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Could Anti-Texting Laws Make Roads More Dangerous? 709

Posted by samzenpus
from the be-careful-what-you-wish-for dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A new study has found that various state laws that ban texting while driving might actually make the roads more dangerous. If that seems counterintuitive, it's the laws of unintended consequences at work. The theory is that the laws don't do much to stop people from texting while driving — but instead, leads them to try to hide the activity more. That is, they end up trying to text with the phone held lower down to avoid it being detected. But, of course, that also takes their eyes even further off the road. The study itself looked at texting-related accidents both before and after 4 different states implemented such laws, and also compared them to neighboring states with no such laws. The results suggest the laws certainly don't help and in some cases appeared to make the situation worse. So if the laws don't work, what is a better solution to preventing texting while driving accidents?"
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Could Anti-Texting Laws Make Roads More Dangerous?

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  • by j00r0m4nc3r (959816) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @01:34PM (#33736728)
    Why do people always immediately go to the restrictive solution? How about speech-to-text instead of forcing a feature disabled...
  • by Tumbleweed (3706) * on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @01:38PM (#33736802)

    Sense vehicular motion (including vibration) and shut down the texting function while in motion.

    This would screw over the passengers. And when the passengers are kids that you're trying to keep quiet while you're driving, this also screws the driver.

    Plus, people will just hack their phones to get around that. Outlaw texting in cars, and only outlaws will text in cars.

  • Keep It Illegal (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Guppy06 (410832) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @01:43PM (#33736904)

    If nothing else, keeping it illegal keeps accidents caused by it from being declared "no fault."

  • by HungryHobo (1314109) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @01:44PM (#33736928)

    Better ban talking to people in the car with you as well.
    and car radios.
    And thinking about things you plan to do that day.

    Which studdies?
    The only ones I've ever heard of have nothing to do with texting and are all about talking to people on the other end of a phone.
    When something unexpected comes up generally the other people in the car talking will shut the hell up since they want to live, someone at the other end of a phone line keeps talking(and distracting).
    Dictating a text messege would not have that problem since the driver can shut up and concentrate on the road if he suddenly has to.

  • by corbettw (214229) <corbettw@[ ]oo.com ['yah' in gap]> on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @01:49PM (#33737002) Journal

    Couple that with mandatory clauses in all auto-insurance policies that render the policy null and void if an accident is related to texting-while-driving. I'm sure the insurance companies would love that, and maybe after a few high-profile bankruptcies and ruined lives people will start to take this seriously.

  • by archmcd (1789532) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @01:49PM (#33737012)
    What, passengers can't text either? Brilliant solution.
  • by idontgno (624372) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @01:51PM (#33737058) Journal

    And when the unthinkable happens, it's someone else's fault.

    "Dammit, it's not my fault! What was that old lady doing in the street, anyways!"
    "She was crossing the street. At a crosswalk. With an active "Walk" signal. And you ran the red."
    "It's a street. Pedestrians NEVER BELONG IN THE STREET. It's not my fault, and she had it coming!"
    "And the young mother with the baby in the stroller, on the sidewalk beyond the intersection, that you ran over too?"
    "That's not my fault either! It's the old lady's fault for making me go up on the sidewalk!"

    I think I'm exaggerating. But I can't really be sure.

  • by wjousts (1529427) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @01:52PM (#33737070)

    The problem with education is that I think 95% of people (a completely made up statistic) would agree that texting while driving is dangerous and a bad idea.....except when they do it. They are exceptional drivers and can effectively multitask three or four things at a time while operating a couple of tons of steel traveling at 65 mph. Other people though? They're the real danger on the road.

    People have an exaggerated confidence in their own abilities.

  • by SiaFhir (686401) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @01:54PM (#33737114)
    So what you're saying is it's better to let the problem happen (and *then* punish the driver) than to prevent it? Great, thanks a lot. When I get hit and killed by a car because some idiot is texting and not watching the road, I'll be sure to haunt you.
  • by Anonymous Monkey (795756) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @01:56PM (#33737144)
    The only fix for this is if people started caring more about the lives of others and there own life. Love thy neighbor is the only long lasting fix that will work. Too bad most people don't do it.
  • by archmcd (1789532) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @01:57PM (#33737160)
    Yes, then we can outsource it to China, where 9 year olds will be tasked with driving 4 cars at a time for 18 hours per day. This would be a business, right?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @01:57PM (#33737168)
    The problem with purely after-the-fact punishment is that humans are very poor judges of risk, especially as it applies to long-term activities and/or rare events. Stiff penalties for causing accidents while driving will do little to persuade most people. The deterrent seems remote and unlikely, whereas the benefit of texting-while-driving is immediate and obvious. They will continue to text while driving, and each time they successfully get home without killing anyone, their behavior is reinforced.

