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Why Cell Phone Bans Don't Work 335

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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  • Bull fucking shit! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by suso ( 153703 ) * on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @07:30PM (#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 @07:46PM (#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 markdavis ( 642305 ) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @07:52PM (#41088695)

    Blood alcohol limits are pretty much nonsense. There are TONS of factors that will affect how intoxicated or not a driver is under the influence of the drug: How quickly they drank, what they ate, how accustomed to the drug are they, how much they weigh, genetics, mental state, what other chemicals have they ingested and how much/when, how tired they are, etc.

    It is just crazy to think that anyone can draw a line in the sand and declare that some magic value separates "intoxicated" from "non-intoxicated". It really shouldn't matter WHAT substance was ingested, or how much, or even if anything was. What matters is mental ability, reaction time, motor control, etc. Those can also be tested (and even objectively) and will reveal a whole lot more about how fit someone is to be driving.

    Example- which would you rather be surrounded by on the road: some 300 pound males who drink daily for years and have a blood alcohol of 0.8 but is otherwise well rested, generally a good driver, and taking no other drugs or medications -or- some a group of people that were already poor drivers, have colds, are extremely tired, and have taken a bunch of cough meds and antihistamines?

  • by scot4875 ( 542869 ) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @08:00PM (#41088759) Homepage

    and have taken a bunch of cough meds and antihistamines?

    You mean the kind that have warning labels that say, "do not drive when taking this medication"?

    But your false dichotomy is irrelevant anyway: I'd rather have neither group on the road with me.


  • by jmichaelg ( 148257 ) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @08:00PM (#41088761) Journal

    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 []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 geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @08:04PM (#41088805) Homepage Journal

    Its not nonsense. It's the most reasonably way to do it. You can't have a special number for everyone.
    Don't get me wrong, you will always be a number 2 to me~

    As for you're example..neither,. The 300 pound man with a .08 is just as dangerous. Something that has been shown over an over again.

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

    by Gordonjcp ( 186804 ) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @08:05PM (#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.

  • Level of risk (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Taco Cowboy ( 5327 ) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @08:10PM (#41088901) Journal

    While I dunno what's the level of risk of talking on cellphone while driving while compared to those who drive drunk, but I know one thing for sure ...

    I've been in couple of my friends' vehicles and they really scare the shit out of me

    Inside their car are new added distractions - from GPS map finder LCD screen to mini LCD/MP3 movie player, surrounding the driver seat

    The already cluttered atmosphere of where the driver does the driving, because of these added gadgets, become even more cluttered

    Please do not tell me that the combined effect from the LCD screens (GPS map finder, movie/MP3 player, cellphone, and so on, surrounding the vehicle driver, does not represent added distractions

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @08:11PM (#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.

  • Re:Auto V Manual (Score:2, Insightful)

    by HornWumpus ( 783565 ) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @08:14PM (#41088941)

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

  • by willy_me ( 212994 ) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @08:16PM (#41088957)

    how accustomed to the drug are they

    You're so very wrong - at least in regards to alcohol. It is true that people can become accustomed to alcohol but they only appear sober. Their reaction times will be just as bad as someone who rarely drinks. This is why drinking and driving is so dangerous - those who do it really believe it does not impact their driving. And they are right, so long as nothing out of the ordinary happens. The problem is it severely limits what one perceives and how one reacts in an emergency situation.

    Try having a few beer and then playing your favourite fps. Think of it as a science experiment - and a good excuse to have a few beer. Now compare your scores with and without alcohol and report your findings...

  • by __aaqvdr516 ( 975138 ) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @08:25PM (#41089047)

    If you're generous and assume that people can shift their focus in 5ms, you'll still be increasing stopping length by just over 4 ft at 60 mph. That's more than enough to shove your front end up someones bumper.

    Realistically, let's assume that these distracted drivers take their eyes off the road for a mere 3 seconds. That's an additional 88 ft at 60mph before their action occurs.

    Yes, other things can be nearly as distracting as cell phones. The difference is the frequency with which your eyes are going to leave the road.

    It doesn't matter how good you are at multitasking.

    Also, from TFA:
    "based on insurance claim rates in states with and without the laws."
    It's not as if someone would lie about their distractions when reporting accidents, right?

  • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @08:31PM (#41089095) Homepage

    Ok, now exactly how do you create a useful set of rules for your scenario? Basically, you can't. So you create rules that can be adjudicated in the real world and err on the side of safety.

    It's not crazy. It's the real world. Sucks to have to live in it but such is life.

    Original sin and all that....

  • Re:Level of risk (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @08:32PM (#41089111)

    I think it depends on the particular controls and how they're all designed.

    GPS helps you drive less; it guides you directly to your destination, so you don't drive around in circles looking for it, you don't have to constantly pull over and look at a map, or worse with some people, it keeps them from having a paper map unfolded over their steering wheel where they're trying to look at the unwieldy paper map and drive at the same time (not a common sight these days, but it used to be >10 years ago). The main problem with GPS is people who try to program them while they're driving, and cellphone GPSes which aren't affixed to the dash and aren't that easy to use. I use my cellphone's GPS, and it's much handier than paper maps of course, but it has problems; it has to sit on my leg as I drive, every time I take a corner I have to use one hand to keep it from sliding onto the floor and then getting confused as to which direction we're going, and if I need to change anything as I drive, well obviously that's no different than texting and driving. It doesn't help that the built-in GPS units that come with cars are generally condemned as horrible and obsolete (they never update them, they just expect you to buy a new car every year or two), so they're no better. Some of the built-in ones I've tried on high-end brands like $90k Audis have had absolutely abominable UIs.

