Texting Bans: Scourge of the Roadways!

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

Or something like that.

Laws banning texting while driving actually may prompt a slight increase in road crashes, research out today shows.

The findings, to be unveiled at a meeting here of 550 traffic safety professionals from around the USA, come amid a heightened national debate over distracted driving.

“Texting bans haven’t reduced crashes at all,” says Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, whose research arm studied the effectiveness of the laws.

Researchers at the Highway Loss Data Institute compared rates of collision insurance claims in four states — California, Louisiana, Minnesota and Washington — before and after they enacted texting bans. Crash rates rose in three of the states after bans were enacted.

The Highway Loss group theorizes that drivers try to evade police by lowering their phones when texting, increasing the risk by taking their eyes even further from the road and for a longer time.

The findings “call into question the way policymakers are trying to address the problem of distracted-driving crashes,” Lund says, calling for a strategy that goes beyond cellphones to hit other behaviors such as eating and putting on makeup. “They’re focusing on a single manifestation of distracted driving and banning it,” he says.

U.S. Transportation Secretary and anti-texting crusader Ray LaHood says the bans just aren’t being tightly enforced. The problem is, they’re pretty much unenforceable.

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39 Responses to “Texting Bans: Scourge of the Roadways!”

  1. #1 |  David | 

    Who’d have thought that banning something you can’t actually stop being from doing won’t stop them from doing it?

    This is MADNESS, I tell you!

  2. #2 |  Blackwing1 | 

    The only change we need to make is in tort/liability law. Simple solution: Just make anyone in an accident who at the time of the accident was either on a cell phone or texting (which can be verified by a simple record check) 100% liable for all injuries and damages resulting from the accident, regardless of any other “fault”.

    (If all of drivers involved were proven to be distracted, then the situation would revert to the classical “fault” method of assessing damages.)

    No need for complex, hard-to-prove, possibly dangerous laws. Just let the market decide, since if you’re a chronic cell-phony or texter, your insurance company might offer you a deal if you promise to not do that while driving (sort of like non-smoking discounts).

    A nifty side effect would be that people driving crummy cars will be deliberately ramming into the cell-phonies and texters who think that using their electronics is more important than driving safely.

    As a motorcyclist, I’m much more aware/paranoid about the behavior of other drivers than the average cage-driver. It used to be that I could assume that someone doing things like speeding-up/then slowing-down, weaving across the lanes and road, or just plain acting erratically was drunk. Now I simply assume that they are cell-phonies, and do my best to maintain extra distance from them.

  3. #3 |  Aresen | 

    Saw that the other day.

    LaHood went a little apeshit and denounced the study as wrong. (Sort of the statist nanny equivalent of a creationist’s response to evolution – “If the science doesn’t support my preconceptions, the science is flawed.”

  4. #4 |  fwb | 

    What can one expect from politicians? With an average IQ of 3 these folks aren’t Einsteins!!! Most of them can’t fight their way out of awet paper bag.

    My father, a 1940s/50s cop, tried to tell our local “authorities” that we had a distracted driver law on the books for the past 70 years. They still went out a passed a specific law concnering cellphones. It’s all about TWS. These folks suffer from little dicks (or little tits) and need to force themselves on the rest of us in order to feel powerful.

  5. #5 |  qwints | 

    Radley, this data won’t affect policy makers. Their only question is whether it increases revenue or not.

  6. #6 |  Aresen | 

    @ Blackwing1 | September 30th, 2010 at 11:26 am

    No. You assess responsibility as you normally would. Texting while driving would be a contributing factor in evaluating whether the driver was exercising due care.

  7. #7 |  Salt | 

    Texting while driving is dangerous and should be banned.

    Texting while driving impedes the ability to slurp coffee and chomp on an Egg McMuffin, shave, apply mascara/lipstick, change radio stations, fish around for toll booth change, and other miscellaneous while-driving endeavors.

  8. #8 |  André | 

    #1: Madness? This! Is! Politics!

  9. #9 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    For Crimony’s sake even drugged up Jim Morrisson knew better:

    Keep your eyes on the road
    Your hands upon the wheel.
    Yeah, were going to the roadhouse…

  10. #10 |  Brad | 

    I can’t find the actual study anywhere, but the articles on this make the conclusions seem tenuous at best. Their hypothesis of people lowering their cell phones is out-right garbage. To conclude that, they have to assume that texting ban laws increase accidents at the same time assuming they reduce texting. I didn’t see anywhere a survey of actual drivers in those states for data on actual texting-while-driving rates. Did the texting rates actually decrease post-ban, or at least the curb increasing rates?