    And of course just about everyone will assume that they are members of that narrow class of people that can legitimately text-and-drive in a safe manner.

    It's not enough to only "punish them when they cause problems" when we're talking about relatively rare events with extremely large consequences (killing another human). We have to, as a society, agree to restrict ourselves to let a desirable activity (driving) occur in a safe manner. And this means things like awareness campaigns and penalties for probably-unsafe behavior that hasn't caused any particular harm (getting caught texting). Making the penalties more short-term and palpable is the only way to have a meaningful deterrent, given the way that humans tend to think.
  • by idontgno (624372) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @01:58PM (#33737208) Journal

    If those twerps don't take right off, promptly and immediately, when the light turns green, not only should they be arrested, but they should be executed. Painfully.

    Besides, distracted people aren't always as "stopped" as they think they are. I've seen several instances of people (texting, or yakking on the cell) inadvertently easing up on the brakes and unknowingly drifting into the intersection or the bumper of the car in front of them. (Or behind them, if facing up on a steep hill.)

  • by idontgno (624372) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @02:02PM (#33737266) Journal

    I'm sure the insurance companies would love that, and maybe after a few high-profile bankruptcies and ruined lives people will start to take this seriously.

    Well, if the ruined lives include innocent victims who don't receive an insurance settlement and who will receive virtually nothing after bankrupting the perpetrator, I'm not so much in favor of it.

    About the only mitigation I can see is if the perp is parted out and his organs are auctioned to the highest bidder, all proceeds to the victim.

  • by mlts (1038732) * on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @02:04PM (#33737290)

    How about we have some expressways that are completely computer controlled? Punch in a destination, hand control to the computer, let it merge the vehicle, handle the distances between cars, slowing cars down a tad to get people in, etc. I'm sure a central computer can handle moving vehicles on a freeway a lot better than a thousand drivers with their individual reaction times can.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @02:06PM (#33737352)

    Trying to solve a social problem with tech: FAIL

  • by hellfire (86129) <deviladv@g m a i l . com> on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @02:06PM (#33737354) Homepage

    ... Is the person who is on the other side of the accident, obeying traffic rules and minding their own business when some idiot blows a red light because they were too busy texting and then is killed. Traffic accidents are incredibly traumatic, physically, mentally, and emotionally. I know a friend who had an accident that wasn't her fault, but is still making payments on her newly purchased car because the insurance company paid her for the value of the car, not the value of the loan. And death is forever, so punishment after the fact is little solace to the teenager last month who plowed into a family SUV last month in my home town and killed the passenger all because he was too impatient to wait behind a car driving in front of him around a curve on a backroad.

    Your same logic could be applied to people who speed or run redlights. Sure don't ticket them until they have an accident after running a redlight. The problem with your idea is that people already think they are fantastic drivers and could not possibly get into accidents. Then they get into an accident and the damage is done. Sure don't ticket that guy driving drunk until he kills a nice happy family of four or something that looks equally gruesome and heartwrenching on the 11:00 PM news.

    To me, the obvious answer to car accidents is public transportation, and I'm sure that these rules are not helping very much because it's very hard to enforce before an accident anyway. However, if we continue to insist on cars as the way we get around in the US, then we all have a vested interest in making them safe by insisting on enforcement of rules that protect every driver as best we can. I'm not saying the anti-texting laws are effective, I'm just saying punish only on results is not as effective as you think.

  • by negRo_slim (636783) <mils_oRgen@hotmail.com> on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @02:07PM (#33737374)

    Better ban talking to people in the car with you as well. and car radios. And thinking about things you plan to do that day.

    How about we just ditch the cars period? Build our homes close to where we work and play, walk a bit more... man up some as a society. I dunno, just a thought!

  • by tooyoung (853621) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @02:07PM (#33737380)
    This is a good point, although it strikes me as odd that it would need actual legislation. If I hit you while driving because I am by distracted by eating a lobster dinner, assembling a model airplane, or text messaging, I would expect to be charged with negligent operation of a vehicle. I would assume this would be a 12 point violation even if I am in a minor accident. If I actually killed you, I would assume I would be charged with manslaughter due to gross negligence.

    I can see this carrying over to allowing police to pull me over for certain actions while driving: if a police officer sees me driving while carving a turkey in my lap, I don't think that they would need a law forbidding turkey carving while driving to pull me over. Likewise, I don't see why it should require a law to pull someone over who is obviously not looking at the road while texting or dialing a phone.