    Built-in screens aren't supposed to play movies (unless they're in the back seat, out of the driver's view). I'm pretty sure there's a law about that.

    The built-in MP3 players in theory shouldn't be any more distracting than any other car radio/CD player. The main problem is the sheer volume of music that can be stored in one, so selecting something may be more distracting than just picking one of a handful of CDs out of your storage bin like in the olden days. But the one big problem I see with some cars is that they're trying to replace all the dashboard functions (stereo, HVAC, etc.) with a single touchscreen with a shitty UI. So instead of using a knob to adjust the fan speed like before, you're expected to navigate menus on a touchscreen to do this. Even if you didn't need to navigate menus, there's no tactile feedback here, so you have to fully concentrate on the touchscreen. It should be pretty obvious how horrible this idea is, but apparently it's not so obvious to Ford, Lincoln, and BMW, who are all pushing systems like this hard. Ford in particular went from a very high position on some "initial quality" surveys to very close to the bottom in a short span of time, all because they started pushing their "MyFordTouch" (by Microsoft) system. I guess a bunch of customers got suckered into it at the dealership, and then after living with it for a few months realized how horrible it is. Also, Ford tries hard to push this system by making it non-optional in the higher trim levels; I was looking at a few models a while ago, and the only way to avoid the MFT system was to get the lower models, but then you lose out on all the nice extras like the upgraded suspension, sunroof, etc.

  • by SwedishPenguin ( 1035756 ) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @08:39PM (#41089187)

    A single beer is enough to get you in trouble while driving in Sweden so we tend to stay away from driving after having had as little as one beer. Driving to the pub is very rare here because of it, and if you do you'll have to take the bus or a cab home.

    IMO it's a good thing, it discourages people from driving to the drinking establishment thinking they will only have a single beer. One beer so easily turns into two, two turns into three and all of the sudden you really are completely unfit to drive, but you still have that car outside and your judgement is impaired. Better if everyone just takes the bus/subway/taxi to and from the pub.

  • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @08:39PM (#41089195)
    No, there is very little that shows .08 between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. is any less safe than 0.00. What has been shown is that in uncontrolled statistics, people with 0.08 crash more than people with 0.00. And that people with 0.08 have measurable deficiencies. This lead to assertions without proof that the alcohol alone, with the decreased reaction, was sufficient to explain the crashes.

    What can't be determined from the same data (as it was scrubbed by the government to prove a point, not to improve safety) is whether 0.08 after 10 p.m. results in an increased tendency to fall asleep at the wheel if alone, or take increased risks if not (both have been proven true alone, but never integrated with the actual crash data for real world risk analysis, as that could jeopardize the party line that alcohol is evil).

    Alcohol research stopped when MADD came on the scene with a non-safety-related goal of Prohibition. Alcohol is evil, and anyone looking at the causes too closely is killing children by supporting drunks killing babies. At least that's how it's been for the past 20 years as I've looked into this.
  • by richg74 ( 650636 ) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @08:48PM (#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.

  • by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @08:49PM (#41089253)

    If 4 ft will "shove your front end up someones bumper" then you're following too close.

  • by icebike ( 68054 ) * on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @09:10PM (#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.

  • Re:Level of risk (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @09:25PM (#41089533)

    Why don't you get the directions beforehand and memorize the route? Have people really become so lazy and mentally dull that they can't do this any more?

  • Re:Level of risk (Score:5, Insightful)

    by penix1 ( 722987 ) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @09:47PM (#41089705) Homepage

    Why don't you get the directions beforehand and memorize the route?

    Having had to use a GPS recently just to locate remote destinations I have never traveled, I can answer this one... I do emergency management for the state and had to do damage assessments. This required me to travel to the county and only then get the list of houses to inspect. That list can have 50 or more houses to be looked at. Once done in that county it is off to the next. There is no way to locate these houses in the time required for the assessment and certainly no way to memorize all 50 routes one day and then memorize the next 50.

    The key to any technology in a vehicle is to not be an aggressive driver and not use (read program) the tech while driving. Pull over if you need to use it.

  • Re:Level of risk (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Cyrano de Maniac ( 60961 ) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @09:52PM (#41089729)

    Why don't you get the directions beforehand and memorize the route? Have people really become so lazy and mentally dull that they can't do this any more?

    This doesn't work so well when any of the following are true:
    1. You have several unfamiliar stops to make.
    2. Your destination changes mid-course (think sports team manager changing dining plans mid-route).
    3. There is road construction on any unfamiliar route.
    4. Your destination is not known a priori (think taxi driver).

  • by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Thursday August 23, 2012 @02:26AM (#41091391) Journal
    That's ridiculous. How much more impaired could a normal person be at 0.01? Seems to be a major injustice to me if there wasn't even an accident or explicit dangerous driving.

    I bet there are plenty of other things that would be a greater problem:
    1) being sleepy (not enough sleep, big dinner, etc)
    2) being very upset
    3) Having an itchy eye
    4) Having a cold (I know someone who crashed after a big sneeze), or being unwell for whatever reason.
    5) Last but not least not being a very competent driver.

    If you're going to set it > 0.00 then it should be illegal to drive in all the scenarios I mentioned and more.

    And as for 5) I doubt you'd want driving tests to be as stringent as what airliner pilots have to pass in well regulated countries[1]. Because I think a lot of people wouldn't be able to pass. If they can't drive, they have fewer jobs available. If they can't work, the average life expectancy of the country drops.

    There are also some people with slow reflexes >400ms? If they are good they leave a bigger gap, but if people keep overtaking them and getting into that bigger gap, it starts being dangerous to have so many overtaking incidents near a person with slow reflexes...

    [1] I think the dropout rate is as high as 80% in some places.

"There is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress." -- Mark Twain