    If the number of accidents had been increasing in the years before the ban and you haven’t provided data for an actual decrease in the banned activity, what is to say they won’t continue to increase after the ban (perhaps at a lower rate)? The title is a cringe-worthy example of a post-hoc fallacy, even hedging their bets with ‘may’.

    These types of laws are rarely effective at stopping such behavior and mostly effective at putting money in the government’s pocket. I’d tentatively agree that the laws are simply ineffective, but making the leap to actually harmful is going to take a whole lot more data than this. All assuming the articles are a fair representation of the actual study, which I admit is maybe a generous one.

  11. #11 |  Aresen | 

    @ Salt | September 30th, 2010 at 11:33 am

    You forgot reading the newspaper and ‘batin.

  12. #12 |  Rhayader | 

    The only change we need to make is in tort/liability law.

    How about we just hold bad drivers responsible for the damage they cause, and forget about details like specific blood chemistry, in-car driving habits, vague “distractions”, etc?

    After all, wrecking shit or killing someone is the actual problem here, no? I don’t care if you kill someone because you’re blind drunk or because you’re putting lipstick on in the car — you killed somebody.

  13. #13 |  Mister DNA | 

    I think the only VIABLE solution is that Congress pass a law making it mandatory for all American automobiles to be fitted with a device that prevents cell phones from sending SMS messages while in the automobile. Won’t someone please think of the children?

    And coincidentally, I happen to own a company that manufactures such a device!

  14. #14 |  JS | 

    qwints “Their only question is whether it increases revenue or not.”

    That’s it right there.

  15. #15 |  Bob | 

    I think the only VIABLE solution is that Congress pass a law making it mandatory for all American automobiles to be fitted with a device that prevents cell phones from sending SMS messages while in the automobile. Won’t someone please think of the children?

    And coincidentally, I happen to own a company that manufactures such a device!

    God damn it! You beat me to it!

    Oh well, my steering wheel that punches you in the gut if you try to eat is still a go.

    As well as my line of makeup that, if used in the proximity of an active car engine, will emit knock out gas, rendering the user incapable of driving.

    I know what you’re thinking… wouldn’t that be dangerous? Wouldn’t that cause an accident? Yes and no. Our research at the Academy of Serious Studies for Helping Organize Less Egregious Shit have indicated that stopping the distracted driver early only creates a single person accident when the plow into a sign or some shit. So it’s perfectly safe for other drivers.

  16. #16 |  Christ on a Cracker | 

    How about a law that says if you drive your car into someone else, you have to pay for a ticket and the other guy’s damages.

  17. #17 |  Marty | 

    how can we send our velcro steering wheel sleeve to the Academy of Serious Studies for Helping Organize Less Egregious Shit? we are all set to begin importation of this important communication facilitation device that will allow hands on productivity, while helping drivers to keep track of their phones, ipads, gps, and gaming systems. the devices attach to the sleeve via velcro tabs, allowing easy portability between steering wheels (or handlebars, depending on mode of transportation), ensuring that everyone will have access to their portable communication devices. Parents will always have access to their kids, so the kids will always be safe…

  18. #18 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Things will improve once they implement the enforcement part of the anti-texting crusade. That’s when they install those lasers that burn a hole in your face if you’re picked up by the new “texting recognition” surveillance system that is part of Obama’s new public service employee job creation stimulus package.

    For further information on facial attack lasers please refer to the scene in the 1971 movie, “Andromeda Strain”, where Doctor Hall climbs up through the core of the research complex.

  19. #19 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    HA! Mister DNA and Bob are amateurs! My research company produces nothing but a report validating whatever members of Congress want validated.

    Never get into a business with COGS when you don’t have to.

  20. #20 |  Cynical in CA | 

    Agree with the unenforceability of texting bans, but correlation is not causation.

  21. #21 |  Highway | 

    It’s just sad that people are to a point where they even *think* the concept “If there isn’t a law against it, it must be ok to do.”

    Texting while driving is just one of those things that you should realize you shouldn’t do. There shouldn’t be a law against it, because nobody should be doing it. And a law won’t change the behavior, just like the speeding law doesn’t stop people from speeding unless they know they’re going to get caught.

    What changes behavior is that people realize it’s bad to do. People didn’t stop drinking and driving because a significant portion got caught. People stopped drinking and driving because they realized that it’s a very dangerous thing to do. People don’t wear seatbelts because there’s a law. People wear seatbelts because they understand the consequences to their lives of not wearing them.

    And it’s the same with texts and surfing. People apparently don’t have the wherewithal to figure out that the swerving they do to recover, the ‘whoa!’ moments they have, and the honks they get when they start drifting into another lane are going to cause them to be in an accident sometime, and that it will likely be devastating to them.

