New Study Shows Texting Bans May Make Roads Even More Dangerous

from the unintended-consequences... dept

For many years we've questioned the wisdom of various "distracted driving" laws -- such as bans on talking while driving or texting while driving. It's not -- as some people have accused -- that we think texting or using a mobile phone is a good idea while driving. We don't. In fact, it seems to go without saying that trying to send a text message while driving is one of the dumbest things you can do, and I'm amazed that anyone even considers it. My concern has always been that I don't believe the laws work. And, now, it appears that we have some more evidence to support that. A new study has shown that state laws banning driving while texting have not reduced accidents, and in some cases may have even resulted in more accidents. How could it have increased accidents? Because people who want to text anyway -- especially unskilled young drivers -- begin holding their phones lower to avoid detection, making it that much more difficult to control the car and be aware of their surroundings. The study compared before and after stats in states that implemented texting-while-driving bans, and then also compared the findings to neighboring states that didn't have such laws.

This seems like a classic case of politicians not understanding unintended consequences. Politicians love to ban stuff, but they never take into account the actual response to those bans, and just assume that if the law bans something people will stop doing it. Instead, they may continue to do the action in an even less socially acceptable way -- and that can put a lot more people in danger.

The article quotes someone who makes the point that I've been trying to make for years:
"The trouble is that texting and using a cellphone while driving is definitely hazardous. Nobody argues that. The danger in putting all the emphasis on laws is that it is being done to the exclusion of something else that would be more effective."
No one is arguing that texting while driving is a good thing -- just that these laws aren't helping (and may even be making the problem worse). Instead of pretending we live in a perfect world where if something is banned by law, people will stop doing it, why not focus on looking for solutions that actually make people safer?

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  1. icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), 29 Sep 2010 @ 3:38pm

    Re: Re: Automated solution:

    I've already pimped my client company once on this thread, so I won't mention them specifically again, but there are technology solutions that use some of the thinking out-of-the-blue mentions. But with four years of development and millions in start-up capital, innovators can overcome some of the limitations you guys imagined.

    A "safety service" that could be purchased by parents or employers for their field force can detect when the user is moving at road speeds, on roads, and the behavior is that of a person in a passenger vehicle. At that point, the system assumes the person is a driver, and redirects calls to a automated attendant who explains "The person you are calling is driving, please leave a message or press 9 for emergency pass-through." Similarly, text messages would just queue up, and outbound calls would be blocked. But an over-ride is build in and actually very easy to activate.

    However, the over-ride also triggers a message to the parent or employer indicating that the user over-rode the system, so that the parent or employer can ask for a good reason.

    Can it be hacked? Well, if it's just a phone app, or something your teenager can reach, then yes. But if it is built into the network like out_of_the_blue suggests, then not so much.

    Commercial solutions can have a positive impact WITHOUT LAWS. Not only would parents and field force managers use it, but insurance companies are serious about the possibility of offering discounts to their policyholders who activate such a service. Car wrecks cost money and have very negative economic "utility". This is the kind of problem that the market and technology CAN solve.

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