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US Agency Blocked Cellphone / Driving Safety Study 464

Posted by kdawson
from the no-one-wants-to-know dept.
By now you've probably seen the NY Times's long piece on distracted driving — about how most drivers and most legislators willfully ignore the evidence of the dangers of talking on a cellphone, texting, and other electronic distractions while behind the wheel. According to this article, cellphone use while driving causes over 1,000 fatalities a year in the US. Another shoe has now dropped: it seems that the US National Highway Safety Administration blocked a proposed definitive study of the risks. The NHSA now cites concerns about angering Congress. Two consumer safety groups had filed a FOIA request for documents about the aborted study, and the Times has now made the documents public — including the research behind the request for a study of 10,000 drivers.
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US Agency Blocked Cellphone / Driving Safety Study

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  • News report (Score:0, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 20, 2009 @09:29PM (#28764659)
    Here [youtube.com]'s a CNN news report about the dangers of cellphones while driving.
  • by Hunter0000 (1600071) on Monday July 20, 2009 @10:18PM (#28765045)

    There is no difference between having a cell phone conversation while driving and having a conversation with the guy/gal in the seat next to you, unless you somehow drop the handset...

    Bullshit. Since you obviously lack the common sense to figure this out from experience, here is was 30 seconds with Google will tell you. http://www.apa.org/journals/releases/xap144-drews.pdf [apa.org] http://www.ergoweb.com/news/detail.cfm?id=2293 [ergoweb.com] http://www.psych.utah.edu/AppliedCognitionLab/HFES2004-000597-1.pdf [utah.edu]

  • Re:News report (Score:3, Informative)

    by fractoid (1076465) on Monday July 20, 2009 @11:10PM (#28765413) Homepage
    Troll? It's obvious that f**king around with your mobile phone while driving is going to take your attention off the road and probably cause you to crash. If NHSA is too scared of upsetting congressmen who dick around with their phones while driving, then I think the attitude towards mobile phone use in cars is pretty clear: they'll never give their phones up, and they'd never let them down.
  • Re:scary thing (Score:5, Informative)

    by SpaceCadets (1428823) on Monday July 20, 2009 @11:49PM (#28765695)
    Here in Australia (Victoria specifically), myself as a "P" (probationary) plater can loose my license for driving while being on the phone, handsfree or not. The initial demerit point loss was 3, and that has been doubled to six points. Given that a P plater only has 5 demerit points, they bust you once for talking on your phone, you're gone. Personally I take the view that I have voicemail for a reason, but I will glance at the caller and if it's important I'll pull over and call them back. -My 2 cents worth.
  • by sarkeizen (106737) on Monday July 20, 2009 @11:52PM (#28765717) Journal
    Driving while distracted is (and always has been) dangerous, there's no questioning that. But my question is if cell phone usage is as huge a deal as everyone makes it out to be. There hasn't been a huge increase in car crashes since cell phone came into common usage. In fact, the number of deaths from auto accidents has actually gone down as a percentage of the population according to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_motor_vehicle_deaths_in_U.S._by_year). So the number of deaths from car accidents hasn't increased with the introduction of this huge danger.

    Perhaps it's because your statistics degree was revoked.
    I don't know who "everyone" is but for example cell phone usage can be a "huge deal" in it's contribution to someone's ability to drive successfully but still equate to a small number of deaths. I don't really see how you can't see that. Now what you are likely doing is using a special definition for "huge danger" but that's par for the course here.

    If they want to do studies, why not do them on cell phones as well as other common things people do while driving? What effect does playing the radio, changing the CD, programming and following your GPS, eating and drinking, or anything else have on your driving?

    At least one study appeared to do a comparison to other distractions: Research also shows that drivers conversing with fellow passengers do not present the same danger, because adult riders help keep drivers alert and point out dangerous conditions and tend to talk less in heavy traffic or hazardous weather.
  • Re:stunned (Score:2, Informative)

    by Doctor_Jest (688315) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @12:13AM (#28765831)
    Here in America, I think it's more of a State/local issue, with the exception of Interstate Highways (possibly.) I'd rather my state/local governments handle this than the heavy-handed Feds. They're screwing this country up enough... Congress wouldn't get it right and they'd ban sneezing while driving or some such nonsense. :) Most cities around me have a ban on cellphone driving with HEFTY fines for doing it in a school zone. Would it be simpler to just make it a federal ban? Possibly, but considering federal power's already invasive enough... I'd rather their "land grab" of this regulatory nature not succeed.
  • Re:scary thing (Score:5, Informative)

    by icebike (68054) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @12:28AM (#28765903)

    Sorry if it offends your sensibilities.

