Stop Blaming Technology For Stupidity

from the put-the-phone-down dept

Back in March, we noted how stories covering the death of a deaf girl who got hit by a train focused on the fact that she was text messaging when she was killed, rather than the other circumstances leading to her death. Now, in India, a 23-year-old woman has been killed in similar circumstances — she was crossing a railroad track, talking on a cell phone, when she got struck by a train and killed. This, of course, becomes an article called “Cell phones can kill”. The phone really had nothing to do with it, but rather a person who, for some reason, thought it would be a good idea to walk on or cross some train tracks while not paying any attention. Like all these laws banning mobile phone use while driving, these stories are missing the point — it’s distracted and/or stupid people causing the problems, not the cell phones. Blaming and banning one distraction won’t prevent these people from finding their way into trouble, it will just force them to find another distraction. So, unless somebody gets struck by lightning on the Great Wall of China and dies because of their phone, let’s take it easy on the “Cell phones kill!” headlines.

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Comments on “Stop Blaming Technology For Stupidity”

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Josh says:

Re: Re:

Listen… I can talk on a cell phone and use my turn signals. In fact i think I’m the only person in New Jersey that knows how to use signals. Drives me nuts when people don’t use them. It’s not rocket science to be able to hold a phone and drive + signal with one hand. I have driven ambulances for 14 years and always had to drive with one hand while my other hand used the lights / sirens and the radio to the dispatcher. I’m sure most police and fire folks are also able to drive properly while using a phone. Sucks that you dumb people ruin it for everyone.

Bill says:

Re: Re:

It’s you who doesn’t see it. The problem isn’t the lack of use of one hand. If that was the case, manual transmission vehicles would have been banned decades ago. The problem is concentrating on something other than driving, the author is 100% correct in this.

Lack of blinkers rarely kill people, they usually result in little more than the trading of paint if they result in anything at all. Trying to figure out if you’re free next weekend for that party your friend just invited you to while you’re approaching that slightly hidden stop sign however …. will create some nasty results.

Me Too says:

Re: Re:

WTF!! is right. But people do not drive poorly because they are talking on the phone and “Can’t be bothered to use the Blinker because they have no hands left”. If they really wanted to they could hold the phone in their right hand, thus freeing up the left hand to reach with an extended finge for the turn signal lever. It really can be done, if the driver would care to do it. Thus opnce again it really has nothing to do with the phone what so ever. It has everything to do with the fact that the people can’t be bothered, and that they do not care about anybody but themselves and will take no responsiblity for their own actions.

Just let them do it, they will so become one of the Darwin Awards!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Again, this is not the phone’s fault, it is the person who is driving not taking the responiblity of driving seriously. Yes I see the person driving talking on the phone, in the passing lane going 45 mph. Yes it makes me crazy. If that person was not on the phone, most likely they would come to a complete stop in the passing lane to merge left, causing the same problem. As it has been said, “You can’t fix stupid”

ctpmn (user link) says:

Re: Re:

Studies show that switching drivers to handsfree systems does not show a noticable difference to the reaction time or ability to drive. The issue does not come from holding the phone but from focusing on a subject other then driving. Much like when your talking to your passenger and you accidently blow a stop sign. Luckily the government can’t ban “TALKING” in cars.

but if it saves live then i think I’ll support it, though I still talk while i drive.

That's Mr.-Motorola to You says:

Stop Blaming...

In the car, talking on a phone itself is not the big deal, after all we always talk to friends and family riding, right?

However the difference with talking on a mobile phone while driving is not a fundamental difference of talking to an unseen party versus talking to a passenger, its the oft-overlooked aspect of HOLDING A BLINDER TO YOUR FACE. You simply cannot fully check your blindspots while holding a phone/blinder to the side of your face. And a simple headset solves this problem. This could have easily been a contributing factor in this girl’s unfortunate death.

SPR (profile) says:


Great!! Now the legislators have something else they can pass a law about. We have far too many laws on the books now that would be unnecessary if they would just pass a law that prohibits stupidity!! Cell phone users and non-cell phone users should have to pass a common sense test before being allowed out in public!! Schools cannot teach common sense. You learn that from your parents. Of course, if your parents have survived and been allowed to breed because of laws that are designed to protect idiots that should not have survived child-birth then we are reaping the benefit of putting morons in public office. That includes Democrats AND Republicans.

Anonymous Coward says:


What about people with Ipods now in their cars? They seem to cause more driving problems because people keep changing their songs and looking at the ipod instead of the road.

