Can Oprah Do What Driving-While-Yakking Laws Can't?

from the alternate-means dept

There’s been a big push by politicians across the country (and around the globe, as well) to enact laws that ban the use of cell phones while driving. While using your phone while driving isn’t a great idea, neither are these laws. They attack a very narrowly defined distraction, which is really just a small part of a bigger problem: overall unsafe driving. There are many other activities that are dangerous distractions to a driver, but going after each of them, one by one, is inefficient, when the real focus should be on making people more safe drivers in general. It also doesn’t really help that these laws may not be effective in making roads any safer, and that their real focus is revenue generation, not public safety. Now, Oprah has jumped into the fray, devoting an entire episode of her show to the issue, and pushing viewers to sign a No Phone Zone pledge that says they won’t drive while yakking or texting. So far, she’s collected more than 300,000 pledges, and while they certainly aren’t a guarantee that people will stop using their phones while they drive, that figure does illustrate Oprah’s broad reach and her ability to shine some light on issues. Building awareness through educational campaigns like this, that have the goal of actually changing behavior, may be much more effective in actually making the roads safer than narrowly targeted laws that punish behavior after the fact.

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Comments on “Can Oprah Do What Driving-While-Yakking Laws Can't?”

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Hulser (profile) says:

Re: I'm all for this

For one, it’s not the government singling out one little distraction.

That’s not what Carlo said. He called it “a very narrowly defined distraction”. Sure, it’s a fine point, but use of the term “little” implies that Carlo was trivializing the issue of driving while using a cell phone. I don’t think he’s saying that it’s a little problem. It’s actually a big problem, but one that happens to already be covered by existing laws. There’s no need for additional laws that target specific examples of things that are already covered by other laws.

Do you think it’s a good use of a politician’s time to enact the same law over and over every time a new gadget comes out because (they think it) makes them look good to the public?

Hulser (profile) says:


This is a rhetorical question because I already know the answer, but instead of the first reaction being “Let’s pass a new law!” why not just create a public service announcement and publish it to TV, radio, and the Internet? I guess the lowly PSA has fallen out of favor, but when I was a kid, I remember seeing quite a few PSAs. [Hold on, I think I see someone on my lawn. OK. False alarm.] Sure, most of them were quite corny and didn’t have the best production value, but they seemed to be effective in getting the word out on certain topics. If I had the option between some politician trying to make a name for themselves by trying to, but not really address the moral panic of the day or a cheeseball PSA, I’ll take the PSA every time.

(Would it cost some money for these PSAs? Sure, but I think you could make the case that the production and publishing costs would be much less than all of the wasted time caused by the blowhards in government.)

BBT says:


“[Hold on, I think I see someone on my lawn. OK. False alarm.] “

This isn’t Google Wave. We only see what you type after you click “submit”. You don’t need to alert us when emergencies interrupt your typing, because by the time we read your alert, the emergency has passed.

sehlat (profile) says:

A pledge that's not worth the air it's breathed out with.

For the very simple reason that, while you have control over *making* calls, you have no control over *receiving* them, unless you choose to ignore a ringing phone while driving. My wife is usually driving when business emergencies arise and she has to deal with them by phone. Some of them involve the immediate necessity of returning to the business.

That pledge will be broken with the first incoming call.

Hulser (profile) says:

Re: A pledge that's not worth the air it's breathed out with.

unless you choose to ignore a ringing phone while driving

You make it sound like it requires some herculean expenditure of will power not to answer a phone that is ringing. If you’re driving and you don’t have a headset, then don’t answer the phone. Simple.

BTW, I’m not saying that it doesn’t affect a lot of people or even that I’m trying to exclude myself from this, but there seems to be this irresistable, Pavlovian urge to answer a ringing phone. And I would say that this urge is almost completely unrelated to the actual chances of getting an emergency phone call. I’m not some Luddite that thinks people who have cell phones are self-centered, pompous assholes, but come on people, the caller will understand if you don’t answer because you’re driving. That’s what voicemail is for.

Big Al says:

Re: A pledge that's not worth the air it's breathed out with.

I don’t know about the US, but here in Australia we have this nifty thing called ‘voicemail’, so that if I’m driving and I get a call, the caller can leave a message until it’s safe for me to pull over and get back to them…

Jason Buberel (profile) says:

A straight-forward market-based solution

Although I know this is just wishful thinking…but the insurance industry could play a powerful role. Imagine if your driver’s insurance carried a clause that stated:

– No coverage will be provided if it can be shown that a mobile communication device was in use at the time of (or within X seconds) the incident.

In other words: If you were talking, texting, or browsing when the accident occurred, your insurance company would provide you with no coverage.

It would not force people to modify their behaviors, but it would provide a very powerful incentive to behave in accordance with your best financial interests.

