Forget Drunk Driving, We've Got Cell Phone Driving

A study has shown that driving while talking on a cell phone is similar to driving drunk, even if the phone has a hands-free headset. I at first thought, there are tons of other distractions while driving in a car, like tuning the radio, eating, singing, watching people walk down the sidewalk, or talking to the person next to you. How could a cell phone be any worse? After thinking about it a little, I realized that talking to someone who is not physically there is different. The article mentioned that the worst distraction was texting while driving. I can see how this would be an extreme distraction which could definitely cause accidents. Would I be right in saying that fellow motorists who text while driving is a negative externality to other drivers?


Dr. Tufte said...

I have two thoughts.

First, it is good that our society is getting increasingly aware of this sort of thing.

Second, I think we should take a hard look at our own morality if we are harder on people who drink and drive versus those who text and drive. Personally, I'd like to live in a world where we focus on outcomes like traffic deaths, instead of inputs like alcohol and text messages.

Jordan said...

Dr. Tufte Said:

"I think we should take a hard look at our own morality if we are harder on people who drink and drive versus those who text and drive."

I agree. People who are irresponsible enough to text on their phones while driving show the same reckless judgment as those who drive drunk. Perhaps stiffer penalties (similar to penalties for drunk-driver accidents) for those who cause accidents while text-messaging would discourage people from doing it.

Trinity said...

Dr. Tufte's comment was right on the money. I think the outcome should be judged more than the intent. It is critical to be aware, however, that our legal system DOES consider intent. Many laws are formed around the intent of the person committing the crime. I suppose it's possible neither the drunks nor the texters had provable malicious intent, but in most people's minds the texting is much less of an offense than drunk driving.

Gavin said...

Extra Credit - Dr. Tufte
I agree with Dr. Tufte on the benefits of increasing awareness. Perhaps society is too focused on the result which we resolve with litigation. Advertisements that discourage drunk driving are effective on the casual drinker. The same efforts would likely be effective on the average texter.

William said...

Dr. Tufte,
I agree with you and think that we should focus on how many deaths occur and find ways to decrease this number. I think that with the coming generation there are more and more distractions. It seems to me that people are becoming more careless and less focused on driving properly. I think that our laws do need to be a little stricter so that we can help prevent the outcomes that occur from reckless driving.

Grace said...

Extra Credit--Dr. Tufte

I hadn't really thought about considering the outcomes rather than the inputs (causes) until I read Dr. Tufte's post. Good point!

I think we are harder on people who drink and drive than those who text and drive because of the long-established legalities behind alcohol-related issues (i.e. legal drinking age, legal blood-alcohol limit, etc.) I also think we are harder on the drinking because for some this is not only a legal issue but a religious issue. So, in some cases we are solely against drinking while drinking & driving takes the offense to a whole new level.

The contrast between texting and drinking then is that texting is legal and there are no religious rules against it. This is the root as to why we are harder on people who drink and drive rather than those who text and drive.

I agree, texting and driving is extremely dangerous. We should consider the outcomes more so than the inputs as both drinking and texting are choices people make that ultimately affect their ability to drive safely. And yes, Matthew, I think you are correct in saying that fellow motorists who text while driving are creating a negative externality to other drivers.

Reagan said...

Dr. Tufte-Extra Credit,

If you follow Utah's ad campaigns they are focusing on the outcome instead of the inputs. Their slogan, "Zero Fatalities A Goal We Can All Live With", doesn't focus on drunk driving, text messaging, or careless driving. It focuses on the outcome of these inputs, people die. There ad shows a lady writing an apology letter about how sorry she is that she killed someones family member. I'm sure this campaign is having some type of positive effect because it forces people to focus on the outcome whether on not it was caused by drunk driving or texting.

TheFindlay said...

Dr. Tufte
People aren’t dying because of text messaging. It is immoral to put texting in the same category and drunk driving. I drove past a driving “texter” yesterday and the worst I saw was that the vehicle was moving slower than normal. People should stop texting while they drive but people should also stop many things while driving. I agree that our focus should be on the outcomes. Unfortunately the inputs determine most of the outcomes.

Dr. Tufte said...

Reagan's point is new to me.

I think thefindlay's point is debatable: we know that drunk drivers kill people because we measure that. No one's actually counting texting deaths yet. I think we should start.

One other point to keep in mind about our attitudes towards drinking and driving is that temperance was at its most popular when driving was in its infancy. I suspect the association was made then, and it still sticks. We do have problems with drunk pilots and boaters, and historically there were problems with drunks on horseback running people down ... but we don't talk about any of these. Why is that?

John said...

I am not sure I agree with you, but the problem of controlling for all the relevant factors is non-trivial in research like this.

I understand, and thus it makes the research non-definitive. As you've presented it, the 14.8% figure indicates that people change their DUI habits when penalties increase. That seems like an obvious consequence. It does not indicate that the change in DUI habits has thus saved lives. Only a drop in the aggregate (controlled for whatever variables you could account for) would indicate such.




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Anonymous said...

Suppose cell phone use impairs driving ability about the same as a BAC of .08. During a given drive, if the person only uses the phone for say 20% of the time, then obviously they are less likely to crash than someone intoxicated to .08 during the whole drive. But what about people who commute for 2Hrs per day, or 60Hrs per month, and use the phone 50% of the time. Isn't this like driving drunk for 30Hrs per month? Few people drive drunk this much. It would seem that usage statistics play a big role here in assessing the risk.

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