I don’t think talking on the cell phones causing problems while driving, but the text messaging while driving is a problem.

Me says:

Re: ipods

Are you serious?? Talking on cell phones while driving doesn’t cause problems???? Where do you live? I can drive out in traffic right now and I guarantee within an hour some soccer mom will cut me off or nearly kill me because she’s talking on the phone, and touching up her crusty makeup in her rear-view mirror.

IPods? I think you’re reaching a bit…

Ben says:

Re: Re: ipods

Agreed that Ipod is reaching, but the soccer mom cutting you off while on her phone and doing her makeup is still not the phone’s fault, she’d still be doing her makeup and not paying attention to where you are. Lets just remind everyone about that nifty little invention installed in every car. the HORN honk your damn horn when someone cuts you off and maybe they will start paying attention to the 2 ton piece of metal they almost hit.

Kerros says:

Talking vs Drunk Driving

The Mythbusters ( did a study a while back about which is worse drunk driving or talking on a cell phone. Based on what they did, it was found that talking on a cell phone, while holding it in your hand, is worse then being drunk.

Now we all know that drunk driving is bad, but this study shows that talking on a cell phone can be just as bad. There are of course studies that show the exact opposite, but I guess it’s all about who you can believe.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Talking vs Drunk Driving

The Mythbusters ( did a study a while back about which is worse drunk driving or talking on a cell phone. Based on what they did, it was found that talking on a cell phone, while holding it in your hand, is worse then being drunk.

Besides the fact that Mythbusters is far from scientific proof, that particular episode was really badly done.

First, they used a sample size of *two* which is hardly significant.

Second, for legal reasons, the people they tested were actually slightly below the legal limit for DUI.

Third, they put them on a very difficult obstacle course — much trickier than what most people drive on a normal basis.

Fourth, the cell phone conversations involved really tricky questions, much more difficult than what most people normally talk about on the phone, requiring a lot more concentration.

Rick says:

Re: Re: Talking vs Drunk Driving

I was with you right up to number four. What happens to your driving skills when you are on the phone and:

Your significant other breaks up with you;

You are informed of the death of friend or family member;

Your chicken-shit boss fires you;


Hell, even normal conversation are distracting. Peoiple would rather talk on the phone than be driving. And that’s fine. Just don’t do both!

freakengine says:

Re: Re: Talking vs Drunk Driving

Ohhhhh…so I guess the answer is to ban serious conversations or tricky questions while driving and chatting on the phone. I had no idea anyone could actually control the content of a conversation when another person was involved. Maybe you’re just referring to conversations with yourself.

freakengine says:

Regardless of what you think, talking on a cell phone when driving, hands free or not, lowers your reaction times. It is NOT the same as talking with a person who you’re in the car with. When you’re talking on the phone, a part of your focus is devoted to imagining the person on the other end of the line. It’s a very trance-like state. When a person is in the car with you, none of your visual focus is internal, unless you just drift off into a daydream. Come on people, grow up. Talking on the phone while driving is dangerous. I live in LA and have close calls daily from people who are talking on their phones.

And, BTW, no way is talking on the phone while driving analagous to walking on the tracks while deaf.

Okay, go ahead and flame away!

Rohan Jayasekera (profile) says:

I agree that distraction is a problem, not (inherently) a cell phone. But here’s the thing: a cellphone conversation distracts a lot more than, say, a car radio.

If I’m talking, I need to focus on creating what I’m saying. And I can’t just stop in the middle of a sentence every time something catches my eye on the road that might or might not be important, or it’ll seem like I’m not very invested in the conversation.

Similarly, if I’m listening, I can’t just switch my attention away occasionally and ask the person to repeat, or I’ll irritate him or her. And if it’s hard to make out what the person is saying, as is often the case on cellphone calls, I have to put all my concentration into listening.

So while I can usually switch my attention instantly from the song playing on the car radio to whatever’s happening on the road, that’s not the case if I’m on a phone call.

There have been various studies to back this up. See for instance Cell Phone Users Drive Like Old Folks; there are many more showing that cell phone use drastically increases reaction time.

bazookazuz says:

outlaw the outlawing of natural selection

I propose that they make a law to stop making laws against natural selection. Mother nature is naturally working to “weed out” the more annoyingly stupid memebers of society, and who are we to stop this? If people want to bathe with hair dryers or smoke while filling up their gas tank, it is not a lack of warning, it is just mother nature doing her thing.

