Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Is it too late to stop Distracted Driving?

A couple weeks ago, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood convened a Distracted Driving Summit in Washington, D.C.

Among the speakers was Reggie Shaw, 22. On September 22, 2006, Shaw was driving-and-texting in Utah when his vehicle drifted across the center line of the highway, and the ensuing accident killed two other roadway users.

Well-publicized studies by University of Utah scientists indicate that cell-phone talking while driving (not texting!) is statistically more dangerous than driving with >.08% blood-alcohol content, the legal limit in most places. The NTSB estimates that last year, nearly 6000 people died, and more than 500,000 were injured, in accidents involving distracted or inattentive drivers.

Yet, the prevailing attitude seems to be, "I know it's wrong, but I'm going to take my chances anyway." Or, "Sure - but I'm a superior driver, so it's okay for me."

So - what came out of the Summit?

Federal employees have been ordered not to text-while-driving. And everyone else is being "encouraged" not to drive distracted.

LaHood: "Every time you take your eyes off the road or talk on the phone while you're driving -- even just for a few seconds -- you put your life in danger."

Your life?!!? If it were just the life of the person making the stupid choice, I'd say let nature take its course! Choices have consequences. The problem is, guys like Reggie Shaw end up killing innocents who were doing everything right.

Nayha Dixit's sister was killed in a distracted-driving auto accident. She says, "The people in the cars next to us. It's someone's sister, someone's mother. Is checking that text message more important than someone's life?"

There oughtta be a law!

Do we need a law, specifically banning or limiting cell-phoning or texting?

Many states seem to think so, and have passed such laws.

(It's unfortunate that some people have such poor judgment, that they will do things that are dangerous or even life-threatening, unless it's illegal.)

Opponents say, "How about Inattentive Driving? Wouldn't that cover it?"

As I see it, the problem with a law as vague as "inattentive driving," is that its enforcement almost always follows an accident. The property damage is already done, the lives already left in shambles. How do you otherwise demonstrate that the driver was indeed driving inattentively?

Of course, a problem with specific laws is... unless accompanied by vigorous and high-profile enforcement, they will be ignored. California has a cell-phone law. It says you need to use a hands-free device. (A law with dubious value, IMO.) Yet here is California's First Lady, Maria Shriver, yappin' it up, much to the embarrassment of her Terminator husband.

A better comment by LaHood: "I strongly encourage the public to take personal responsibility for their behavior and show a healthy respect for the rules of the road." (Emphasis added.)

May it be so!

Other reading:
- Fox News article: LaHood Pledges to Crack Down on Distracted Driving, Warns of Fatal Consequences
- DOT Press Release: U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Announces Administration Wide Effort to Combat Distracted Driving
- Rodale Press article: Distracted Driving Addressed by Politicians, Scientists, and Advocates

(Hat tip to correspondent Bob T who kept rattlin' my cage about the Distracted Driving Summit. It is indeed one of the biggest obstacles to safe cycling.)


Clancy said...

I don' t think we need another law. They could just clarify the inattentive driving law. We need laws that allow police to be flexible when going after distracted drivers. A specific law may make it harder to punish the violators.

bob t said...

I would like to see all accidents where it can be proven that the driver was using a cell phone or texting treated the same as a DUI. A ban would be difficult to enforce, but it might be necessary to enact one to get the penalties increased. Although in general I am against more laws, it might be necessary to go that route in order for the public to realize the seriousness of this issue.

The Boise Guardian had a discussion on this topic a few weeks ago.

bob t said...

Some food for thought gleaned from a discussion on a similar topic:

"People can talk all they want about how additional laws are not necessary. In the real world, laws like this cause prosecutors to take the actions prohibited by the law more seriously. When prosecutors take the law more seriously, so do police."

Bikeboy said...

Like Clancy (and like you), it hurts me whenever we need to add new rules and regulations.

Criminy! We shouldn't need DUI laws! How can anybody justify driving a 4000-pound missile when incapacitated?!!

Some people have more capacity to multi-task than others. I'd feel comfortable if Michael Schumacher (won multiple Formula 1 championships for Ferrari) or Mario Andretti, or a guy that flies F-15s, wanted to yap on his cell phone while driving. (Schumacher could probably do it safely while driving 180mph!) But rules and regulations are passed for the "lowest common denominator," and sometimes unjustly impact people who could handle it. (Let's face it - some people can't drive safely while chewing bubble gum!)

Jamie said...

Columbus has a distracted driving law, but not once, to my knowledge, has it ever been used to prosecute a cell phone user for causing an accident. You need to be specific with these things, especially when we have companies paying for biased research to show that their products don't cause problems like this.


I have come to know that many teenagers keep texting while driving…its too dangerous…but there is a solution for it……my kids are using that application and I am feeling much more relief….It allows to listen message and sender of message itself….its a life saver and nice gift for society………