A space to share ideas and engage in dialog around how mobility can help maximize productivity for government agencies and the citizens they serve.
What If NTSB Gets a Ban on Cell Phones for Drivers?
December 13, 2011 at 8:33 pm #147481
I don’t know if you saw the latest report coming from the National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB), but they’re pushing hard for a ban on cell phones for all people operating vehicles:
Following today’s Board meeting on the 2010 multi-vehicle highway accident in Gray Summit, Missouri, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) called for the first-ever nationwide ban on driver use of personal electronic devices (PEDs) while operating a motor vehicle.
“According to NHTSA, more than 3,000 people lost their lives last year in distraction-related accidents”, said Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. “It is time for all of us to stand up for safety by turning off electronic devices when driving.”
“No call, no text, no update, is worth a human life.”
What do you think?
Should there be a national ban on cell phone use while driving?
December 13, 2011 at 10:12 pm #147551
there absolutely should be a ban of all distracted driving, period. With all the modern comforts and supports for operating cars and trucks, these are life-threatening machines for everyone in their way when not properly controlled. Distractions such as texting, and speaking on the phone are serious impediments to proper control. Therefore they shall be banned. When gauging life and safety of potential victims in a car accident vs. freedom of texting and talking on the phone while driving, life shall prevail each time.
December 14, 2011 at 2:13 pm #147549
Don’t forget to take out the radios and passengers as well. Heaven knows they can be distractions too.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for hands free devices over holding the phone. In fact that’s why I made sure my son’s car has built in bluetooth so if he needs to make a call, he doesn’t have to fumble with the phone. But there’s no way to enforce a ban on hands free. “No Officer, I was just talking to myself”, becomes the number one defense since no one will hand over their phone to allow the officer to check phone logs. Only way to do it is through introduction of technology that prohibits bluetooth enabled calling while the car is in anything other than Park. Think we can get automakers on board with that? Or customers to buy a car equipped with such technology?
December 14, 2011 at 2:37 pm #147547
Pattie – That’s exactly what I was thinking. If there is legislation to ban cell phones, my sense is that the auto and telecom industries would be forced to manufacture products and provide services that accommodate that new reality…much of this is already out there or in development, so it’s another push on the industry to innovate / make standard certain features that make driving and talking on a mobile device safer.
December 14, 2011 at 3:00 pm #147545
I agree with Pattie… if you want to ban distractions, get rid of the passengers. My children are more of a hazard than my phone, because I do use the hands-free device and am able to keep my hands on the steering wheel and my eyes forward when using it. However, when my children were little and dropped a pacifier, or a bottle, or a toy, I’d often find myself reaching backwards, glancing back, and doing all sorts of things that were more unsafe than running my mouth while driving. And I still do, even though they are older because I’m settling arguments, reaching things they can’t, etc. In addition, CB’s were in vehicles well before cell phones, and these were not hands free. What about a ban on those? You had to fiddle with nobs and dials to work them, not to mention depress a button to talk… not just a simple click and talk like with the bluetooths of today.
I also have a problem with the government saying that is less safe for me to be talking on the phone while driving than talking to a passenger while driving. I make several long car trips a year by myself, and I use my bluetooth to call friends and family when I find myself getting drowsy on the road, and talking to them wakes me up, engages my brain, and helps me focus on my driving. There are days that my husband and I can be driving to the grocery store and I get more distracted with our ‘discussion’ than any call I make on the phone.
IMHO, cell phones are being blamed on causing a lot of accidents that aren’t neccesarily because of the phone, but because the person driving was just doing something stupid. That man was on his bluetooth and crashed into me… must be because he was on the phone… ummm… could it be because he was looking at what was going into that vacant lot instead of watching the road and he just happened to be on his bluetooth at the same time?
Should we be checking e-mail, texting, or doing other stupid stuff while driving? No. Is a ban on cell phones while driving going to stop that stupid stuff from happening? No, because that harried mother is still going to find that lost pacifier and shove it in that crying baby’s mouth while driving, that couple is still going to have an argument while one of them is driving, someone is still going to eat while driving, etc. I’ve even seen someone checking the stocks or e-mail on their iPad while driving. Stupid folks are going to do stupid things, and these will cause accidents. The common denominator? The person… so until you can take the driver out of the car, you’re not going to be able to take the distraction factor from the driving.
Off my soap box… but it really gets to me when folks say that distracted driving causes accidents but then only focus in on one distraction that can occur in a car – the cell phone.