    The real solution then would be to have some sort of PR campaign explaining that driving while heavily distracted is an offense regardless of what you are doing.
  • by mlts (1038732) * on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @02:09PM (#33737408)

    I don't agree about the locking down phones or creating Faraday cages. However, the morons who text and drive recklessly usually are not the ones who die in the crashes, but the people they hit. If one looks at car wrecks involving drunk drivers, one finds that because the drunk caused the collision by a frontal impact (as well as being relaxed), the car mitigates most of the damage through the crush zones, airbags, seat belts, etc. However the other car that gets rear-ended or T-boned usually only has inches to feet to mitigate the kinetic energy before passing it to its occupants, causing far more grievous injuries.

    Here, the solution needed is a legal one -- texting means automatic 100% fault assignment and can be considered gross negligence which allows for triple damages, just like hitting a pedestrian is always the vehicle driver's fault.

  • by natoochtoniket (763630) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @02:10PM (#33737430)

    We know that texting-while-driving is far more dangerous than driving while drunk.

    We have decided, as a society, that driving while drunk is so dangerous that we have made it illegal, and impose stiff penalties. It isn't just illegal to drive while drunk. It is illegal to have an open container in the car. This is based on the reasonable assumption that, if there is an open container, the driver may take a drink and become impaired.

    I think it would be reasonable to decide, as a society, that texting-while-=driving is so dangerous that we should impose stiff penalties. And, it shouldn't just be illegal to drive while texting. It should be illegal to have an open texting device in the car. If there is an open texting device, the driver may look at it and become impaired. Many times, I have seen a teenager say "look at this", and hold his/her phone out so that another person can read it. If that other person happens to be a driver, the drivers attention is taken away from the driving.

    I really don't have any problem with drivers who decide to kill themselves, other than perhaps that I get stuck paying part of the cost of the emergency services. I have a really big issue with drivers who try to kill me, by swerving their vehicles toward mine while driving at a high rate of speed. Recently, that has happened several times each day.

  • Better solution? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mea37 (1201159) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @02:10PM (#33737440)

    Easy. Instead of writing new laws targeting the specific act (texting while driving), enforce the existing laws that address the underlying reason it's a problem (distracted driving). That way the presence or absence of a phone isn't a factor, so concealing the phone has nothing to do with anything. If someone isn't paying attention to the road, ticket them.

  • by Wansu (846) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @02:15PM (#33737518)

      Better ban talking to people in the car with you as well.
    and car radios.
    And thinking about things you plan to do that day.

    Yes the bigger problem is distracted drivers. I've seen people reading paperback books, newspapers and stapled together papers at the wheel. I've seen people eating serious sandwiches, combing their hair, applying make-up and changing clothes. And of course there are people that daydream at the wheel. I saw one woman having a midlife crisis in a mid-sized Chrysler.

    It's not practical to try to legislate away all the possible distractions. Instead, how about we charge the people who cause accidents and if they were distracted, note that. If someone demonstrates a pattern of distracted driving, take their license. They are every bit as dangerous as a drunk driver.

  • by mea37 (1201159) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @02:21PM (#33737604)

    If your actions put someone's property at risk, a "no harm no foul" civil resolution makes sense.

    If your actions put someone's life at risk, or otherwise impose on others risks for which you cannot actually make things right if you "lose" the bet, criminal punishment associated with the act of creating the risk (regardless of outcome) are far more appropriate.

  • by N0Man74 (1620447) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @02:24PM (#33737656)

    Can you remember when the CB radio fad took off, and there were all these news reports talking about the danger of CB'ing and driving?

    Wait... that never happened...

    Did we not have an over-sensationalist media that tried to get us to tune in by scaring us so shitless that we began begging lawmakers to create laws based on knee-jerk reactions back then or something?

  • by mapkinase (958129) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @02:25PM (#33737684) Homepage Journal

    That's how punishment for a crime usually works: first crime, then punishment. Alternatively, it's just Minority Report.

  • by BlackSnake112 (912158) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @02:27PM (#33737720)

    You know how to create more land where people need that land to be? I have not seen many cities that have large amounts of land available to build on.

    Also the cost of homes/apartments near their work is often out of their affordability range. They have to live further away. Whether or not public transportation is available is another matter.

  • by fred fleenblat (463628) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @02:28PM (#33737760) Homepage

    1. Telephone companies can and do routinely trangulate from towers or use GPS-enabled smartphones to establish the position of a cellular phone. It's not rocket science to integrate those measurements over time and obtain the velocity of a cellular phone.

    2. Add some code to phone company messaging servers that disables sending and receiving of text messages while the mobile phone is in motion.

    3. New phones should have some code that notices the situation and disables reading old messages and typing new messages in advance. Perhaps they won't allow you to dial anything but 911 or even receive calls unless you have bluetooth.

    Yes, this means that we take away some convenience to be safer. Yes, the phone companies won't make as much money. I'm sorry. People are behaving like children and we need to take their toy away.

  • by JustinOpinion (1246824) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @02:34PM (#33737860)

    Better ban talking to people in the car with you as well.

