Distracted driving is nothing new. For decades people have been tuning their car radios, eating, putting on makeup, combing their hair, reading books, watching movies, lighting cigarettes and doing almost anything else possible while driving. Now that the mobile revolution has taken hold, people talk on the phone, surf the Web and send text messages while driving too.
A Dangerous Preoccupation
Despite widespread problems with distracted driving, many voters and politicians seem preoccupied with distracted driving while leaving other problems unaddressed. Many state and local governments have already moved to control the use of cellphones by drivers, but those governments have failed to move against French fries, hair combs, mascara and car radios. Similarly, government-sponsored research into technology making it impossible to drive while listening to an iPod or reading a book has received little publicity.
More Accidents, Please!
Cellphone bans have proved to result in more accidents, according to an ABC News report. A study surveyed statistics in California, Washington, Minnesota and Louisiana to determine the effect of their laws that ban texting while driving. In three of the four states studied, accidents increased; there were no changes to the number of accidents in the fourth state.
Unwilling to consider the disastrous results of existing anti-texting laws, special interest groups are pressing for a federal law regulating the behavior of private citizens who drive motor vehicles. (No federal law against applying makeup while driving is in the works.)
More Government Studies
According to the NHTSA, using a cellphone while driving has similar results similar to driving with a blood-alcohol level of .08, a value that is legally drunk under most state laws. Surprisingly, there is no apparent equivalent intoxication rating for drivers who tune their radio while driving.
Out of the 9 percent of all drivers on the road using cellphones at any moment, the NHTSA says that only about 4 percent of them are using hands-free technologies (Bluetooth headsets or built-in automotive Bluetooth integration). This means 660,000 drivers are holding a device while driving. There seems to be no similar estimate for the number of drivers who are eating while driving, so determining the relative severity of the cellphone problem is difficult.
A Surprise Twist
Additional NHTSA data referenced by MSNBC are meant to show that people who text and drive are involved in an increasing number of accidents. Although these data are being used to support the effort to regulate drivers on the federal level, the data includes all distracted drivers. “The latest federal figures show more than 3,000 people died in car accidents in 2010 because of drivers who were texting, using a phone or were distracted by something else.”
Although a texting-while driving ban could be introduced, lawmakers probably should find a way to prevent people from being “distracted by something else” so everyone can benefit from such a law.