December 14, 2011 at 3:10 pm #147543
How come the NTSB isn’t proposing bans on people eating while driving, sipping from straws while driving, changing clothes while driving, applying makeup while driving, etc?
Am I being sarcastic? No.
Should the government be controlling individual lives? No.
December 14, 2011 at 3:12 pm #147541
How exactly would the equipment block the driver’s cell phone while allowing passangers to use thiers? Or would we ban cell phone use by passangers as well? We could careve out an exception for taxis and limos but wouldn’t that play into the perception of favoritism toward those who can afford to pay for rides rather than carpool, slug etc?
December 14, 2011 at 3:42 pm #147539
Listen, it isn’t just car vs. car. It’s car versus pedestrian. Typically, a pedestrian with a small child or an old dog.
I can think of at least three occasions where I have been *walking* with my dog, and I have seen a driver making a turn, bearing down on me while on a cell phone or texting. Not seeing me at all. I can run fast, but my dog can’t–she is almost 13 and she has arthritis. I was even able to get the license plate number of the guy once…what do you suggest I do with it? Call it in? Publish it on the Internet?
Today I walked half a block from my apartment to an intersection with a stop sign. Two of the five drivers were texting. If there were a cop there, they would have been easy pickings. Easy ticket income for my town. So: sure, don’t ban them. Just keep the current laws, and just hire lots and lots of cops. That has worked really well so far.
December 14, 2011 at 3:51 pm #147537
It’s important to remove distractions from operators of heavy machinery of any kind. Cars are heavy machinery, and cellphones and mobile devices are a distraction.
While all of the comments regarding driving with young children or gabby mothers-in-law in tow, or having the radio tuned into a talk show that enrages you, are cogent, I think the overlooked matter is that the sheer density of traffic and increased number of cars and drivers, the acceleration capabilities of a great many vehicles, the onslaught of signage (much of it bad and a distraction in and of itself), and expected traffic flow rates in the minds of frustrated commuters who live 30 mles out of town just to be able to afford a home, have placed many increased demands on the attention of the contemporary driver. I’ve driven in plenty of places where signage that, 40 years ago, would have provided more than enough visible advance warning to engage in the needed manouvers (lane change, signalling, etc.) now seem to “pop up” like surprises at the present average speeds and traffic density. It’s like trying to play the same computer games that worked just fine on your old PII-233 on a 3ghz-quad core machine: you simply don’t have enough time to think. And when it comes to driving, the difference between safety and collision often boils down to 200msec extra time to think and react
Part of the solution lies in banning use phones while driving. Part of the solution lies in manufacturers providing “driving mode” features that will maybe give an outgoing message pertaining to driving and suppress any ring or vibration (not to mention more message storage space). Part of the solution will also lie in governments providing more roadside space for those who need to pull over and use their phone, perhaps even dedicated roadside space where you can be ticketed if you’re NOT on the phone (the way you’re ticketed for using carpool lanes when driving solo).
Reducing dangerous driving distractions will not be achieved merely by declaring cellphones a pariah. A big part of the overall strategy is to make it easier for people to behave properly. You can’t remove what so many perceive to be a convenience, without replacing it with another convenience. Remember, people want to be good; they just don’t want you to make it so inconvenient to be good.
December 14, 2011 at 8:15 pm #147535
The research is clear – http://www.psych.utah.edu/lab/appliedcognition/ – talking on the phone, hands-free or not, is a different distraction than having a conversation with a passenger, listening to the radio, etc. The research shows that people just can’t multitask in the car (or at least less than 1% can) without driving erratically. There are neurological factors that create an slowing of reaction times, or missing road signs, etc. that can lead to crashes.
With over 300 million cell phones in use in this country, this issue is universal, the same way that a mandate for seat belts and air bags in cars came down years ago (despite objections from the auto industry). Sometimes the government needs to protect people from themselves, and a total ban on cellphone use would do that.
Make the “honey, I’m on my way” call before you turn the key. Order the pizza when you get home. It only took us a few years to become completely dependent on being in contact all the time, it shouldn’t take too long to reverse the trend. My 5-year-old always says “Daddy, that man is driving crazy” when she sees someone on the phone while driving, so let’s start now and avoid future problems.
December 14, 2011 at 8:20 pm #147533
Should we get rid of DUI rules and regulations too? That’s controlling my individual life, and the research shows that talking on the phone slows down reaction times just as much as having a .08 Blood Alcohol Level.
