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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

PLEASE LEAVE A MESSAGE AFTER THE CRASH

Posted By on Tue, Aug 11, 2009 at 4:22 PM

I'm all for protecting kids — got two of them myself. But if we're now going to require parents to buy yet another type of car seat (Big Baby's lobbyists were behind this, I'm sure), shouldn't we also try to prevent accidents by banning cell phone use while driving? You'd think, but as the New York Times reported recently, such proposals have had little success, despite the mounting evidence:

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Extensive research shows the dangers of distracted driving. Studies say that drivers using phones are four times as likely to cause a crash as other drivers, and the likelihood that they will crash is equal to that of someone with a .08 percent blood alcohol level, the point at which drivers are generally considered intoxicated. Research also shows that hands-free devices do not eliminate the risks, and may worsen them by suggesting that the behavior is safe.

A 2003 Harvard study estimated that cellphone distractions caused 2,600 traffic deaths every year, and 330,000 accidents that result in moderate or severe injuries.

… A disconnect between perception and reality worsens the problem. New studies show that drivers overestimate their own ability to safely multitask, even as they worry about the dangers of others doing it.

I was especially struck by this paragraph: "Scientists who study distracted driving say they understand the frustrations of colleagues who publicized the dangers of tobacco. Like cigarettes, they say, gadgets are considered cool but can be deadly. And the big device companies even offer warnings that remind them of labels on cigarette packs."

The not-so-subtle subtext is that legislatures are negligent and insane to be dragging their feet on this matter.

“I’m on the phone from when I leave the Capitol to when I get home, and that’s a two-hour drive,” said Tad Jones, the majority floor leader in the Oklahoma House, who helped block the legislation. “A lot of people who travel are used to using the phone.”

And a lot of people who drink are used to driving home from bars.

Everyone who drives regularly has stories about idiots nearly causing accidents because they're engrossed in a cell phone conversations. Rolling through red lights, creeping into other lanes, slowing to a crawl then abruptly speeding up again — these are all common on the roads now. I once saw a guy in a pickup using two phones at once, holding one in his right hand and cradling the other between his left shoulder and head. He came within inches of driving head-on into my car while making a left turn, and I don't think he even noticed.

But politicians remain wary of riling the masses who can't stop yapping, resulting in very mixed signals. County Prosecutor Bill Mason just came down on the since-fired RTA bus driver who mowed down a pedestrian in March, because she allegedly was talking on her cell phone when the accident occurred. Use of cell phones on the job is against RTA rules, so firing her was appropriate. But how can she be criminally prosecuted when the behavior that allegedly caused the accident is not illegal? We asked Mason's office if he'd support state or local laws banning cell phone use while driving, but he did not respond. — Frank Lewis

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