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Why Cell Phone Bans Don't Work 335

Posted by samzenpus
from the keep-your-eyes-on-the-road dept.
sciencehabit writes "You can take the driver away from the cell phone, but you can't take the risky behavior away from the driver. That's the conclusion of a new study, which finds that people who talk on their phones while driving may already be unsafe drivers who are nearly as prone to crash with or without the device. The findings may explain why laws banning cell phone use in motor vehicles have had little impact on accident rates."
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Why Cell Phone Bans Don't Work

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  • by icebike (68054) * on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @06:27PM (#41088423)

    This is the second major study calling into question the idea that talking on the phone while driving is vastly more dangerous, as dangerous as drunk driving.

    In the other study, A Wayne State study [esciencenews.com] by Richard Young, Ph.D, found that procedural errors in the seminal research vastly over estimated the risk.

    The actual risk of talking while driving was 1/4 of what the earlier studies found, putting it right in line with just simply driving.

    Indeed, according to Wayne State, "Five other recent real-world studies concur with his conclusion that the crash risk from cellular conversations is not greater than that of driving with no conversation.". "Tasks that take a driver's eyes off the road or hands off the steering wheel are what increase crash risk," said Young. "Texting, emailing, manual dialing and so forth -- not conversation -- are what increase the risk of crashes while driving."

    While texting poses serious risks, simply talking on the phone appears to pose no more risk than simply driving. The present study found that:

    "Cell phone bans have reduced cell phone use by drivers, but the perplexing thing is that they haven't reduced crashes,"

    .

    In spite of this, in a fit of political correctness, the author feels compelled in the last paragraph of the story to print a quote from someone who has done no specific research on phoning while driving, but he still fees competent to weigh in suggesting bans be followed by stiffer enforcement.

    • by russotto (537200)

      This is the second major study calling into question the idea that talking on the phone while driving is vastly more dangerous, as dangerous as drunk driving.

      It was drop dead obvious that talking on the phone isn't vastly more dangerous than not doing so. It's so prevalent that a "vast" difference in danger would have been clearly reflected in the overall accident statistics.... and it hasn't been. Not that this stopped anyone in the mainstream from hyping the studies.

      One of the earlier studies determined

      • by geekoid (135745)

        And the most cited 'study' just said, well there were 12000 deaths, so about 25% of that was cell phone related. They just pulled the number out of the air.

      • by Grishnakh (216268)

        This shows why using cell phone billing records is totally bogus. Every judge knows that a police officer's word is irrefutable and his judgment accurate beyond compare. If a cop testifies that you were driving too fast, based on nothing more than his visual observation, that's proof positive that you were guilty of speeding.

      • by micheas (231635)

        I saw a small study that I cannot find reference to at the moment that found that talking on a cellphone (hands free or not) had a small statistically significant increase in the accident rate, while talking to a passenger resulted in a small statistically significant decrease in the accident rate.

        The hypothesis was that talking with someone is a distraction, but a second set of eyes more than compensates for the distraction. Personally, I would expect that hypothesis to be shown to be correct.

    • by hey! (33014) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @07:11PM (#41088907) Homepage Journal

      This is the second major study calling into question the idea that talking on the phone while driving is vastly more dangerous, as dangerous as drunk driving.

      This study does no such thing. What this study shows is that talking on the phone being dangerous *is not disproven* by accident rates remaining the same after a ban. It does this by suggesting that people most affected by the ban are such (to use a scientific) boneheads that when you take away their cell phone they just find other ways to cause accidents. Another possibility is that these people ignore the ban, the way they ignore the prohibitions on tailgating and weaving.

      The big question is that given that cell phone bans don't make much statistical difference in accident rates, should we have them? But to be fair, the same could be said of bans against weaving and tailgating. It's seems plausible that people who don't drive like idiots do so *because they're not idiots*. But as another researcher quoted in the article suggests, perhaps the problem is that we don't enforce laws against aggressive driving enough.

    • by hey! (33014) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @07:17PM (#41088973) Homepage Journal

      In spite of this, in a fit of political correctness, the author feels compelled in the last paragraph of the story to print a quote from someone who has done no specific research on phoning while driving, but he still fees competent to weigh in suggesting bans be followed by stiffer enforcement.

