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Transportation Communications Stats Science

Quantifying the Risk of Texting Drivers 217

An anonymous reader writes "More than 5000 people die each year as a result of being distracted while driving, and a new study indicates that teens and cell phones make for the most volatile combination. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that of all drivers under 20 involved in fatal crashes, 16 percent were distracted — the highest proportion of any age group. 'Shockingly, texting drivers took their eyes off the road for each text an average of 4.6 seconds — which at 55 mph, means they were driving the length of a football field without looking,' said David Hosansky."
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Quantifying the Risk of Texting Drivers

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  • by _LORAX_ ( 4790 ) on Sunday May 20, 2012 @07:27AM (#40056189) Homepage

    Young drives have always been at risk because they have the least experience, only the distractions have changed over time.

  • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Sunday May 20, 2012 @07:50AM (#40056247)

    Whatever the youth are interested in will be demonized. 60 years ago it was Elvis's hips, 50 years ago rock n roll, 30 years ago dungeons and dragons, 20 years ago it was computers/video games, now its texting. Its basically "children will be seen not heard" extended into very young adulthood.

    30 years ago if a guy was fumbling around with his 8 track player or screaming at the kids in the back seat and got in an accident, eh no proof, probably get a ticket for inattentive driving anyway. Now you can prove with digital precision that the guy was sending a text message. The ability to prove exactly how the guy was goofing off is supposed to invoke moral outrage in me. It fails.

    Lets try an Einstein-ian thought experiment. Dude runs over your friend and kills them. Do you feel any different about your friend's death knowing dude was texting or trying to eat a fast food burger? We are being extremely heavily propagandized that death from texting is horrifically worse than death by burger/cd/radio/8 track/plain ole daydreaming/being lost/reading a old fashioned paper map/reading a GPS map.

  • by karnal ( 22275 ) on Sunday May 20, 2012 @07:53AM (#40056253)

    I've seen this video a few times; is a true testament to how people get distracted.

    Yesterday I had 4 others in my car, driving to get lunch after running/walking in the Komen race in Columbus. There was a man in a truck beside us, veering into our lane about 1 foot. Not the biggest deal, I crunched myself up against the yellow line (was a 2x2 road). Later on, one of the passengers asked "Is that guy in front of us drunk?" He kept weaving about a foot on each side, about once a minute in an almost rhythmic motion. Would slowly move into either lane and then after about 10 seconds jerk the wheel back. Driver wasn't texting - he was just talking on the cell and not texting. I'd hate to see what happens if he was texting and actually not having his eyes on the road.

    And of course, my personal anecdotes from riding a motorcycle around this city are many. My biggest problem is there is no good way to communicate with another driver to kindly ask them to be careful with your life while you're on the road; most people beep and take it as a sign of aggression - or worse, just jump to the middle finger. My main issue there is that you never know what someone might do; and with me on a motorcycle and them in a car - even if I'm right - it'll still hurt me worse.

  • by finlandia1869 ( 1001985 ) on Sunday May 20, 2012 @07:53AM (#40056255)
    You know what else is equally dumb, but has gotten a free pass? Touchscreen interfaces in cars. I make it a point to buy cars with physical controls so that I can do things by touch alone. Plus, the designers always seem to make it a point to bury settings in nested menus; this only makes it worse. 4.6 seconds is probably how long it takes some people to change the station on the radio. And of course, they have to look down at the screen to do it.
  • by Sponge Bath ( 413667 ) on Sunday May 20, 2012 @07:53AM (#40056257)
    During those seconds, maybe more than a few, there is at least a small chance the drunk driver is actually paying attention to driving. The same can't be said for texting. Either way, I don't think needlessly risking the lives of others should be legal.
  • Darwin (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rossdee ( 243626 ) on Sunday May 20, 2012 @07:55AM (#40056261)

    Never mind the drivers that are killed, because they are texting etc, what about those that are killed or injured by them, who are innocent? (ie the pedestrians and people in the vehicles they collide with. ) They are the ones we should be concerned about.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 20, 2012 @08:09AM (#40056299)

    Well, after having pretty much all my family in near fatal car crashes, I can definitively say there is a difference.
    With my folks, they got hit by a drunk driver who was driving on the wrong side of a mountain road.
    With my sister, it was a drunk driver.
    With my brother, it was simply a notoriously bad junction he was coming out of.

    Yeah, it sucks to be in the intensive care ward looking at people hanging by a thread, but when you KNOW that someone deliberately did something really stupid to put that person there, you really, really ask yourself a lot of questions about them, and about life, and about things that a illegal.

  • by dietdew7 ( 1171613 ) on Sunday May 20, 2012 @08:18AM (#40056321)
    The distraction of texting is not equivalent to that of eating a burger. Texting while driving is extra stupid, I need almost full attention to text and much less to eat. imagine a spectrum of irresponsibility with just listening to the radio on the low end and smashed drunk driving on the other. Texting is right up next to drunk driving for stupidity.
  • by mobby_6kl ( 668092 ) on Sunday May 20, 2012 @08:26AM (#40056347)

    Film at eleven.

    Meanwhile, Turn signal neglect results in over twice as many crashes as distracted driving [], but nobody gives a shit because it's not a new scary technology used by the damn kids ruining everything.

  • by pla ( 258480 ) on Sunday May 20, 2012 @08:40AM (#40056421) Journal
    What the article does say is that 16% of accidents caused by drivers under 20 is caused by distraction

    Wait - Only 16%? Seriously? And that includes "talking with passengers" and "adjusting the radio"? Wow, way to make exactly the opposite of the intended point, TFA!

