” cherry pick the data… they use the data from the great recession when many more people were out of work and not driving much… and ignore relevant data because they have thier conclusion, they just need to massauge the data to meet the message.

    2. Yes. Theory is a fine thing. So is reality.

      I live in a MegaState college town. Every day, with my own lying, no-good eyes, I see young idiots driving and texting. At least one accident a week.

      And yes, one accident was a fatal accident. A nice working mom, riding her bicycle, run over by a young idiot driver who was texting.

      Regrets on citing reality.

      1. I ride between two to three hundred miles a week. My area has exceptional bike lanes which in reality are no longer of any consequences. Three years ago maybe one car passing me in the bike lane per five hundred miles. Now I get buzzed by some latte drinking hipster fucknut in a Prius with eyes on the fucking phone and earbuds about one per ten miles. Sorry Ed, smartphone and driving is a large and rapidly increasing problem.

  2. This is going to lead to DUI-like punishments for “texting and driving”, with the added bonus of getting to search peoples’ cell phones while trying to prove they’ve been texting while driving. I’m sure we’ll also see no-refusal laws on having your phone searched as well.

    1. Inconvenient fact: for years, when there is a serious accident, your insurance company have gotten court orders for your car’s microchips (brakes, OBD-II) and smartphone records, to determine if you are at fault. Or they won’t pay your claim.

    2. How else are we going to know which emoji young Dakota sent her boyfriend before she plowed into van full of Mexican stopped at the red light?

    3. dashcam video is enough evidence. it also comes with a time stamp,so cellphone records can be subpoenaed to prove a driver’s criminal negligence. Privacy is maintained,it takes a court of law to obtain cell records.

      1. takes a court of lawrubberstamp to obtain cell records.

    4. why do people like you demand that we criminalize upstanding US Citizens…

      I want police and courts to focus on Gun Murderers, rapists, sex trafficers,
      those who steal smart phones and burglarize cars and houses
      Those who have scams on craigslist (very easy to do)

  3. Give the dog a bone. What I don’t like is when they take it to the next step: “Don’t text people while they are driving.” Because this puts the burden on others. It’s the responsibility of the driver. Same thing with “Bystanders must intervene.” It gets too easy to blame everyone else. “Why did you text me while driving? Why didn’t you tell me to stop drinking after 6 shots?”

    1. I may not know a person is driving at the time I text them .Besides,the text isn’t going to disappear. Even an incoming call get recorded by the phone,for the driver to call back later,or after they’ve safely pulled over.

    2. How about turn the fucking thing off, drive where you have to, then turn it on again?

      I completely don’t get this need to be ‘connected’ at all times. That includes people walking around like zombies talking to themselves.

      And get off my lawn, too.

      1. How will I know which turns to take without my phone on?

  4. Make whether a driver was on his phone a factor, maybe a major factor, in deciding blame for an accident? Have an accident while your phone was active. Barring strong evidence to the contrary, let the law assume that you were drivng distracted. No accident? No blame.

  5. I don’t know if it’s a bad thing to penalize this. I’m a really safe driver – never once had an accident or near-accident (that I can remember) – but I’ve texted while driving before and I’ll be damned if that’s not the most dangerous thing ever. I can say without exaggeration that I would have been significantly safer after a bottle of wine or a day without sleep.

    1. You are literally taking your eyes off the road in your direction of travel for 1 or more seconds. Super dangerous! I get looking at a red light, as traffic is stopped. Are texts really that important?

      It still comes down to bad drivers being on the road because many Americans do not take driving seriously to get good at it. Drive on the German autobahn sometime and you will good drivers. States just give licenses away (Don’t get me started that driver’s licenses should not be required). Clearly there a bunch of shitty drivers in the USA. Distracting those shitty drivers with kids, food, phones, radios, passengers talking, etc is just dangerous.

      1. I don’t think it has to do with driver skills. It has to do with deeply ingrained attitudes about driving as self-expression. Driving is not a way to get from point A to point B and never has been here in the US. It is freedom itself. And what good is freedom if you can’t immediately text the experience? And Reason is fully into that psychology. After all, what is a bigger threat to freedom than big gummint coercing us in that private self-expressive sphere?

        You want seriously unsafe driving combined with a weird cultural fetish? Try heading to the Muslim world where you can see the effects of driving combined with enshallah fatalism about life/death itself.

  6. Its about money and police jobs. The police need to have “missions” and if they don’t local governments tend to layoff cops. Plus, police cannot resist using any excuse to stop people to conduct drug searches or other types of non-stop related searches to turn up money. They have become spoiled to big federal dollars and forfeiture dollars to buy gadgets to once again have “missions”.

