Driver Distraction, One More Time

Distractions graph

On a recent trip to New York City, I had a typical cab ride with the driver yammering on his cell phone for most of the trip—and driving pretty well nonetheless. But his doing this irritated the hell out of me, and like most people, I was too polite (read, intimidated) to speak up and start a possible argument.

Despite lower national numbers for auto accidents and fewer deaths, the driver distraction issue isn’t going away. It’s just getting less attention because the prospects for passing laws banning hand-held cell phones in cars are dim. It would be just another issue for Republicans to label “more government control” and Congress to stall on.

And yet, a recent NHTSA study tells us that in Hartford, Conn., where there is a ban on using phones in cars, hand-held cell phone use dropped 56 percent, and texting while driving dropped 68 percent. Connecticut is also enacting tougher penalties. Nine states have banned cell-phone use while driving.

Texting while driving is the ultimate folly of a thoughtless person, and I think most reasonable people can accept that. I really believe phones should be jammed in cars. There is no way you can rationalize 5,500 deaths per year, or the 16,000 road fatalities from 2002 to 2007.

The stories are horrendous, and no one wants to hear them. In August 2009, the Gwent Police in Wales, U.K., created a very graphic short video that was shown in schools and has had over 4 million views on YouTube. You may have seen it; if not, watch it.

And yet, our carmakers are putting more and more distracting junk in new cars, even as they claim to be tackling the problem. Here’s a video that demonstrates how bad the situation is getting.

We hear the usual backpedaling from the auto industry, as they claim to be working on ways to “manage distractions” even as they add more and more interactive features into cars. And one Detroit writer is on record saying that “the distracted driving debate is being marred by an overdose of hype and hysteria.”

The problem has been compared to the campaign some years ago against drunk driving. In fact, texting is much more dangerous, says a Virginia Tech study, and that is merely the most blatant of the distractions.

I don’t think a “Wake Up, America” type campaign will work. Jammers in cars could work, but won’t be in any but a handful of vehicles—unless your local police force gets as serious about safety and preventing distracting behaviors as they are about collecting speeding fines.

Texters should be treated as criminals and so charged.

Do you agree that texting while driving is criminal behavior?


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  1. The technology is already here to build reasonably price cars that drive themselves, and safely, too. Problem is that we can’t afford the $300 Billion Plus iw will cost to provide the infrasture on our 1940’s roads.

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