A new empirical study is out by the Highway Loss Data Institute that shows that California’s hands-free cell phone law has had no positive effect on driving safety, either in comparison to California prior to the law, or in comparison to neighboring Nevada and Arizona where drivers can talk, text and tweet to their hearts’ content.
Am I the only guy in America who connects the dots between driving safety data and mobile communications? For years now I have been poring over field data and I have yet to find one scintilla of evidence that cell-phones-while-driving have increased accidents, injuries, or deaths.
The facts please. Over the last twenty years the number of cell phones in America has grown from near zero to 277 million, nearly one phone for every man, woman and child. During the same period, driving has gotten safer, safer and safer. According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2008 there were 1.3 fatalities per 100 million miles travelled, the lowest rate ever and continuation of a downward trend that started decades ago. California’s own Annual Report on driving safety for the year 2007 (when talking, texting and tweeting were uninhibited) is entitled: “California Roadways Have Never Been Safer.”
Given their ubiquity, if cell phones which now out-number residential toilets, posed even the most remote threat to driving safety then there should have been an epidemic of accidents. Where’s the beef?
Face the facts, when it comes to this cell phone thing we are victims of some kind of mass hysteria. Otherwise normal and intelligent people (and our Governor and many other politicians too!) have become en masse Chicken Littles: “The sky is calling. The sky is calling.”
Listen up, Henny Penny, it is time to change the dialog. We are not talking about dangerous “distractions” (which by the way have always been against the law), we are talking about multi-tasking and drivers have been multi-tasking since the first chariot driver was gabbing with his horse on the Appian Way. Multi-tasking has always been a part of driving – safe driving — including care of screaming babies and listening to the Lakers game on the car radio. Indeed, as a category-of-cause “distraction” barely shows up in the accident data, both decades ago and today.
What about the 2008 Metro crash where the train operator was reportedly texting? Trains are not cars. Cars are nimble, they turn left, they turn right, and they can stop from 60-0 in less than ten seconds. Fast moving trains take miles to stop, that’s why train engineers are not allowed to look after crying babies or listen to Laker games on the radio.
It is important to note that two-way communications between trains revolutionized rail safety decades ago as engineers can talk with one another in real time. Likewise, two-way communications with the ground are a major safety facet for airplanes. Could you imagine Chicken Little boarding a flight and telling the crew he did not want the pilot “distracted” by conversation with Air Traffic Control?
The price of all this cell phone hysteria (beyond irksome and unnecessary citations) is that it diverts attention from the real killers, especially drunk driving. And if there is a real fox in the hen house of safety data, it’s motorcycles. In recent years there has been an epidemic of two wheel injuries and deaths, as well-heeled “Boomers” acquired road bikes. Just ask our governor who has crashed not once, but twice since taking office, the second time with his then 12-year-old son on board. Get it right Chicken Littles: “The Harley is falling. The Harley is falling.”
Mirror Contributing Writeropinion@smmirror.com