The Alabama Moderate

Painting the Red State Purple.

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Pull Over to Talk, Please

Posted by ALmod on January 7, 2008

I noticed a while ago that my representative in the state legislature, Jim McClendon, has another bill targeting teens and the use of cell phones while driving.  It’s old news really.  I actually support banning the use of any cell phone by any age group while driving, but I figured I’d help him out a bit, anyway.

It has been tested and shown that use of a cell phone while driving can impair a driver just as much as being intoxicated (if not more).  This was tested again on the show MythBusters and “confirmed” the “myth.”

“Both Adam and Kari failed a general-purpose road safety test both while talking on a cell phone and while driving after drinking alcoholic beverages (though with a blood-alcohol content just below 0.08% and not legally drunk). Cell phone driving failed by a wider margin. Adam commented that one can put away a cell phone if necessary, but not simply become sober as needed.”

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6 Responses to “Pull Over to Talk, Please”

  1. Del said

    I have to wonder if it’s that much more distracting than simply having other people in the car, especially small children. I do remember reading something about your brain processing information differently if it’s coming out of a phone (as opposed to, say, screams from the back seat) but I’d like more on that. I’d like to see a study including some other variables, or at least a count of the number of accidents caused by parents distracted by their children, if anybody’s counting that.

    I won’t talk on the phone in heavy traffic, and we’ve asked our children not to use theirs while driving. We have a friend who used her commute time to “catch up” with various out-of-town friends, and I didn’t think that was such a great idea. But I have no problem with, say, calling to ask somebody directions, or something else pertinent to the trip.

    Years and years ago, South Central Bell (that’s how many years ago it was!) took the radios out of their employees’ trucks, after some study showed there were more accidents with the radio on than not. But it created so much ill-will they ended up putting them back. I’m not sure what my point is here, except that maybe the cell phone flap is another example of creeping nanny-state-ism colliding with ever-expanding technology and our bizarre hurry up and wait—while in your car!—American way of life. Are they going to legislate eating in your car next? (Seems like more and more foods are coming packed in handy cup-holder cylinders.)

    If it’s true that cell phones present a unique distraction, far greater than anything else you can do in a car, then I will shut up.

  2. ALmod said

    I honestly don’t know. I’d wager that you are correct that there are other factors that may also cause problems. Just an hour ago, I nearly had an accident because of my GPS, though it had more to do with trying to figure out if the right turn lane was for the first right turn only or for the next three (bad road markings in an unfamiliar area) and the fact that there was a speeding van in my blind spot when I was trying to change lanes. Thankfully, I caught them out of the corner of my eye in time– chatting away on a cell. However, one would have more control over some factors than others, and eliminating any factors that would cause even more distraction while driving can’t be a bad thing. I know that there’s the whole sentiment of “It’s my car, and they shouldn’t be able to tell me…” However, there is the consideration that there are other drivers on the road.

    That’s where my Libertarian values come to a halt– when personal freedom endangers the lives of others. Now, I know we can get nit picky over how far to take that last statement, but we’re talking about a fairly easy thing to eliminate. Honestly, how hard is it to pull over and talk or to wait until we’ve reached our destination?

  3. Del said

    Well, it would be pretty dangerous to pull over on the interstate to talk, unless you were going to wait for an exit or rest stop. My husband has to drive to Montgomery fairly often and handles a lot of work-related stuff by phone as he drives. It’s a straight road, with usually not very heavy traffic, and I really don’t think he’s doing anything so very dangerous.

    I’ve certainly had stupid people pull out in front of me, etc., while yakking on their cells. But in the years before cell phones were invented, I had plenty of stupid people pull out in front of me, too. Maybe the unifying factor here is simply stupidity and/or inattentiveness, with or without cell phones.

    What about the speaker phones? In the places where it’s illegal to talk on a phone while driving, do folks simply switch to speaker, or those things you wear in your ear (Bluetooths, is that it? Blueteeth?) and appear to be babbling to themselves as they drive along?

    I agree with your point about eliminating any distraction that’s easy to eliminate. But I think the genie is out of the bottle with cell phones, along with all the other distractions in our cars, and that legislating against them is no more justifiable than telling people not to eat, smoke, goof around with friends, or turn around and yell at your kids in the back seat while driving.

  4. ALmod said

    So then, answer this… Do you think it’s wrong to legislate driving under the influence of alcohol? The door of “letting the genie out of the bottle” and “where do we stop” swings both ways.

    It never ceases to amaze me how little seriousness is given to the act of driving. You are behind the wheel of a two-ton death machine, and the most minor of slip-ups can seriously injure or kill yourself or some other random driver or passenger. You wouldn’t want a bus driver or a plane pilot to be working under the same distractions, and perhaps it’s because it’s easier to see that they hold the lives of the public in their hands. A driver or a minivan has no fewer number of lives in his or her reach, they are simply just not all in the same vehicle. Yet people take the danger about as seriously as running the vacuum cleaner. We pay little attention to what we’re doing and eat, drink, play with our mobile devices, turn our eyes off the road, fold laundry, read newspapers, play with the laptop… All while driving.

    Of course, this all comes down to one thing: enforcing our traffic law and pulling over anyone who is driving recklessly, distracted or not. A penalty for reckless driving is a penalty for reckless driving, and there could be no double penalties for the type of reckless driving the person is drunk, yacking, or whatever. The problem, particularly in Alabama, is that we don’t even bother to enforce the traffic laws that we have, so I’m wondering if, on a psychological level, at least the knowledge of a law would cause at least SOME of the drivers out there to tighten up their own driving habits.

    On your question regarding the speaker phone… These same studies showed no difference between using the handset and the hands-free units. Also, the studies were done with no other distracting factors so as to rule them out as the cause for errors made. So it is understood that a cell phone PLUS friends in the car PLUS music PLUS whatever else is going to exponentially impair your ability to safely operate the vehicle.

    The failure rate for cell phone driving was significantly higher than that of intoxicated driving, AND NONE of the drivers (using cell phones or intoxicated) thought that they were impaired in any way. It comes down to this: You wouldn’t drive drunk with your kids in the car. Why on earth would you freely opt to do something even more dangerous with them in the car when there are safer options? Perhaps pulling over to talk is dangerous, but is it not more dangerous to continue to drive while drunk than to pull over?

  5. Del said

    I absolutely agree that people take operating the two-ton death machines too lightly. I have regular nightmares about being involved in automobile accidents, and I feel the same terrifying sensation at times on the interstate that most people feel in a roller coaster.

    That said, since our society seems to have accepted that idea that everyone is entitled to freely operate the death machines, in most states starting at the tender age of 16—has in fact designed almost every community around cars, so that life without one is difficult, if not impossible, and has made a national ID out of the driver’s license—given all that, I have a problem with then labelling driving a “privilege” and using that to justify violating privacy. Of course I don’t think people should drive drunk, but I do object to random roadblocks and breathalyzer tests. (And to the neo-Prohibition level that legal BAC has dropped to in some places.)

    And yes, the answer to all of the above is ticketing people when they drive recklessly, not for doing something that somebody else has decided might be reckless. One person might easily be able to handle a “distraction” that would pose a serious problem for somebody else. Another answer might be more public transportation and innovative safety technology for cars. We should be investing heavily in both of these.

    Cellphone use has increased dramatically in the past ten years. If that’s the equivalent of all those people driving around blind drunk, you’d think we’d have seen an alarming increase in traffic accidents.

  6. ALmod said

    If that’s the equivalent of all those people driving around blind drunk, you’d think we’d have seen an alarming increase in traffic accidents.”

    Actually, we have.

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