I’m not insensitive, I fight natural selection every day.

taj says:

Re: outlaw the outlawing of natural selection

Just like with driving drunk, it’s not so much saving people from themselves but saving others from your poor decisions. It’s one thing if you take yourself out of the gene pool because you’re plastered, but the fact that the two tons of high-speed metal is likely to take passengers, pedestrians, other drivers out with it.

Now you can say “stop blaming technology”, it’s not the technology that is being blamed, but people’s poor use of it. There is no doubt that using a cell phone a) increases the time taken to react to changes in traffic situation b) causes reduced spatial awareness and c) takes away the use of one hand. Driving here in Delhi is stressful enough as it is, but you can tell the guy who has a phone glued to his ear almost straightaway because of his erratic driving.

The only reason that people are focusing on cellphones rather than say, driving with eyes closed is because it’s pretty damn obvious that the latter is a bad idea. With cellphones, OTOH, evidence indicates that some public education is still necessary. From comments above, it’s clear that every cellphone-using driver thinks that it’s only other idiots who can’t do these things at the same time.

WirelessGuy says:

I just finished a study...

I discovered that stupid people are stupid no matter what law you put on the books.

Listen up…placing a law on the book will not get people who are easily distracted driving all of a sudden driving like mario andretti.

Rohan, I am sorry to say that you really need to keep your phone off while driving. Myself, I can walk and chew gum at the same time.

The problem wih legislating this, is why are they not banning people who drive and read newspapers, eating food from a plate with a fork and knife, putting on makeup, or yelling at their spouse like a moron, and my personal favorite, picking their nose.

This country likes to think that there is always one simple solution to a problem, instead of the infinite possibilities that actually are in a simple environment like driving a car. If you ban one, ban them all, or include an IQ test with the driver exam

Brandon Rusnak (user link) says:

Lots of respectable people have been hit by trains

From “Oh Brother, Where Art Thow” – “Lots of respectable people have been hit by trains, my Granddaddy was hit by a train…”.

The fact of the matter is people are stupid. How do you not notice that you are on train tracks. People have to priortize when using cell phones, either focusing on the conversation or on the road. It just goes to show where some of these people’s priorities are.

Ron says:

And then, there are the ads

Anybody notice that the Tamil Nadu news article was surrounded by ads for cell phones for the work place, for kids as young as 8 years, etc.? So, we have the news story of how this psychotic cell phone took this person’s life surrounded by ads for more of these death dealing devices. That’s why I use a wireless headset; keeps the damned cell phone away from my neck.

Steve W says:

data compression

Many people bring up the issue that using cell phones while driving cannot be any more distracting than talking to someone within the car, or even using a CB or public safety radio. There is however a big difference. One of the less sigificant issues has already been stated…holding the phone, but the biggest one is the data compression used on cell phones.

Most cell phones today are digital. This means that when you speak in to a phone, the sound gets converted to computer data before it gets transmitted. In order to reduce the amount of data that is transmitted and handled by the telephone switching equipment, it is compressed, just like an MP3 song. The problem is that most cell phone audio is compressed significantly more than even the trashiest MP3 recording you’ve ever heard. The data compression used by cell phones is lossy, and removes significant portions of the speech. Cell phone companies do this especially so they can cram more calls on the towers, and thus lower the rates.

In order to interpret a conversation on a cell phone, your brain is sub-consiously adding back the information that was removed by the data compression. This, of course takes brain power, that’s not being used to operate the vehicle, or whatever task you are attempting to perform while on the phone. CB and other public-service radios are typically analogue, and so they are not affected by this issue.

Add to this, the typical operation of a hand-held cell phone to drop audio frequently and intermittantly, and further distract the driver as they are foolilng with the phone asking the far-end to repeat themselves, or having to re-dial numbers, and you certainly have a recipe for a dangerous driver.

I’m not blaming the phone for the bad driving though, I am blaming the idiots out there that don’t know when to responsibly and politely use a phone! I do however hold the phone companies fully responsible for the poor audio quality, and poor performance of the phones, which seems to be a commonplace nowadays!

lil'bit says:

It's the Distraction, Stupid!

Studies show that cell phones, eating while driving, changing radio stations, smoking, putting on make-up, reading, etc. are all equally dangerous because they all share the same underlying fact – they distract from the task of driving.

A blanket prohibition on distractions would be far safer than just requiring hands-free devises or banning cell phone.