All those other things are distractions too, but with virtually every driver having a cell phone, this is truly a universal issue.
December 14, 2011 at 8:25 pm #147531
These devices already exist. A private company developed it for $100. Think of how much it would cost per unit if it was mandated to be in every single vehicle made – $.50? $1?
The technology is there, just needs the will to implement it.
December 14, 2011 at 9:12 pm #147529
It might be a good idea to encourage people to consider using these devices on their own. It would be an unwarented infringement of personal freedom to use the force of law to require them to do so.
December 14, 2011 at 9:17 pm #147527
“Sometimes the government needs to protect people from themselves”
No, that is not a proper role for govenment and one of the major reasons government today is held in such low esteem are the continual efforts to protect people from themselves. They are both unconstitutional and morally repugnant.
December 14, 2011 at 9:17 pm #147525
…but we’ll need to make it affordable. What if the government distributed them for free as they did with the Digital TV conversion? Not mandated…but super easy to get one.
December 14, 2011 at 9:20 pm #147523
I think it’s been shown to be as bad if not worse than driving drunk:
“When driving conditions and time on task were controlled for, the impairments associated with using a cell phone while driving can be as profound as those associated with driving while drunk.”
December 14, 2011 at 9:39 pm #147521
Perhaps I misspoke – since many car accidents involve more than one person, this is something that protects others from those who act irresponsibly. This is not the same as say, the Utah legislature banning the sale of mini-kegs under the mistaken assumption that they encourage overconsumption. If you want to get drunk and pass out at your house, that’s fine, but if you get behind the wheel…
This is the government saying we see a direct correlation between banning cell phones while driving and reduction in accidents which cost the state time and significant resources. Just as they did with creating stricter DUI rules which, when coupled with public campaigns to encourage designated drivers has led to safer roads.
The “Hang Up and Drive” and the “No Phone Zone” campaigns are great, but unless there are real penalties associated with it, people won’t change their habits.
December 14, 2011 at 9:42 pm #147519
The question this prompts is “What mechanism, then, would be able to produce the desired change in level of risk on the road?”.
Maybe the correct phrasing is “Sometimes the government needs to protect people from predatory business that is more concerned with profit than human welfare, and which lures us unsuspecting folk to do its bidding”.
You may find it morally repugnant, but business cannot be relied upon to consistently act in the public interest (I’m not saying they never do, but they don’t do so consistently), and if the public isn’t willing to do it either, somebody’s gotta do it. If somebody else IS willing to do it, then government doesn’t need to. But the willing interceder is not always there.
Another rephrase is “Sometimes the government needs to protect people from things they are not fully informed about and unable to make reasoned decisions on”. It doesn’t have to be condescending.
I had the good fortune, and maybe a little Forrest Gump moment, to meet and chat with Marshall McLuhan when I was 15. I won’t say it changed my life forever, but like him, I have always been a little skeptical of the urgency with which we adopt, and drown ourselves in, new technologies before fully grasping their impact on us. Cell-phones – something I hope to never own in my lifetime – are a technology we absorbed far too rapidly, under synthetic peer pressure from manufacturers, who dangled them before us, all too eager to suck us into the commercial possibilities, before we really understood what they would do to us, and could stop and ponder whether it was a good idea or not.
December 14, 2011 at 9:54 pm #147517
That could work on a limited basis. Budgets are a bit tight so the program would have to be heavily means tested. Instead, why not make these devices an allowable expenditure under one or more existing low income support programs?
December 14, 2011 at 10:10 pm #147515
Another reason to wonder why the Federal Government needs to get involved… what is needed in a metropolis like DC or New York, is not as critical in someplace like where I grew, Chamberlain, SD. We thought we had rush hour if we saw 3-4 cars back-to-back on any single road and it wasn’t a parade. If driving while talking on a phone is so distracting that we need to control it, why not do it the same as the speed limits and let it be set by State and perhaps even County. This way, those wide open areas where you don’t see another car, much less a sign, for 90 miles aren’t as regulated or tied down as someplace where you can’t blink without running into another car. Right now, I can go home and drive 80mph on the interstate, because it will still take 60 minutes to go to the next town where we do major grocery shopping. Should I be reduced to driving 55 there, because those driving in large cities have no reaction time if they are driving 80mph from one side of town to the other? You’re talking about doing this “one size fits all” fix with this cell phone ban/regulation.
