[FoRK] Laws that ban texting while driving could be counter productive

Stephen Williams sdw at lig.net
Wed Sep 14 19:20:55 PDT 2011

On 9/14/11 10:48 AM, Aaron Burt wrote:
> On Wed, Sep 14, 2011 at 09:16:26AM -0700, Stephen Williams wrote:
>> Plenty of people making statements that assume that no driver can
>> handle any distraction in any circumstance because some stupid
>> person zoned out and caused a crash.
> As the guy down the bar says, "I can drive home jes' fine."

And some probably can drive safe-ish far further than the legal limit.  But that's not necessary, and you could easily cross that 
level minutes later, etc.  While perhaps a bit on the overboard side in penalties for those barely over the limit, DUI laws are 
generally on target.  I lost a young cousin to a drunk driver in a tiny Ohio town.

>> 'But Jeffrey Hickman of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute
>> has analyzed the risks of various driver activities.  Even though
>> it's counterintuitive, he said, hands-free phone use can be safer
>> than not using a phone at all because "drivers on a hands-free tend
>> to compensate by watching the road more carefully when they are
>> talking."'
> "Can be", not "has been shown to be".  Which is a good disclaimer, since
> all the evidence I've seen indicates that hands-free phone use is nearly as
> dangerous.  Most folks don't think to compensate.

I don't believe he is conjecturing that it is possible, he is summarizing actual studies of people with and without hands-free phone 
use.  He is also not saying that every person is safer, the "can be" indicates that a subset of drivers are more attentive and safe 
with hands-free phone use than without.  He did not specify what percentage he's talking about.  Based on another study, previously 
cited, a significant, but less than majority percentage, are as safe multi-tasking as not.  That is a different, stronger indication 
that for at least some people this kind of multi-tasking is not a problem.

> As Canadian Bob Dobbs says, "If you're on the phone, that's Virtual Reality."
> Sorry for the yammering, this topic just gets my goat.  I've been riding
> motorcycles for 15 years, and bicycling to work off-and-on for the last 5.

I've run, inline skated, and bicycled tens of thousands of miles on streets and highways, including downtown DC for many many miles 
on skates.

> Like any prey animal, I constantly watch for signs of danger, and the
> surest sign of upcoming high-kinetic-energy dumbassery is the upraised hand
> and glassy eyes of the cellphone driver.

Road dumbth is not restricted to those talking on a phone.  Worse probably are those robotically performing a daily commute without 
really paying attention, zoned out on some random train of thought.  How are you going to outlaw that?  Other by generally saying: 
"Pay attention!"  People are not automatically alert and safe because they're not talking on the phone.

Everyone starts out fairly unsafe when a new driver.  And has to learn to handle more distraction and more complexity in driving.  
The fact that some remain stunted or that some fail before they become proficient is not grounds to penalize those who have become 
proficient and highly safe.

> And yes, I know YOU are different, and YOU can handle your liq^Wcellphone.

I guarantee that I'm better than average.  Hard to reliably self-report beyond that.  How about: I've driven between 500K-1M miles, 
multi-tasking almost constantly, with no accident that was my fault (beyond minor sliding on ice as a teenager, long before I was 
multi-tasking).  The only dangerous thing I've done driving is becoming too tired.  Which is illegal now technically.

I'm OK with hands-free devices, which I've used since it was possible.  The point of objecting to these laws a some level is that 
they are least common denominator which ends up penalizing everyone, severely if using a cell phone was prevented entirely.  At that 
point, the law is probably unconstitutional, although in a weak way.

And yes, I'm still prosecuting my appeal (unrelated to mobile phone use, but perhaps related at a high level: "if you are provably 
safe, an offense intended to promote safety cannot be applied") on constitutional grounds.  The DA did not produce anything in their 
response that convinced me that the issue I'm raising is settled or incorrect.

> It's still illegal round here,

All talking on a cell phone, even hands-free?  Is it illegal to talk to passengers?  Have screaming kids in the car?  Thinking?  
Being hungry?  Having to go to the bathroom?  All solved by outlawing distractions?

How do the people who think that every possible distraction must be outlawed think that pilots manage to fly airplanes?
I would be all for graduated driver's licenses: Place a big "M" on my bumper showing that I've passed an "can multitask" test.  (And 
an "S" showing that a higher driving speed is safe in this vehicle for me, etc.)  That's fine.  But don't outlaw everything for 
everybody because it's the simple and lazy solution, wasting people's lives be damned.

>    Aaron


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