      The person being quoted is D. L. Strayer, who a quick google scholar search reveals has done a proverbial shitload [google.com] of distracted driving research, much of it focused on phone use.

      • His work is mostly speculative, and artificial in nature, and his assertions haven't been born out on the road.
        This is the key part here. All his doom-saying about talking while driving has not been born out by the facts on the ground.

        In fact his studies are some of the exact ones proven to have defects that icebike mentioned in his first linked article.

        • by hey! (33014) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @08:17PM (#41089459) Homepage Journal

          His work is mostly speculative, and artificial in nature, and his assertions haven't been born out on the road.

          Citations?

          In fact his studies are some of the exact ones proven to have defects that icebike mentioned in his first linked article.

          As far as I can see none of DL Strayer's papers are cited by Dr. Young's paper (doi: 10.1097/EDE.0b013e31823b5efc -- perhaps I've got the wrong one), referred to in the link above.

          First there was icebike's claim that DL Strayer has never done any distracted driving studies. That about as wrong as wrong can be. Then there is your claim that the paper linked to by icebike specifically debunks several of DL Strayer's papers. I thought this was curious. If that were so, then why would icebike think that DL Strayer hasn't done any distracted driving studies? So I checked, and apparently Dr. Young's paper doesn't cite any of DL Strayer's publications. If that is so, then you must be mistaken.

          I'll assume for now you guys mixed different studies up and simply didn't bother to check, but you can see how it would be forgivable for someone to come away with the impression you guys are just making stuff up.

    • When I read this in the summary ...

      finds that people who talk on their phones while driving may already be unsafe drivers

      I took it as safe drivers don't talk on their cell phone and unsafe drivers do. In other words, the kind of person that doesn't think driving deserves their full attention will be an unsafe driver and it doesn't matter whether that attention is diverted by cell phones, the radio, eating, bill boards etc.

      • by icebike (68054) * on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @08:10PM (#41089423)

        When I read this in the summary ...

        finds that people who talk on their phones while driving may already be unsafe drivers

        I took it as safe drivers don't talk on their cell phone and unsafe drivers do. In other words, the kind of person that doesn't think driving deserves their full attention will be an unsafe driver and it doesn't matter whether that attention is diverted by cell phones, the radio, eating, bill boards etc.

        I believe you have the gist of it.

        The interesting thing is that the bans have not resulted in fewer accidents, which suggests these people are also scofflaws, or they are just as accident prone while NOT on the phone. Its also possible the study made no distinction between talking vs texting.

        But other studies have tended to show that talking while driving has not proven more dangerous with the population as a whole, without making distinctions for people easily distracted or prone to take risks.

        I tend to suspect that talking, especially hands free, is not that much more of a risk, once you get past the dialing portion of an outgoing call, and driving behavior does not deteriorate during a call. Drivers don't drive faster, start changing lanes, follow too close just because they are on the phone, and in fact they may actually do fewer of these things while talking.

        I also believe that those willing to take their hands and eyes off the wheel to text, or even read an incoming text are the major source of the problem. Actual call records seem to support this.

    • by clong83 (1468431)
      I guess it's not too much of a consideration anymore, but I still drive a stick. Talking on a cell phone is markedly dangerous for me, at least in the city. An open highway is alright though.
    • by micheas (231635)

      "No state bans all cell phone use for all drivers, but many prohibit use by certain subsets" [ghsa.org] With the subsets being school bus drivers and novice drivers.

      Hands free talking on the cell phone is as dangerous as talking with the cell phone to your ear, and less dangerous than eating that burger just picked up at the drive through. The insurance industry would probably accept a swap of legalizing DUI if every drive through restaurant was closed, as the reduced accident rate would save them some money. Some da

    • Sorry, but you have been misinformed. Just talking on a phone is a major distraction because the brain space-time shifts away from driving to the conversation that is not within the vehicle. Conversation *within* the vehicle is already a distraction, but when it is a conversation *outside* of the vehicle, the brain does not cope. The brain *tries* to place itself in a location (with the other side of the conversation) that it physically can not possibly be. I know what I see. I have seen drivers stop a
  • Bull fucking shit! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by suso (153703) * on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @06:30PM (#41088461) Homepage Journal

    The reason why cell phone bans don't work is the same reason other bans don't work, because they aren't enforced enough or at all (from what I've seen). Good people give into temptation because other people are doing it and feel they can get away with it. Take that feeling away, people would stop. Granted, I agree there would always be offenders, but not nearly as many.