    Its all a big circle jerk and meanwhile cops actual mission of going to accidents and completing reports, catching dangerous criminals and being nearby if someone really needs police are BORING for police.

  7. I am guilty of both texting and making calls while driving. But I put it down when driving requires it. Maybe others don’t. To me it is obvious. I’m controlling a ton of metal that can kill, so the cell phone is secondary.

    I guess like judgement is like hard and stuff, you know?

    1. I recall some article from the 20s or 30s where the police were warning of the dangers of allowing radios in cars (which they used but that was different). I don’t have any links, but anyone who is a bit less lazy than me can find them.

    2. There’s a huge difference between texting and calling though. Between bluetooth and Siri and the like you can just speak “Siri, call this person for me” and if your eyes have to leave the road it’s just for a split second. The danger is not in talking while driving, but in averting your eyes. Texting is the equivalent of driving while being continuously blindfolded for a couple seconds at a time.

    3. using a cell phone diminishes reaction time (same as drunk-driving),because part of your attention is focused on listening to the phone. First,you don’t always get to decide (use your judgment) WHEN a situation occurs,you may not have time to decide to “put the phone down”,or you’ve lost valuable reaction time,actually contributing to the “accident”. you might have been able to avoid it if your attention was on your proper task,DRIVING.

      1. So you don’t listen when having a conversation with a person in the car? Only on the phone? Weird.

      2. True, but the problem here is that laws against texting and driving create utterly nonsensical situations.

        For example, last night I drove from Maryland to Massachusetts. At about 12 AM I was coming up the Hutchinson Parkway in Connecticut, a 4 lane divided highway with wide shoulders on both sides, few exits or entrances and not even any close by dwellings or businesses (all you can see from the road are trees). The nearest car to me was around a quarter mile behind me and there was another maybe half a mile in front, there were no other cars in sight.

        Now I wasn’t using my cell phone but taking my eye off the road for even 5 – 7 seconds at a time would not have been particularly dangerous, certainly it would have been orders of magnitude less dangerous than simply driving through Harvard square in the middle of the lunch rush looking for a parking spot (the distraction being looking for a parking spot as opposed to avoiding accidents) yet you want to make the first a criminal offense while leaving the latter legal.

    4. So you are the asshole still sitting at the intersection creeping someone’s vacation pics after the light turns green, causing 2-3 cars at the end of the line behind you to miss the green and sit through another red light.

      I hope you die of ass cancer.

  8. Texting and driving laws are one of those gray-area issues for me. If you’re on your own property driving, no question you can do whatever the hell you want. Once you’re out in public though, your freedom to do whatever the hell you want includes the responsibility for whatever happens as a result. You want to drive drunk? Fine – but if you kill somebody as a result of it that’s a murder charge. And I know at least a couple of drivers I trust more driving drunk than some drivers I know driving sober, so I know that being a shitty driver is no better an excuse for killing somebody than driving drunk. If you’re out there driving on the public roads you have a responsibility to take heed for the safety of the other people also out there driving on the public roads. Is a one-size-fits-all approach that says this particular action is dangerous in and of itself no matter how skilled the driver is* the best way to go or do you, as a matter of principle, allow people to engage in potentially dangerous actions and – “no harm, no foul” – only punish them if their actions do indeed turn out to be harmful to others? I don’t know. If you allow the government to ban stuff on the grounds that it “might” be dangerous, that’s a pretty damn dangerous road to go down, too, and there ain’t no “might” about it.

    1. *We all know what the state believes – despite their stated opinion that texting and driving is inherently a Bad Thing, a malum in se, and therefore nobody is allowed to do it, the fuckers exempt the cops from that little rule, don’t they? IOW – despite their statement, they do indeed believe that sometimes texting and driving can be perfectly safe.

  9. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go? to tech tab for work detail,,,,,,,
    ——————>>> http://www.works76.com

  10. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go? to tech tab for work detail,,,,,,,
    ——————>>> http://www.works76.com

  11. Florida is one of the worst in the nation for bicycle-car collisions,aka “accidents” (but really criminal negligence). that’s partially due to morons using their cellphones when they’re SUPPOSED TO BE DRIVING. I’ve had a few near-misses by such morons.
    it’s really criminal behavior,and just as bad as drunk-driving. No message they get or send is that important. it’s just MFFY behavior. A driver’s attention belongs on their DRIVING,period. Otherwise,get off the road.

    BTW,counting only fatalities is dishonest. a person’s life can be permanently ruined if some cellphone-using moron crashes into them and only cripples them. Plus,there’s the damage to insurance rates,the loss of valuable property that may never be replaceable or repaired to it’s working condition.
    All for some unnecessary vanity.

    1. A driver’s attention belongs on their DRIVING,period. Otherwise,get off the road.

      So when you’re driving a car, you never look at billboards, have a conversation with a passenger, or listen to your car stereo?