Just a thought.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: A straight-forward market-based solution

Alternatively, insurance providers can lower rates for drivers that agree to install generals, or GPS’s in their car, mandating that drivers stay below a certain limit per speed zone. This isn’t mandatory, so not everyone can feel big brotherish, but you could save money by agreeing to do so.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: A straight-forward market-based solution

I don’t even talk on the phone while driving generally, but I would switch carriers if my insurance did that. It’s very unlikely I will ever be in an accident while talking on the phone, but the consequences of not having insurance could be drastic. If I’m found at fault, I would be liable for at least hundreds of dollars, probably thousands, and if someone really gets hurt, perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands. If I’m not at fault and the other driver isn’t insured, I could be on the hook for a totaled vehicle because my special insurance clause for just that purpose wouldn’t apply.

Yes, it would change behavior all right, but maybe not in the way you suggest.

Rose M. Welch (profile) says:

Laws like this are a waste of time and money.

There are already laws that cover texting, talking, having sex, applying make-up, picking your nose. picking your crotch, and/or anything else that leads to a failure to devote your full time and attention to the road.

More specific laws are publicity stunts for politicians paid for by our taxes instead of their campaign money.

Fushta says:

Make Handsfree Required Equipment

If there is such a problem, then force the automakers to put the handsfree equipment standard in all cars. Sure, the price will be added to the MSRP (not really that expensive), but we will hopefully see less problems of YWD (yakking while driving). It doesn’t solve the texting problems, but one thing at a time.

lux (profile) says:

Well, since you can’t pass laws that make people better drivers, and numerous studies pointed out by Techdirt actually show texting/talking does for most people influence driving behavior negatively (, why is there so much push back against this supposed law?

If anyone honestly thinks Oprah, PSAs, or some pledge that most people will effortlessly forget about in a month will actually resolve any problems, rethink human behavior. You can throw around buzzwords all you want – “we need to treat the problem, instead of the symptom” – the problem of bad driving will never be solved, and to suggest this is fairly disingenuous.

Forgetting the last sentence entirely, how can you call this a symptom of a larger problem? We already know you can’t fix a bad driver, hence the problem then lends itself to the fact we are allowing people to text and yak while they drive. I’m all for using common sense, but most people don’t have this handy feature, and if we need a law to jolt people in the right direction, then by all means. I’d rather rely on legislation than Oprah’s feel-good pledge, because I can actually use legislation in court when I get t-boned at an intersection. See how that works?

Rose M. Welch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Because laws like this are a waste of time and money.

There are already laws that cover texting, talking, having sex, applying make-up, picking your nose. picking your crotch, and/or anything else that leads to a failure to devote your full time and attention to the road.

More specific laws (such as the one highlighted in the post) are publicity stunts for politicians paid for by our taxes instead of their campaign money.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

We already know you can’t fix a bad driver

How do you figure? I think what you mean is we are not willing to fix bad drivers. Have rigorous driver education and testing that makes it difficult to get a driver’s license (with periodic retesting), and severe penalties such as vehicle impounding or jail time for driving without a license, and maybe the bad drivers wouldn’t be driving any more.

I understand this is how it works in places like Germany, but in America driving is almost considered a right. See what happens to any politician or public official who tries to start such a program here. Death threats wouldn’t surprise me.

Jack (profile) says:

Cell Phone Laws

Something has to be done. I was injured last year by one of these wonderful texting folks while driving, I was the lucky one, the other driver died. Every time I see a driver with a cell phone in their hands and at the wheel, I get a severe case of road rage(but not acted upon.)
There are really a bunch of stupid people in this world.

cconsaul (profile) says:

Hasn't anybody heard of Citizen Band Radios?

Honestly, people have been driving while performing other tasks ever since the wheel. The most blatant examples I can think of is the radio, both AM/FM and Citizen’s Band, still beloved by long haul truckers who breaker breaker all over the USA! You’ve also got shortwave, sideband, skip tracing, bird watchers complete with binoculars, and even () Tourists!

There are even those who can text without looking at the screen! There are also those who can’t drive safely at fifteen miles an hour with blinders on! For unsafe drivers there are already laws on the books, for safe drivers who are offended by the trampling of their first amendment rights by those who just want to take the easy way out, (they may not want to pay to put in new “No Cell Phones In School Zones” signs) there are class action lawsuits similar to the ones that were brought against communities that tried to ban CB’s when they first became popular. A few people will get very very rich and the rest of us will get one more lesson in why we should never pass one extra law, simply because every law diminishes the effect of all other laws and makes people question why they follow laws at all!

Anonymous Coward says:

This is truly retarded. If you’re going to ban driving and talking on the phone (or allowing the insurance companies to ban it by proxy, as as Jason Buberel suggests) you damn well better ban in car conversation too. And in car meals and smokes and music too. And driving in an emotional state. All of those things are at least as distracting as talking on the phone while drive.