    • by eepok (545733) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @06:46PM (#41088617) Homepage

      Indeed. If there were days of "shock enforcement" where 100% of available traffic officers specifically sought out to enforce cell phone driving laws instead of other non-immediately-deadly traffic infractions, people would respond QUICKLY.

      Why do people continue to talk on their cell phones when it's against the law? Because they think they can get away with it. How do you change that? Ticket SO MANY PEOPLE that they talk and whine and bitch about it... that way the risk is genuine.

      Do this once a month for three months without announcing the plan to anyone an watch things change QUICKLY.

      PS -- Use unmarked cars and cameras, too.

      • by dgatwood (11270)

        Indeed. If there were days of "shock enforcement" where 100% of available traffic officers specifically sought out to enforce cell phone driving laws instead of other non-immediately-deadly traffic infractions, people would respond QUICKLY.

        Um... they basically did that in California. And nonstop news stories. And....

      • by asylumx (881307)
        Right... but speeding also leads to more crashes (or at least that's according to what the scary letter I got when I landed my first speeding ticket said). Speeding is another of those that people do because they can get away with it. Also, it's a hell of a lot easier to enforce speed limits where what the car is doing can be measured by observing from a distance than it is to try to enforce what the driver is (or isn't) doing inside the car. So, given that, I wouldn't be convinced that the law enforceme
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jmichaelg (148257)

      Enforcement, traffic laws, safety systems don't matter. What matters is the number of people and number of registered cars.

      As hard as that may be to believe, Smeed's Law [wikipedia.org]has held up since the 1940's when Smeed first proposed it.

      Every advance in safety is offset by people engaging in riskier behavior.

    • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @07:04PM (#41088813) Homepage Journal

      The reason why cell phone bans don't work is the same reason other bans don't work, because they aren't enforced enough or at all

      Enforcement is the problem. When texting is banned, people put the phones down in their lap to text so that the cops can't see the phones up on top of the steering wheel while they're texting and watching the road.

      OK, I guess thinking that government laws can solve this problem is really the root cause.

      How about this - rescind the laws that prevent automatic car trials from happening on your State's roads instead? Nevada seems to be doing just fine.

      People have made it clear that they'd rather surf than drive, so everything that stands in the way of letting that happen safely is a problem. Or just fight human nature - whatever works.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      If only there was actual scientific evidence that its a problem.
      Here is some emperical evidence that it is not a problem:

      http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s1103.pdf [census.gov]

      We would expect to see an increase in accidents, but we see a decrease since 1990

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @06:31PM (#41088479)

    I mean, when I can check Slashdot while driving, what could go wr

  • The article (and in fact most similar articles I have read) seem to take nothing into account regarding automatic and manual gearboxes. There is a massive difference between talking on a phone whilst changing gear and whilst driving an automatic car. It would be an interesting comparison and it is certainly far more dangerous in general to speak on a phone whilst driving a manual. Having to change gear whilst keeping a phone to your cheek (generally with your other hand) is magnitudes more dangerous than pl
    • There is a massive difference between talking on a phone whilst changing gear and whilst driving an automatic car.

      Only if you hold the phone to your ear with one hand.

      Personally, I prefer a bluetooth headset with the phone set to autoanswer - all I have to do when someone calls me while I'm driving is say "hello" when the earbug chirps at me....

      • Re:Auto V Manual (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Gordonjcp (186804) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @07:05PM (#41088831) Homepage

        I have a handsfree phone kit in my van, and I also have a handsfree radio setup - there's a boom microphone mounted on the sun visor and a remote push-to-talk button on the gearstick. I still think it's safer to avoid using either when traffic conditions get a bit tricky.