  12. Well my empirical evidence says that texting and driving sucks. I have to accommodate about 1 of those dumb asses per day. I believe the accident rate for texters is roughly equal to the .8+ bac drivers.

    The reason we see articles like the above is that texting is something lots of people want to do while driving, it’s popular therefore will never have the stigma of driving under the influence.

    1. Something that is popular or seen as hard to give up, is never labeled with the appropriate amount of shame as something that most people don’t do…namely drive while drunk.

      Good = something I want to do, Bad = something other people do that I can label.

      1. FWIW I’m against DUI laws too.

    2. I believe the accident rate for texters is roughly equal to the .8+ bac drivers.

      [citation needed]

  13. . . . to catch drivers using cellphones while . . . while they’re stopped at red lights or stop signs.

    That’s complete bullshit. The car’s not moving so there’s no danger. And if they are impeding traffic – charge them with that.

    1. Well yeah, but muh heroez in blue need revenue.

  14. This is all well and good but that doesn’t make me like being a passenger with an obviously distracted driver (basically, every hired driver in the city) any better.

    the theory goes that cellphones are just replacing previous driving distractions (like reading a newspaper, doing your make-up, or eating breakfast)

    This is complete bullshit, if my long history of hiring drivers pre- and post-smartphone is any evidence.

  15. I’m not one to disagree with the Reason writers often, but this one is dead wrong. Having had one car totalled by a dimwit who didn’t even stop his cell phone conversation after he hit me (him making a left turn through an intersection where I was going straight), and being able to think of 3 specific instances where I have had to run my right wheels onto the shoulder because some asshole was texting and coming down the middle of the road, I’d say distracted driving takes the prize over drunk driving hands down.

    What the frak is so damned important that you have to talk or text right now? If you want to kill yourself, I can think of a dozen ways that don’t involve taking me with you.

  16. What about UNVACCINATED drivers who are texting? Neither protecting others from their vicious microbes nor mornic text messages…

  17. This seems like a total waste of police effort. How about just passing a law that it’s not illegal to shoot someone who is texting while driving? Problem solved.

  18. */sarc

    *For Phreet

  19. We just had an incident where a guy made a right hand turn (on a red light) and ran over a mom and her 5 month old baby boy, killing the baby. According to the middle school age witness he was looking at his phone as he ran them over. Obviously (if true) he needs to have each individual joint in his body broken, one a day until complete. But I’m curious as to how this will work out in court. Manslaughter, with a plea bargain and a short time in jail? Or even less? It will be interesting to see how this plays out. What can they prove and how? Even if he has a text message on his phone, can they prove he was looking at it, other than taking the word of a pre-teen?

  20. Author is a dumbass.

    Using fatalities alone as the benchmark for text-driving is as stupid as measuring the efficacy of Obamacare by just looking at the outcome of carpal tunnel surgeries.

    This is indisputable; there are a massive amount of drivers on the road who are just complete and utter idiots. They are barely smart enough to dress themselves, and just because they aren’t killing themselves or other people when they get into their car, that does not mean they aren’t having a huge impact on traffic. Every f()cking day I have to avoid some waterhead who is drifting out of their lane while scrolling their playlist, honk at some ()ssclown who is failing to go on green because they are watching their phone instead of the traffic light, or wait behind a complete sh()t()rd who is fiddlef()cking around in the left hand lane at 5 mph under the limit because they needed to check their email.

    But hey, I’m paying attention and avoiding them, so clearly the current body count means there is no problem, right? That’s the same kind of stupidity that anti-vaxxers use when expressing their complete lack of understanding of herd immunity. This writer should be flattened by some half-wit teenaged girl trying to snap-chat while driving down South Orange Ave.

    1. You can fucking cuss on this site all fucking day long. Really, no shit.

    2. This is indisputable

      If it’s so indisputable, it should be easy to cite reliable statistics showing why it’s indisputable.

      So… how about you cite some?

  21. isn’t it sad when the facts cannot be twisted to support their agenda?

    More cars, more people on the road, should equate to more traffic deaths but it doesn’t. This will not affect the decision to “criminalize” normal behavior by US Citizens who are supposed to have the inalienable right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

    Getting pulled over by a highwayman eager to collect money for his local tyrant does not meet this standard.

  22. This is a great article that looks at the REAL data on traffic safety. For several years now the fatality rate is about 1.1 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. That means if you are in a car for about 15,000 miles a year, you will be killed in a car crash about once in every 6,000 years.

    We do NOT have a safety crisis with car travel, we have a success story of reducing the fatality rate by over 75% in the last 50 years. Can we do better and continue to improve? Sure, but not by crying wolf when the wolf is not present.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

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