Shocking Revelation: It Isn't The Phone That's Dangerous; It's The Driver
from the crash-and-burn dept
We have discussed the futility of banning cell phones while driving for some time at Techdirt. The evidence keeps pouring in and all of it seems to suggest that a driver capable of driving distracted while on his phone will dutifully seek out other ways to be distracted if the phone is no longer an option. However, it's worth pointing out this continuous deluge of evidence because, for whatever reason, both national and local politicians just seem to love flailing their arms about cell phones mixed with cars.
That's why we'll point out a new study done by MIT researchers which has found, yet again, that people who regularly use cell phones while driving also exhibit other risky driving behaviors, even when no phone is present. If nothing else, the method for this study is interesting:
The study involved 108 people, equally divided into three age groups: 20s, 40s, and 60s. For each person, the researchers correlated answers on a questionnaire with data collected from on-board sensors during a 40-minute test drive up Interstate 93 north of Boston. The drivers commanded a black Volvo SUV tricked out with an eye tracker, heart and skin monitors, video cameras facing out the front and back windows, on-board sensors, and other research gear.
No phones were allowed to be used during the study obviously, and yet researchers found some interesting correlations with the people who admitted regularly talking on their phones while driving: they were more likely to drive faster, to spend more time in the left hand lane, to brake harder, and to change lanes more often. None of these are as drastic as, say, upending the SUV and falling over the rail off a cliff and landing in fiery fashion on a school bus filled with nuns, but the changes do suggest an increased likelihood of danger.
“These are not 'oh-my-god' differences,” says study leader Bryan Reimer, a human factors engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge. “They are subtle clues indicative of more aggressive driving.” What's more, he says, other studies have linked these behaviors to an increased rate of crashes. “It's clear [from the scientific literature] that cell phones in and of themselves impair the ability to manage the demands of driving,” Reimer says. But “the fundamental problem may be the behavior of the individuals willing to pick up the technology.”
In other words, crappy drivers are crappy drivers. If they aren’t chattering away on their phones, they'll be singing Carly Rae Jepson with their eyes closed, or putting on their deodorant, or reaching into the backseat for that bag of Cheetohs they left there last weekend. But do we ban cheese snacks in cars? Do we outlaw Old Spice-ing while driving? Should pop music be banned in the car (resist…temptation…to say…yes…)? Of course not, particularly when these studies continue to show that distractable drivers will find another way to run us all over.
At least if they have their cell phone out, it’ll be that much easier to dial 911 when they make us roadkill.