        Incidentally, people in the US seem to make a lot of noise about automatic gearboxes being safer because the driver is not "distracted" by changing gear. It's pretty simple - if you have to think consciously about changing gear after your second or third driving lesson, you lack the mental capacity to drive a car.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by HornWumpus (783565)

      A confounding factor is that people who drive automatics can't drive and certainly don't focus.

    • by Grishnakh (216268)

      I take it you've never heard of a Bluetooth headset?

    • by swalve (1980968)
      It seems like some kind of law of nature that people who disparage automatic transmissions are also the same kind of people who use words like "whilst" and "shall" unironically.
  • by Targon (17348) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @06:35PM (#41088507)

    Is there more risk of an accident if there is a passenger in the car, or someone who is talking on a hands free calling device? The person in the passenger seat can actually be more of a distraction than someone on the phone, so what will we do, limit vehicles to not have any passenger seats?

    • The person in the passenger seat can actually be more of a distraction than someone on the phone, so what will we do, limit vehicles to not have any passenger seats?

      The person in the passenger seat can also recognize dicey driving situations and hazards that the driver may not see. So we only need to make it illegal to drive with passengers who don't know when to shut up (hint: when someone is driving).

    • and shut up if the driver needs to concentrate

    • The only accident I've been in that was my fault (the rest have been people rear-ending ME) was largely because of this. Compounded by the fact that the stoplight was nearly horizontal due to wind, but primarily this.
  • by PeanutButterBreath (1224570) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @06:38PM (#41088543)

    Focusing on cell phones because they are otherwise topical is a mistake because nay-sayers will always be able to argue that talking on a cell phone is no more dangerous than putting on makeup or leaning over to smack your kid in the back seat. Which is true. There are a million stupid and dangerous things that people do while driving.

    However, in the push to make driving a consumption-heavy lifestyle and cars yet another arena for consuming various products and advertisements for even more products, the ship has pretty much sailed on acknowledging the fact that driving is inherently dangerous and that danger increases with every gadget and chatty passenger that you add to the equation.

    • by richg74 (650636) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @07:48PM (#41089247) Homepage
      There are a million stupid and dangerous things that people do while driving.

      Absolutely. Actually, I'm pretty well convinced that a big part of the problem is the thing that many drivers don't do: focus their attention on driving, which, as you say, is inherently dangerous.

      I was a training ride leader for the Boston->New York AIDS Ride back in the mid-1990s, and I wrote this as part of a safety introduction for novice cyclists:

      The best safety rule is this: don't crash. The best way to avoid crashing is to focus 100 percent of your attention 100 percent of the time on riding safely. If you are thinking about the cute guy or girl that you saw at lunch, or a problem at work, or otherwise watching a movie inside your head, sooner or later you will encounter a dangerous situation, and will get acquainted, up close and personal, with the pavement.

      Change 'riding' to 'driving' and I think it still works pretty well.

      • I drove for a short while but quit because it was just too boring. Yes focusing all of your attention is important, but how can you focus on something that 90% of the time is not worthy of any notable percentage of attention?
        I can hand you a blank piece of paper and tell you to spend 100% of your attention focusing on it for hours, but I do not see how that would be possible for a human being to do.

        • by swalve (1980968)
          I envy that you have the resources such that driving is an option for you.
        • by cbiltcliffe (186293) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @10:02PM (#41090209) Homepage Journal

          Drive at 30-50% over the speed limit, and it's not boring any more.

          I don't necessarily advocate this in town, as the density of traffic makes it "interesting" enough to hold your attention by itself, but I wouldn't be surprised if the low speed limits we have on rural roads and highways in North America cause as many accidents through boredom as they prevent from the lower speed.

          It's rare in Canada to find any out of town road with a speed limit above 80 km/h, with the exception of freeway/motorway kind of roads, which are 100 km/h.
          Keep in mind, in keeping with the "huge masses of available land" tradition in North America, these are wide, straight, and frequently have completely uninterrupted views of the surroundings for miles in all directions.
          When I drove in England a few years back, I always enjoyed seeing the "End of all restrictions" signs when leaving town on a narrow little twisty B road. It meant I could open the car up and have fun. These are, of course, sometimes only one lane roads, with plenty of twists and turns - it's England, after all - and frequently a stone wall on one side or the other, if not both. This kind of road would flat out horrify a typical North American driver, and it would give a Canadian or American traffic planner a coronary, but it keeps drivers engaged, alert, and careful, regardless of the speed they may be travelling at.