What would make the roads even more safe is adequate funding for the police that are charged with monitoring traffic! Here in California, there was a time when trucks in a lane other than the far right, unless passing, were ticketed. Cars driving slowly in lanes other than the far right lane were ticketed. Cars that failed to perform a merge properly were ticketed. Bottom line? People actually knew how to drive.

Dave says:

Stupidity Amplifiers

I see your point that ultimately, people are responsible for their actions. And stupid people tend to have stupider actions. And despite the hysterical reporting, I don’t think they should start legislating and banning.

But I would say that the equipment becomes a stupidity amplifier, whether it be a cellphone, car, Ipod, or what-have-you – something that makes a stupid mistake have larger consequences than it would without the equipment. Should they ban them? No, but worse accidents will result from them being there than if they weren’t there. People do have the right to do stupid things!

Anonymous Coward says:

Yeah, just heard a story abotu some 4 year old kid who got ran over by a riding lawn mower. Tragic story, yes.

But then the idiot lawyer and family sues the company who makes the lawnmower… COME ON, that’s retarded.

So I guess if you choke on bread you should sue the company who made the bread, right?

Idiots are amazing sometimes.

Krush You says:

Technology isnt to blame

My issue with cell phones is say you are calling your home and another man or woman picks up and you find out your significant other has been cheating on you for god knows how long and that kid that appeared to come out of nowhere but you thought you were just jumping to conclusions comes to light…now most people will be upset and cool off…some people with handed this news don’t take it so well and the car now has become a weapon…do we blame the cell phone for causing the guy or girl to lose their mind (because had they not called the incident would not have happened) or could you say you went insane because you found out everything is a lie and blame your significant other

meOIP says:

Bad Drivers drive with cell phones

Let’s think some folks are saying they always see bad drivers on cell phones, how much attention do you pay to good drivers? Personally I don’t look into the cars of many good drivers, except to good looking ones. It’s the ones who cut me off that I look at, so it’s hard to say how many good drivers are talking on cell phones.

Maybe we should be able to get license endorsements for cell phone driving (like we do for driving with glasses). If you can pass a cell phone driving road test you can drive with one. Of course we would also need one for air guitar playing while driving.

Ben McNelly (user link) says:

Lets just say...

Lets just say all of the sudden hundreds of people accross the world decided that enough was enough… And every time they went to a restraunt for a nice meal, and some inconsiderate dude starts yellin into his cell phone, they whip out a weapon or grab a fork and kill him and maybe even causing collateral dammage to others…

As the killing spree continues to escilate to thousands of people, do we blame the jerks in restaraunts yaking loudly on thier phone or the violent sociopath constituants?

Do we make a law that stops people from using phones in restaurants? That seems the most logical, because we cant really predict who the sociopaths are.

However, if we continue to comprimise on the side of restricting freedoms, in order to protect ourselves we will eventualy end up with least aware and most vounerable society ever.

People often get irritated at the US’s John Wane attitude towards things, but there is good reason to it wether intended or not. From our founders through all of our presidents, we have had this attitude and its the only reason we are all not living in a comunist social society without liberty or freedom. *although we are working that way…

Topher3105 (profile) says:

The Truth, period!

The simple problem is, getting a license is too freaking easy, and SHOULD BE a privilege and a responsibility, NOT A RIGHT!

You don’t have the RIGHT to drive, you have the right to earn the responsibility of having a license, doing ANYTHING that violates that responsibility should revoke that privilege.

If you cause an accident that is clearly your fault and because you were being unnecessarily distracted, then you should get your license suspended. Kill a person in an accident, if your not thrown in jail, then you should have your license revoked permanently. Cause multiple accidents with obvious signs of distraction, and your license should be revoked.

Traffic laws are far too lenient and usually all that happens is your fined for the violations. These fines are only designed as an additional source of revenue for governments. Taking bad driver’s off the road cost more to implement and enforce and would eat into the profit governments make from traffic violation fines.

Governments DON’T want to take bad drivers off the road. It would reduce gas tax revenue, tax on car sales, income generated from selling licences and license plates and licensing this and that. A reduction of drivers means less car sales, meaning less work in the auto industry and other related industries like steel workers, etc.

Drivers generate a LARGE amount of revenue for governments at the city, state/provincial and national levels and are a huge part of our economy.