Also, for those who keep saying that driving while on the phone is the equivalent of driving under the influence… what studies have been done to show what driving with screaming kids, or arguing with your passenger, or eating or whatever inhibits your driving and likened it back to driving under the influence. Am I saying that any of it is “safe”… no. What I’m saying is where do you stop regulating due to protecting others from others? We stop the talking on the phone while driving, so do we then start regulating what we can do and when to stop kids from screaming? or eating while driving? And I hate to say that talking while driving in some areas may be new and a component of the cell phone, but I’ve been talking while driving for many, many years. CB’s were the original cell phones, were used nationally by lots of folks, including semi truck drivers (talk about heavy machinery!), and where I grew up, EVERYONE had one in their vehicle. In fact, a lot of us still do, and taking our cell phone won’t stop us from talking while driving, but will reduce who we are talking with while driving.
Remember folks, not everyone lives in a large metropolis, or where traffic is an issue, or where a momentary distraction will result in anything more than hearing the rumble strip rumble at you. Are we going to start mandating to everyone, using a cookie-cutter solution, that may or may not be appropriate in all locations? Or should we leave those decisions, if not to the individual, then at least to the local government offices?
December 14, 2011 at 11:11 pm #147513
December 15, 2011 at 2:50 pm #147511
I posted this question on GovLoop’s Facebook Page, and got the following responses:
Olivia Jovic Yes
Ashley Fuchs No. Because then you’d have to ban a lot of other things like eating or drinking coffee while driving. Or say driving with a screaming 2 year old… Way more distracting than my cell. Now, if you drive a school bus full of offspring? Then yes.
Pat Ressler Absolutely!
December 15, 2011 at 3:47 pm #147509
But I think Keena makes a fair point in that:
a) There ARE already a great many equal distractions that are likely an influence on vehicular safety, yet remain unregulated in any way. (Ever see the wonderful Albert Brooks film Defending Your LIfe? He gets killed in a collision at the begining of the film while sifting around for a CD.) The challenge sees to be in coming up with a policy that adopts an equitable pan-distraction strategy, rather than dealing with them in silos, and is able to place dogs on the driver’s lap, screaming kids in the back, drunk while under the influence of alcohol/marijuana/LSD/too much Nyquil/too little sleep, fiddling with the radio/CD player/glove compartment, watching porn on a tablet, fuiddling with a map on the passsenger seat, checking your cellphone for messages, steering with one hand and squirting window cleaner on the windshield with the other, suddenly taking your eyes off the road and trying to clean up the mustard you just dropped all over your shirt before an important meeting, blanking out from hypoglycemia, arguing with ex-spouse on the phone about custody arrangements, and a million other things, all on the same continuum of distraction.
b) The impact of distractions is ultimately contingent on context. I mentioned in an earlier note that much signage that was perfectly adequate a few decades ago provides insufficient reaction time in today’s traffic. Chatting while stuck in bumper to bumper traffic moving at a snail’s pace is a different context that chatting in similarly dense multi-lane traffic that all moves at 80mph, with people cutting in and out. Arguing with an in-law while stopped at a red light is not the same as arguing at high speeds (though the arguing may well be responsible for gradually accelerating!).
This is why I say we need a pan-distraction strategy. It’s a bit like eating. Every day you hear that this food component or mineral is good for you and that one increases risk of cancer or heart disease or dementia. But the question still remains “When I come home tonight, what should we eat for dinner?”. You need some set of higher-order principles to tie it all together, and until you have that, the sorts of cautionary strategies one adopts, or that get imposed (e.g., school board policies about what can be in high school vending machines), remain highly fragmented and less likely to increase safety overall. And overall safety is the goal, is it not?
P.S.: Don’t know if you’ve ever been in the sorts of drivig simulators used for research, but they are VERY realistic. When you do the sort of thing that results in an impending simulated accident, you get a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach.
December 15, 2011 at 6:34 pm #147507
Victor M. GarciaParticipant
YES, YES, YES! How any times do I see folks with the phone stuck to their ear, or, looking down at it texting and not looking where they are going. Pull over off the road if it’s that important to talk.
On the other hand, too many laws on the books create more bureaucratic back logs and costs, however, there is a need for safety to others. Fines I think would be the way to go or loss of driving privileges for a period f time.