    Lots of people do realize this now, and they don’t text and drive. They didn’t need a law to not do it. They understood it was dangerous. The law won’t make people think it’s dangerous, just that it’s ‘against the law’.

  22. #22 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    I agree with #20.
    I went out for a bite last night and observed. People can’t even walk to the
    (wo)/men’s room these days without checking their bloody e-mails.
    How ya expect them to drive around without doing it. It’s a disease.

  23. #23 |  Don Doumakes | 

    For a while there was a rash of cities passing ordinances banning pit bulls. People who knew something about dogs pointed out that breed-specific laws made no sense. This year it’s fashionable to own a pit bull and make it vicious, last year it was Dobermans, next year it’ll be something else. Focus on the problem you’re trying to solve (dog bites) or you’ll have to pass a new breed-specific vicious-dog law every year.

    Same with texting: there are lots of ways to be a bad driver, and it’s futile to attempt to list them all, let alone list them in legislation. Where I live, people drive 70 mph down I29 reading books. In Florida, somebody caused an accident while shaving her “bikini area.” http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/288870 Call it negligent driving and be done with it.

  24. #24 |  paranoiastrksdp | 

    Cell phone jammers
    legalize ‘em.

  25. #25 |  B | 

    I don’t know about the other states, but Washington’s ban just went into effect a couple of months ago. I’m not sure that’s a long enough sample to make any broad conclusions either way.

    It’s tricky, and context matters. I have been nearly run down (as a pedestrian) on several occasions by people wheeling through intersections or around corners that were clearly messing with a cell phone at the time. (One of them was a cop.) On the other hand, I had no problem using my smartphone–sparingly–as I drove across the Dakotas and Montana a few months ago. There’s a big difference.

  26. #26 |  Laura Victoria | 

    DUI laws were for a long time the big, singled out form of distracted driving laws. And that’s what DUI really boils down to. Driving requires multi-tasking functions and they’re impaired the drunker someone is. The reaction time is still quicker than for folks texting, though.

    I’ve been arguing against this even before texting was widespread. My analogy to dangerous distractions included turning around to smack the unruly kids in the back seat and reaching down to pick a dropped CD off the passenger side floor. The bottom line is all distractions should be treated the same, and infractions handed out only if bad driving is observed, not mere witnessing of the distracting activity.

    The basic tort system from the common law works, and is soundly grounded in free market economics. We need it back. I know it would cost the jobs of union thugs, but that’s just an unintended benefit.

  27. #27 |  Stephen | 

    I have a difficult time texting while sitting on my couch in the living room. Fingers too big for those stupid tiny buttons. Texting while driving is flat out impossible for me. I think I should get some sort of discount on my insurance. :)

  28. #28 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    “They’re focusing on a single manifestation of distracted driving and banning it,” he says.

    Agreed. This is too specific. Officers involved in traffic enforcement need to be looking for driving behaviors that we know lead to accidents OR would tend to indicate that the driver is distracted/impaired: excessive speed (or driving extremely slow), inability to stay in one lane, disobeying traffic signals, wide turn radius, driving the wrong way on one way streets/highways, etc. Don’t worry why someone crossed the center line and smacked into my car. Just cite them for doing it.

    And if they were impaired (due to the use of alcohol or any other drug), then yes, I think that should be a matter of more seriousness as it is now. We do need to make sure that methods for DUI detection are scientifically sound, but we do not need to let people drive around grossly intoxicated, as some of the commenters seem to be inferring. If you just cite an obviously drunk driver for a traffic offense, then let him go on his merry way, you are asking for problems. This is completely predictable. A custodial arrest to ensure that he or she is away from their vehicle for at least a short time is more appropriate.

  29. #29 |  Eric | 

    why don’t they just ban accidents… seems more effective…

  30. #30 |  supercat | 

    One complaint I have with these ‘anti-texting’ laws is that they discourage the development of personal-use messaging devices which could be used safely while driving. With well-designed equipment, trying to deal with a simple text message like “MEETING MOVED TO 742 EVERGREEN TERRACE, SPRINGFIELD USA” may be less distracting than trying to get the same information from a voicemail message. Unlike a ringing phone which must be answered immediately to avoid having to mess around with a voicemail system, a text message can wait until the driver determines road conditions will permit a half-second glance. While it would obviously be crazy for a driver to try to punch out a ‘real’ message while driving, a well-designed system would allow a driver to easily select “send YES”, “send NO”, send “IDK” [I don't know], or “dial number indicated in message”, with minimal distraction. Since the driver could choose for the return call a moment when traffic wasn’t too stressful (or better yet, when he could pull over) traffic distraction should be less than if the driver had to answer a phone call directly.