But it is f*cking easy and cheap to create a law to ban cellphones or iPods. It gives stupid people the satisfaction of thinking they are safe and that the government is looking out for them, allowing other stupid people to continue to get into accidents regardless and only get paltry fines so they can get back in their car and cause more accidents (and generate more revenue).

Stricter traffic laws with harshre penalties including REMOVING bad drivers from the roads would make the roads safer, period! But governments are not interested in making the roads safer, just getting people that believe cellphones and iPods are dangerous to shut the f*ck up and stop bitching long enough so they can vote for their favourite idiot politician in the next election.

Anthony says:

Re: The Truth, period!

Umm… I don’t know why you think getting a drivers license is a right. Nobody thinks they have the right to drive and everyone knows it’s a responsibility.

People get their license’s revoked every day for all sorts of reasons. In some cases YOU DO get your licensed revoked if you cause an accident that is entirely your fault.

Traffic laws are not far too lenient. In California if you get caught speeding you can expect a ticket over $300. If you go 15mph over the speed limit you can go to jail AND get your licensed revoked. If you run a red light (cameras everywhere) you get fined $340, and this fine gets higher for your second, third, etc.

Governments don’t have anything to do with taking bad drivers off the road, that’s what the police and courthouses do, and those laws that they create that ban cell phone’s, they actually reduce accidents, it’s been proven.

Congratulations, this is dumbest comment I’ve EVER read. You need to stop thinking people are stupid because you are clearly the ignorant one.

Skewd says:

Facts for Facts Sake

I love how facts can be twisted to support whatever trendy cause you want to support. For example, a man in a near-by county was talking on his cell phone, fell asleep at the wheel, crossed 3 lanes of traffic and killed a little old lady in a head-on collision. This of course was chaulked up to being a cell phone related death and actions were taken to introduce a strict punishment for cell phone use while driving. The fact that he was on the cell phone was as irrelevant as the type of motor oil he was using. HE FELL ASLEEP!!!!!! If I go shoot someone while talking on my cell phone it sure of hell isn’t my cell phones fault, but you can be sure it’s gonna be marked as cell phone related.

On a side note, I have to say I hate it when people bring up “Myth Busters”. That show gets funded by outside sources just like any other show. Their “results” are gonna swing whatever way they’re paid or coerced to go. I will be honest and say I have no proof contrary to their results, but come on lets not just automatically accept TV as truth.

JC (user link) says:


Yeah, I’ll agree with one point. People are stupid, hell I’d even say most people are. But, the use of cell phones while driving is nuts. Every day I have a chance to wonder if the guy in front of my has been drinking, but only to pass by and watch the animated hands and head movement to know they are just chatting away with who-freaking-cares-who.

I believe strongly in rights, everyday I try to encourage their protection. I’ll even fight for your right to be the best jack-ass you can be. But, once you cross over the center line talking to your bank about an over draft fee, my cup of givin a crap just ran out. So stay off your cell phones and watch the damn road.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Survival

What if it was your sister, your daughter? Wouldn’t your opinion be changed? Sure, people do stupid things, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are stupid. As for the idea that stupidity is genentic, hogwash, unless of course you actually have a gene that makes your offspring mentially incapable (Retarted). Otherwise, we’re all born with a good brain, some of us just rather not use it all the time.

bbfreak says:


As for technology, those who create or dream up these ideas have the responsiblity to understand not only the good that can come of them but the bad. Human nature should always be a factor, always, and if you fail to factor in human nature your niaveity is no excuse for what happens next. Of course, I’m sure some companies do just that, they just rather turn a blind eye in order to achieve profits. Though, to believe that the human race will ever be reasonable is laughable at best.

WeeBit says:

Our roads have always had distractions. Look at our freeways. Billboards, balloons, and lights, and a host of other things. All saying spend your money here! CB radio is a fact of life for a lot of drivers. Radios in cars etc have gone cd, satellite, and video. Been that way for years now. Why bring up this BS? We didn’t create the problem, innovation did. As far as the deaf girl is concerned… I feel for the family whom lost a daughter, but why was she on the train tract in the first place? Is this a short cut used by many people? Maybe signs were not visible enough, or some other reason. But to bring up the fact she was text messaging takes from the real cause of her death and that was ignoring signs that I am sure were there. As for CNN making a big deal out of the text messaging…. shame on them. But then again CNN never had a heart in the first place they just want the story to seem more too it than what it was. They jumped on a opportunity to exploit someone to get better ratings. What a shame, and shame on them.

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