          After all, if you stop paying attention to the road for even a second, you're either through the stone wall, or off the road in some field.

  • by markdavis (642305) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @06:41PM (#41088569)

    >"new study, which finds that people who talk on their phones while driving may already be unsafe drivers who are nearly as prone to crash with or without the device."

    That partially doesn't surprise me. Typically, the same people that would allow themselves to be distracted by a phone or texting are going to be the same people that will allow themselves to be distracted by the radio, GPS, passenger, makeup, food, random thoughts, whatever. Conversely, there are people who tend to not allow distractions or are better able to ignore or cope with them. They might RELUCTANTLY use a phone while driving but don't allow the phone to be the primary focus and are FAR less distracted than others.

    Just my observation, but it certainly looks like younger generations are growing up with less and less ability to focus, almost like ADD is rampant. Could be a side effect of having instant everything in their life and have no tolerance for having to work at something, concentrate on something, or be "disconnected" from others.

    All that aside, I am not sure the methodology of the cited study is very scientific. For example- just ASKING people how often they use a phone while driving- yeah, that will be accurate. Anyway, there is no simple solution to the problem of distracted driving. Just banning phone use is not the answer. I don't know what the answer is, or if there is one... but it is certainly not going to be one thing.

  • One needs to get it in the right order.

  • by SternisheFan (2529412) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @07:05PM (#41088833)
    The brain can multi-task 4 things at one time, driving a vehicle uses most of them. Add one or two distractions...BOOM!...accident. I've seen people using hands-free devices almost have an accident because the CONVERSATION was what was distracting them. They were taking their eyes off the road to stare at the phone while they were making their point. Lastly, insurance companies have found that, on average, an accident happens within 2 seconds of looking away from the road (fumbling for a dropped CD was the number one reason.).
    • by asylumx (881307)

      fumbling for a dropped CD was the number one reason

      Surely this study was not done within the last decade.

  • ... is because they are almost hopeless to enforce. Almost every state has banned text messaging while driving (with good reason because it is fucking dangerous to read and/or write messages while driving) yet it is seldom enforced. Drivers get away with it all the time because the chance of getting caught is quite nearly zero. Talking on the phone without handsfree - in states where it is required to use handsfree - is much easier to spot, though still not fined often.
  • I can think of several fundamental flaws with these kinds of studies...primarily the **complete lack of context or consistency**

    List of factors that logically should be compared in a means test to 'texting while driving' in relation to cause of accidents:

    > Applying make-up while driving
    > Eating while driving
    > Using [x device] while driving (some examples: car stereo, ipod, navigation system)
    > Reaching for something
    > Mental distraction (some people call these daydreams)
    > Interpersonal distr

  • In Washington, it is illegal to drive while talking on a cell phone (meaning holding the phone to your ear)... UNLESS

    • You're hearing impaired and require hearing aid devices, OR
    • You're on speaker phone

    So if you're old and can't year, you can drive while talking on your cell phone with it up to your ear. Or if it's on speaker phone you can hold it up to your ear. Otherwise you need a hands-free handset; as if using a hands-free set is somehow SO much better for you than holding the phone.

    It's obviously a

  • I don't have a link to it, but one of the studies done where I live shortly after they introduced the cell phone ban showed an INCREASE in cell-phone related accidents. The cause was soon found to be that instead of drivers texting/dialing with the phone in front of them (where they can see the road in the background), they were holding the phones next to their hip where police were less likely to notice what they were doing, which meant that instead of 30% of their concentration being on the road, 0% was.
  • I drive a lot, much of it on a controlled access highway that crosses the north shore of Vancouver. What I see, time and again, is that the RCMP and West Vancouver police enforce exactly three traffic laws:
    • Seatbelts, because all that they need to do is stand by a highway on ramp and nab cars as they enter.
    • Cel phones, because all that they need to do is stand by a highway on ramp and nab cars as they enter.
    • Speed limits, because all that they need to do is sit in the car and watch the radar gun.

    Tailgating

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