  31. #31 |  cb | 

    Number of accidents caused by texting in 1980: 0
    Number of laws banning texting and driving in 1980: 0
    Number of texts sent in 1980: 0
    Proof that laws banning texting increase accidents: 0

  32. #32 |  Highway | 

    supercat, the unenforceability of these laws contributes to the development of those systems you mention. I’m sure we’re going to see a lot more cars with built in speakerphones in the nav / audio system. Maybe we’ll see more of those systems also including text-to-speech conversion. All the car manufacturers are working on these things and as hands-free laws and anti-texting laws become more prevalent, they have more incentive to do so to sell more cars with these high profit systems.

    One thing about phones that is inculcated into people, and that they need to break, is that it’s ok to let a phone call go unanswered. It’s almost pavlovian: phone rings, and you feel a pathological urge to answer it, even if someone more important is standing there talking to you. Why do store employees cut off live customers to answer the phone? We all would think it’s rude, but if faced with the same situation, most people would do the same thing: interrupt their current face-to-face conversation to talk to someone who is in a remote location. It takes training to resist that urge.

    It’s true that voice mail can be a pain. But if there was an impetus to improve it, that could happen (Google Phone is working on this now, no?).

  33. #33 |  Duncan20903 | 

    There was a way to text in 1980?

    —“It used to be that I could assume that someone doing things like speeding-up/then slowing-down, weaving across the lanes and road, or just plain acting erratically was drunk.”—

    I used to call the police when I saw a drunk. I had a job that caused me to be out at the times they were so I’ve done it several times. But that was then, this is now. The behavior in the quoted text above I call the ‘cell phone fade’ nowadays.

    Does anyone think that deaf people could get together and sue for ADA violations? Text messaging is a significant part of their means of communications nowadays.

    —“For Crimony’s sake even drugged up Jim Morrisson knew better:

    Keep your eyes on the road
    Your hands upon the wheel.”—

    Man if I had a nickle for every time back in the day that I found myself way too drunk to drive, hand over one eye because it’s hard to drive when you’re seeing double, and repeating those lyrics over and over, well, lets just say I’d have a nice sized pile of nickles. I’m jealous of the drunks nowadays. Cruise control and air bags are proof that god loves drunks.

    Mr. Morrison was wealthy enough to hire a driver.

    Hey, if you’re half the Doors fan that I am you might enjoy watching the this video of a gig they played last year with Daryl Hall sitting in for Jim. I thought Mr. Hall did a wonderful job. Break on Through. I think it’s the first time since 2000 I’ve heard somebody mention LSD. Ray really dated himself with that.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aP0AIJ2C7t8

  34. #34 |  Mannie | 

    @Marty #16: I’ve just stolen the name of your organization. :-D

  35. #35 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    How practical do you-all suppose it would be to pass legislation allowing Insurance companies to refuse to pay out on “accidents” where their client was yacking/texting?

  36. #36 |  Marty | 

    #33
    just as practical as letting the insurance companies deny claims for people who were sightseeing, using a gps, listening to the radio/satellite/ipod/cd’, adjusting their makeup/clothes/hair, drinking/eating/smoking/chewing, or driving with kids/argumentive spouse/mate/date/friend.

  37. #37 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    Marty,

    I would think that it would be a great deal MORE practical, since cell-phone records could prove that such a device was in use. Not necessarily practical enough to be a good idea, though.

    What does anybody else think?

  38. #38 |  Nick T | 

    For people who are saying these studies prove that these bans are dangerous, I think you’re missing the point.

    At least for me, as a libertarian, I often cite studies of the harmlessness of various things and people respond by suggesting whatever conceivable flaws there might be with those studies. They are often correct to raise these concerns but the point isn’t that the studies opposing these laws are iron-clad, it’s that they at least raise the question as to whether or not the proposed law makes any sense.

    And, of course, those proposing laws that punish people, or deny them their own judgment or choices have the burden of providing some pretty solid evidence that the laws will work.

    So do texting bans make the roads less safe, conceivably, but who knows. But where is the evidence that they make the roads safER?

  39. #39 |  supercat | 

    @Highway #32: I agree the Pavlovian response to a ringing phone is problematic, which is why text messaging TO the driver is IMHO an improvement. The problem with a phone is that unless one answers, one has no idea whether the call is important (e.g. may save one from driving an extra hours to a meeting that’s been relocated) The level of distraction posed by trying to read a message on a well-designed unit should be no worse than that posed by trying to read an Amber Alert sign over the highway, and would probably be less than that of trying to fiddle with a text-to-speed system.

    BTW, I’m curious how the various anti-texting laws deal with things like taxicab dispatch systems. I see no reason cab drivers should get an exemption for being cab drivers, but many of them rely upon digital messaging systems.

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