December 15, 2011 at 7:05 pm #147505
As long as we are banning dangerous practices, CNN has a list of eight more items,
December 15, 2011 at 9:22 pm #147503
“Calling someone “honey” if you are not Southern or a waitress. “
That one made me smile a lot. I was at a conference in pre-Katrina N’Awlins some years ago, and several of us from the hotel I was at were piling into a cab to get to the conference hotel. As it was the last day, one had her suitcase with her for a quick getaway to the airport after the last talk. The cabbie (who claimed to have once been Irma Thomas’ chauffeur….but then don’t they all) quickly scooted out of the cab and came around to the trunk saying “Seh, baby, lemme hep you wit yo bags”. I grinned and thought “Boy, if you were a couple hundred miles north of here, that ‘baby’ would get your face slapped, and a harassment suit, SO FAST it would make your head spin”. But I knew he was just trying to be friendly and helpful….er, HEP-fuh. 😀
December 15, 2011 at 10:12 pm #147501
Thank you for that link, Andrew, but my question is where is the research to compare driving with screaming kids to driving with a cell phone (or intoxicated)… or driving while have an argument compared to driving with a cell phone… or driving while eating vs driving while using a cell phone…. or how about driving using a CB vs driving using a cell phone.
I still contend that the common denominator is the driver. If the driver doesn’t believe it’s a bad idea to be on the phone in heavy, fast traffic (which, btw, I do and always get off the phone in those situations) or doesn’t think that texting or reading or e-mailing or changing clothes or whatever, then they are going to continue to do this no matter what. I still believe that being on hands-free is no more hazardous than having a conversation with a passenger in my vehicle, but anything that takes your eyes off the road, and potentially your hands of the wheel, is dangerous. The only true way to solve that problem is to remove the driver from the equation, so we need to really work on those smart cars that drive themselves, that monitor the distance between them and everything around them and react on their own, that controls the speeds automatically, and basically which are programed to follow the laws and there is no human manipulation required for the safe use of the vehicle.
December 16, 2011 at 1:38 pm #147499
@Andrew, I agree. Driving drunk and using a cell phone while driving are choices that people make. They are selfish choices. As the study points out, the cell phone users/drivers are so involved in their phone conversations that they do not realize they are “insensitive to their own impaired driving behavior”.
December 16, 2011 at 1:43 pm #147497
That I cannot believe. If that’s were true the NTSB would be trying to make listening to your wife complaine about you are driving a criminal offence. I guess we should not list the things that could be districting as we drive here in this blog, lest we give them (NTSB) a longer list of offences. You may laugh at that, But, !!!!!!!
December 16, 2011 at 1:51 pm #147495
There are driving distractions ad infinitum. The issue here is the use of cells phones while driving and how it impacts safety.
December 16, 2011 at 2:05 pm #147493
Agreed, but the challenge is that drivers abide by policies they find persuasive, and glaring inconsistencies in policy undermine that. Look through the posts here, or indeed on ANY forum thread where cellphone bans have been discussed, and the preponderance of rejections or dismissals come from people who treat the bans as invalid because there are no bans or basis for regulating a very long list of other things they personally find as risky or even worse.
That logic applies not only to cellphone use but other seemingly disparate areas as well. Much of the argument from advocates of legalization of marijuana consists of pointing to alcohol and declaring “Well that can be FAR worse, and there is no law against that”.
Consistency is the very backbone of acceptable law/policy in the eyes of the public. So while I agree the focus of discussion here is the inherent incompatibility of cellphone use and safe attentive driving, it’s difficult to address issues of risk specific to that and ignore other sources of risk.
December 16, 2011 at 3:38 pm #147491
Mark, How are you going to force drivers to turn on this “Driving Mode” in their cell phone?
December 16, 2011 at 3:44 pm #147489
Peter, I agree with you.
December 16, 2011 at 4:08 pm #147487
Keena, Well said, I agree with you 100% I live in Norfolk Va. Interstate 64 passes through Norfolk which is connected to by 264,464,564,664 and all have a speed limit off 55 MPH, but No One drives at 55 MPH, No One will allow You to drive the speed limit either.
December 16, 2011 at 6:21 pm #147485
Good analysis by Dana Milbank. I particularly like his observation:
“Often, I’ll look up to see if the cop stopped next to me at the light can see my lawbreaking, but invariably he’s staring at his own device.”
December 17, 2011 at 5:53 pm #147483
@Ori, Agreed.. You are spot on. The Utah study spoke to the specific distractions of cell phone use while driving and drunk driving. Passenger generated distractions are not in the same league. The use of a cell phone while driving is irresponsible and the people who engage in this behavior put themselves and others in danger.
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