Is Texting while driving “not safe”? Should data matter?

In researching stories for our upcoming “Real Tech for Real People” podcast, I came across this story in the Washington post about efforts to outlaw texting while driving.  There were many things that I thought were “interesting” in the article (such as by allowing someone to claim they were dialing a phone legislators have some how “weasel’d out” of their responsibility. Hmmm… )

What ultimately caught my eye, though was the argument, buried deep in the article, that for such a pervasive and deadly action to be occurring  so frequently (the article reports “at any given moment the drivers of 812,000 cars are in mid-conversation on the nation’s highways”) we are not seeing a comparable increase in accidents/deaths.

What Does It Take to Get Texting Off Roads? (Wash Post)

“Given those findings and vast cellphone use, the experts are puzzled by the fact that overall crash rates haven’t increased dramatically, too. Without statistics to show that, persuading drivers — and legislators — not to use cellphones becomes more problematic, even considering the current impact.

“If it’s not causing additional crashes, then banning it isn’t going to reduce crashes,” Lund said. “The risk of talking on a cellphone is real, but it’s entirely possible that it’s replacing some other risky behavior.””

I am not seeking to defend (or condemn) texting while driving in this blog post.  I am, however, wondering when we are going to see the return to objective analysis of data.  Wasn’t that what the new Administration was going to bring?  A removal of political motivations from science, and a return to objectivity?

Just a thought.

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2 thoughts on “Is Texting while driving “not safe”? Should data matter?

  1. This is indeed interesting. It seems it’s more about scary news (to quote Don Henley, “get the widow on the set, we need dirty laundry”) than about factual connections between texting while driving and accident rates. I wonder as the number of smokers goes down (who may have gotten in a wreck as they tried to pick up a dropped cigarette) will texters who crash replace their numbers? 🙂

    To address the “call to attention” that the news and PSAs give, I can’t help but think of Malcolm Gladwell’s point in “The Tipping Point” about teen smoking – it would be incorrect to assume that they smoke because they are unaware of the health hazards. Similarly, it would be incorrect to assume that teens (and others) text while driving because they don’t realize the risk. They do. They (as many other things) just don’t think it will happen to THEM.

    What the big cell phone manufacturers need to do is install text to speech software (and vice versa) so that people can opt to use a handsfree device to read and send text messages.

  2. . . . what they need to invent is a device that will record and replay voice information directly . . . oh wait . . . we already have that . . . !

    [sorry; couldn’t resist!]

    Actually, what they need to invent is software that will drive a spike through the head of the a$$H013 doing 55 in the passing lane while talking on his cell phone . . .

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