    Its not a bromide, its been studied quite extensive in Sweden and the US.

    Read this study before you start your rant:
    http://www.apa.org/journals/releases/xap144-drews.pdf [apa.org]

    Passenger conversation is no where near cell conversation in degree of disruption resulting in missed tasks.

    Your assertion, sir, is indefensible.

  • by fluffy99 (870997) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @12:56AM (#28766053)

    The general conclusion on page 3 says it all. No difference between hands-free and non-hands-free from a "cognitive distraction" standpoint. It says nothing about visual distraction of having to look at the phone. It just points out the obvious conclusion that talking on a phone is a "cognitive distraction". Well duh! Read a little further "it is not possible to make a direct connection to crash risk". Okay, so we have the same old problem of correlation doesn't equal causation.

    This paper only cites old, semi-questionable, existing research. No quality new data was collected or presented. This was supposed to be a fresh study. Instead this thing looks like a grade-C high-school student spent a few hours on the internet digging up some previous papers, and then summarizing the conflicting data.

    Another very valid reason for trashing this crappy study (aside from shoddy research) is that the "independent research paper" was written as though it were intended to put forth suggested policies and laws. Really, go read the freaking thing. The bit about pissing off Congress, is because Congress knows full well that the Fed Govt (much less the lowly NHSTA) can not dictate how the States or Corporations write their laws. Of course nothing saying they can't bribe the states with highway funds like they did with the 55mph thing.

  • Re:scary thing (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Psychopath (18031) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @03:06AM (#28766649) Homepage

    There were 43,005 auto accident fatalities in 2002 (source: http://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/Main/index.aspx [dot.gov]). So we're talking about 2.2% of these being related to cell phone usage.

    Also note that both these stats are not the number of accidents, but the number of fatalities. Looking at the number of accidents, which I think is probably a better measurement anyway, we have an estimated total of 6,316,000 and an estimated 240,000 where cell phones contributed. That gives us a higher percentage but still only 3.8%.

    Sorry, but while cell phone usage while driving does contribute, it's nowhere near being the boogie-man everyone makes it out to be. And yeah, I've been rear-ended by someone screwing with their phone.

    There is no doubt in my mind that outlawing cell phone usage while driving will save lives. Just not a lot of them.

  • by chrb (1083577) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @06:20AM (#28767597)

    It just points out the obvious conclusion that talking on a phone is a "cognitive distraction". Well duh! Read a little further "it is not possible to make a direct connection to crash risk". Okay, so we have the same old problem of correlation doesn't equal causation.

    It says "The nature of those degradations and changes are symptomatic of potential safety-related problems"... Sounds very much like the old argument pushed by the tobacco lobby "the nature of degradations and changes are symptomatic of potential health-related problems, but it is not possible to make a direct connection between smoking and cancer"

  • Re:scary thing (Score:2, Informative)

    by hattig (47930) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @06:27AM (#28767631) Journal

    And the UK has just had the lowest road casualty rates in a very very long time, if not ever. I would say that these laws are beginning to work (that, and more modern cars can brake better).

    Of course, careless/dangerous driving is scummy, and people have a very low opinion of those that do it, and that's quite a new thing. It used to only be drunk drivers (and that was after a lot of anti-drink-driving campaigning in the 80s and 90s). Fines and points, bah who cares. Being looked at like you're a paedophile or worse - big issue.

  • Re:News report (Score:3, Informative)

    by EsbenMoseHansen (731150) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @05:50PM (#28775465) Homepage

    I'm sort of with that, except it means that you don't know what you can and can't do.

    Actually, I would be amazed if there isn't such a clause in your laws in whatever country you live in already.

    The police and judges can't actually determine how much attention you were paying to what, and the person who is actually the safety driver on the road could end up in court because the authorities can't tell. I think there's a lot to be said for the sharp steel spike from the steering wheel to the driver's chest...

    That is the price we pay for "innocent until found guilty--- lots of people gets off the hook until they actually cause some damage. Or learns how to drive with whatever distraction the world offers.

    As for the spike--- I doubt it would have much effect after a short while. I know what terrifies me into driving 30km/h in my neighborhood (the limit is 40): The thought of a kid jumping out behind a car or bush or something.

    To the best of my knowledge, the legislation is fine. Perhaps parts needs to be enforced better, and maybe some adjustments are necessary, but overall, I think it is about as good as it gets until we get fully automated cars.

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