If driving under normal circumstances requires your full attention, then you’re an idiot. Driving does require a certain level of awareness, and an ability to interpret inputs to determine when you’re about to be in a full attention situation. But not full attention, all the time. So to concentrate on eliminating distractions rather than on the life skills of situational awareness, the need to drop the cellphone/Big Mac/lipstick/argument when the situation calls for it, and how to operate the vehicle in an emergency, merely fills the road with bad drivers giving their full attention to their bad driving. If you hit something, you weren’t playing enough attention, the reason is kind of irrelevant.

Anonymous Coward says:

If they were serious about safety they would outlaw cup-holders, ashtrays, stereos that weren’t voice activated and drive-thrus, but that would piss too many people off. It has always been a dumb law. How many times have you seen someone with a hands-free device but they constantly hold the mic an inch away from their lips, or they are on speaker and hold the phone in the same way?

A view. says:

A blanket “Operating a vehicle whilest avoidably impaired” law could cover most things.
Give the police the discretion to decide on infringement, that a judge can overrule on a case-by-case basis.

Secure children & animals.
Get an auto-answer/voice activated bluetooth device or divert to voicemail with SMS notification (that you can pull-over to read when safe).
Keep the stereo to a level where emergency vehicle sirens can still be heard.
Don’t block the rear vision mirror without some alternative to see what’s behind you.

Just all common sense realy.

Making more and more indivdual specific laws, invites looking for loop-holes.

A driver needs to take responsibility for the deadly weapon of which they are in control, NO ?

Rose M. Welch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

This already exists. It’s called failure to devote your full time and attention to the road. Officers use it all the time, for everything from texting to putting on make-up to, literally, picking your nose. My father-in-law is a police officer and he actually ticketed someone for that once, after that were weaving on the road and failed to notice his lights (no siren) for two blocks.

Oh Ohprah says:


Like signing a pledge is meaningful? Reminds me of the silliness of getting married. You aren’t going to “not cheat” or “stay married” just because you promised to do so when you were 20. Setting up silly promises just sets up unrealistic expectations and the inevitable feeling of guilt later.

I don’t watch Oprah, but boy does she sound grating.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Ireland is getting worse in this regard

Here in the Republic of Ireland, Gay Byrne, Chairman of the Road Safety Authority, is pushing for a law banning all new drivers from having passengers for the first six months/year. Except the ridiculous laws already state that a learner driver must have a full licenced driver as a passenger at all times. This means I legally can’t get a car. I can afford one, but if I want to drive to work in the mornings, what am I supposed to do? The passenger needs to work too, he’d have to go back home via bus/taxi, get his car, and get to work late.
The reason Gay Byrne is pushing is that he says that young drivers are pressured by their passengers into speeding. Which is bullshit. One of my friends is what you yanks would call a jock basically. He does get tanked with the lads every now and then, but he’s the safest driver I know. He has the non-alchoholic stuff if he knows hes driving and not once has he gone over the speed limit. He’s 21 years old.

Mr RC (profile) says:

easy solution

Get rid of power steering (except for the elderly/infirm/disabled)!

Back in the days (oh crap that makes me sound old) before power steering, you NEEDED to keep your hands on the wheel… sure there were other problems back then (drink driving etc) but people were less likely to pull stupid crap because you had to fight with the wheel to do it, it wasn’t a trivial one handed swerve to cut in, it generally took 2 hands to make sudden movements/sharp turns..

John Doe says:

As a motorcycle rider...

As a motorcycle rider, I am hopeful that people will pay more attention to driving than calling, texting, reading, eating, etc. But there are more and more distractions available to drivers so I don’t hold out much hope. Just look at the Ford Fusion hybrid, it displays leaves growing on a tree when you are achieving good mileage. I sure hope I don’t get run over by someone watching digital leaves grow!

But then again, I am guilty of some of these things when I am in my car.

hxa says:

revenue generation is reasonable

Saying “their real focus is revenue generation” is no argument against it.

If revenue must be raised, this can be a good way of doing it. Overall there will always be a proportion of people paying. Yet the apparent burden is reduced, since for any individual payment is voluntary. It is a tax that, as side benefit, incentivises good behaviour.

The mechanism is sensitive to numbers and conditions, so it needs careful application, but it does seem a valid technique.

(Bring on the robot cars!)

Anonymous Coward says:

I dunno, the pledge is kind of silly, but it’s good to see educational rather than legislative efforts to address this problem. It is a real problem – not just cell phones or texting, but all kinds of distractions can lead to very unsafe driving.

Honestly, though, compare this to the whole MADD/drunk driving thing. I don’t have numbers at hand to back this up, but I’m pretty sure that we’ve had dui laws on the books for ages. But, it wasn’t until MADD and extensive public education campaigns became widespread that drunk driving became socially-unacceptable. And peer-pressure can be a better motivator than law enforcement for a lot of people.

Similarly, I think it is much better to put money and effort into educating people on the dangers of driving while distracted. Make it a moral social issue, and people will change their behavior.

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