    Shouldn't we perhaps worry about the other 84% before we go crazy talking about things like motion sensors to disable cell phones when in motion above some arbitrary speed?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 20, 2012 @10:12AM (#40056805)

    And propaganda is dangerous. We need better trained drivers who recognize a distraction as a distraction, not just what they are told is one. So by putting emphasize on one type of distraction you are teaching drivers only to pay attention to this one distraction and the others are okay. That's stupid, no that's insane. Anyways the number 1 distraction, as studies were showing was tired driving, what do we really need propaganda telling people not to grab a pillow while driving?

    Propaganda is why I drive down the road with people who drive 5 mph under the speed limit (because you know speed kills) but can't turn a turn signal nor understand why it's bad to come to a complete stop on the road to either turn or let someone out (stopping on the road is illegal btw.) That's what propaganda gets you, people who see only a small portion of the picture and not the whole thing and end being more dangerous then the original problem you try to solve.

    Instead of playing whack-a-mole with legislation and what each individual distraction is, why don't we better train drivers to do all the things right when they sit behind a wheel.

  • by Idarubicin ( 579475 ) on Sunday May 20, 2012 @10:20AM (#40056825) Journal

    Most states are discouraging teens from driving at all. Death is better than an empty life.


    In any case, the best possible world would be one where "most states are discouraging driving". Build liveable, walkable communities, with proper mixed-use development, green spaces, multi-use trails for pedestrians and bicycles, and good connections to public transit.

    If the only way for a teen to buy groceries is by driving ten miles to a big-box Wal-Mart as the sole occupant of a seven-passenger SUV, then something is fundamentally broken.

  • A certain amount of accidents are not preventable. Shit actually does happen. Texting is preventable. Having the best driving skill is not.
  • There are three types of distractions in a car.

    First, there's the plain 'Thing is happening' distraction, which can be anything from listening to the radio to talking on a hands free cell phone to another passenger. Luckily, not only are such distractions pretty minor, but in a lot of cases are actually helpful, as opposed to highway hypnosis and falling asleep and whatnot. The only real problem occurs when the other person isn't in the car, aka, they're on a cell phone, and thus they don't realize when they need to shut up and let you just drive for ten second.(1)

    Second are eye distractions. Looking away from the road.

    Third is hand distractions, where your hand is busy. Note this is the only 'distraction' that is built into cars, like the window control and the radio, which are designed to operate without eyes. Also eating is one of these. (This isn't really a 'distraction' issue as much as a 'control' issue. It makes dangerous situations worse, but only if they're already happening.)

    The real problem is that texting is all three of these. It requires looking while you read and reply, it requires one hand all the time (cell phones do not float in midair), and it also requires some actual thought as to what to say.

    It's pretty much every possible distraction rolled up into one. It's hard to think of something that could be worse. Seriously, just call the damn person, even without hands free. At least then you can watch the road.

    1) Which is why everyone should really get in the habit of saying 'Hold on a sec' while they're driving and talking on the phone. All the time. No, it's not rude in any way, and people who are talking to drivers need to understand that anything might be happening. (Of course, when I mean 'driving and talking on the phone', I mean 'using hands free'.)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 20, 2012 @12:30PM (#40057505)

    Somewhat related, there really needs to be a universal "I'm Sorry" hand signal. Right now there's just like "Hello" "Bye" and "Fuck You."

  • by omfgnosis ( 963606 ) on Sunday May 20, 2012 @02:33PM (#40058221)

    This is rubbish. Texting while driving is being vilified because it's extremely dangerous and extremely common. That an extremely dangerous driving habit correlates to a "youth activity" (never mind that older adults do this as well) is probably a function of youth being less experienced drivers on average; less experienced drivers are more likely to engage in distracting activity while driving.

    Do you really think "the media" (as if texting while driving would otherwise be accepted by the countless other drivers, cyclists, pedestrians who've been endangered by it) would downplay a rash of "crossword puzzling while driving" by 50-somethings?

  • sharing the road (Score:4, Insightful)

    by epine ( 68316 ) on Sunday May 20, 2012 @03:04PM (#40058407)

    You might factor into your model of the mainstream media that few people find the behaviour patterns of decrepit old farts newsworthy.

    Youth are early adopters, and many youth and young adults lack the judgement to step back from the new stupid. Also known as a sex drive. A young adult using text to A) get laid, or B) indulge in the fantasy that you might someday get laid is not worrying that taking a driving license away from an 80 year-old widow with failing eyesight and reaction times deprives her of her last vestige of independence. "Get out of my way, old bird, I'm trying to get laid. #horny"

    SMS accident template

    Two young adults are stuck behind some slow-moving great-grandmother, but neither notices initially since they are both busy texting and the slower speed makes it easier to divide attention. The man is writing a shorter text and looks up first, sees that he's going to miss a major light because of the slow-moving old bird two cars ahead, but has just enough time to make an abrupt lane change into an open space and gun the intersection. Young women in front finishes her text moments later, decides to make the same move (with less testosterone) sees the same gap, but doesn't take into account the asshole multitasking male who was driving behind her one seconds ago careening into the same opening with twice the acceleration.

    Asshole male finishes his abrupt shoulder check and swings his head forward just in time to sense his impending impact with the young woman making the same lane change in front of him. He tries to protect his precious chrome bumper by swinging yet further around rodeo style and clips a bicyclist in the oncoming lane who had moved inside for an upcoming left turn.

    It's a lot like wifi spectrum. If you're the only driver on the highway who texts, you enjoy the protection of every other driver having their eyes on the road. But then other cheeky drivers start to behave the same way, and soon you experience packet loss. The problem on the road is that some packets are more fragile than others. How come the car wash is out of service? Because the drain is clogged again with little strips of Lycra.

Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them. -- Bill Vaughn