    As it turns out, talking over a phone is more distracting than talking with someone sitting in the car.

    There are multiple reasons:
    1. Someone in the car with you can and will respond to the dynamically-changing environment as you do. If something unexpected happens, they will usually stop talking.
    2. In fact, someone in the car may notice something important, and notify the driver (either by shutting up or pointing it out), thereby partially mitigating the distraction they cause by talking.
    3. A phone conversation requires more of your attention because you have to make up for the deficiencies of the data channel (phones have lower audio quality than real life, you can't read their body language (even out of the corner of your eye, you can get a feel for a person's mood), etc.).
    4. Shared context makes communication more efficient, thus requiring less mental effort (this is why, even in this day and age, people generally want to meet face-to-face).
    5. Studies have shown that it takes humans more mental effort to think/interact with people/data they believe is remote as compared to people/things they think are local. In one study, they measured reaction times and errors in a driving simulator when people were either using an "in-car GPS" giving them instructions or a "satellite data-feed" giving them instructions. Even though both sets of instructions were identical (including latency, etc.), the mere perception that the "satellite data-feed" was non-local caused people to devote more mental effort to it, which increased driving accidents. A non-intuitive result, perhaps, but human mental machinery is finely tuned not for the tasks we currently expect it to perform.
    6. Initiating and finishing a phonecall requires much more attention than stopping/starting a conversation with someone sitting beside you. (Unlike fidgeting with a radio, answering a phonecall requires immediate action not at a moment of the driver's choosing.)

    People engage in a variety of activities while driving. All of these secondary activities induce distraction and thereby increasing driving risk. There is a valid debate to be had about where to draw the line with respect to distractions. But it is fairly well-established that talking on a phone while driving, and certainly texting while driving, are more dangerous than talking to a passenger while driving. So it may indeed be reasonable and consistent to ban reading books, texting and making phonecalls while driving... but not banning listening to the radio or having conversations with passengers.

  • by BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @02:39PM (#33737972) Homepage Journal

    Ban privately owned vehicles, and repossess all of them.

    Your idea of utopia must be horribly boring.

  • by nospam007 (722110) * on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @02:42PM (#33738036)

    "If you cause an accident due to negligence (texting, reading a book, eating a sandwich), YOU pay the bill."

    Mmm, no! If you do nothing wrong, they other guy pays for the accident, the insurance is for when _you_ do something wrong.

  • by Anonymous Monkey (795756) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @02:52PM (#33738160)
    As a punishment the idea works, but a punishment and a deterrent only work if some one gets caught. However, if the first thing on the mind of the driver is respect for the lives of others, them selves, and a desire not to cause harm, than people would not text or phone to start with. The only laws that are work are self enforced because the person enforcing them thinks they are important.
  • by camperdave (969942) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @03:10PM (#33738440) Journal
    Wrong solution. Ditch the drivers [darpa.mil] instead.
  • by operagost (62405) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @03:12PM (#33738488) Homepage Journal
    Thanks, Stalin. I'm sure you'll find someone to sell all those now-useless cars to (that's step 2, "???"). Please don't forget to seize everyone's personal assets and liquidate the undesirables, as well.
  • by MartinSchou (1360093) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @03:14PM (#33738524)

    The only fix for this is if people started caring more about the lives of others and there own life

    I don't think so.

    It's about perceived risk. It seems much riskier to fly than to drive a car, because you have no way of preventing an accident yourself (you're just a passenger), whereas in the car you are the driver and could easily avoid an accident, because you're a great driver.

    Ever notice how, as a passenger, you're always a lot more worried about driving than you are as the driver? I'm almost willing to bet, that if you sent people out onto a seemingly dangerous test track, they'd be more nervous in general when they're passengers than they'd be when driving themselves.

    Even if you put them into a car driven by the best driver in the world.

  • by dgatwood (11270) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @03:17PM (#33738572) Journal

    Yes the bigger problem is distracted drivers.

    The bigger problem is human drivers. All these laws will become moot once cars can drive themselves, and we're already well on our way to that point. Within twenty years, these laws will be as quaint as laws regulating hanging up your boxer shorts on a clothesline on Sunday. Why bother passing laws to ban activity now when we're just going to have to fight to repeal those laws in single-digit years when they are no longer relevant?

  • by Chowderbags (847952) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @03:20PM (#33738598)

    I think it would be reasonable to decide, as a society, that texting-while-=driving is so dangerous that we should impose stiff penalties. And, it shouldn't just be illegal to drive while texting. It should be illegal to have an open texting device in the car. If there is an open texting device, the driver may look at it and become impaired. Many times, I have seen a teenager say "look at this", and hold his/her phone out so that another person can read it. If that other person happens to be a driver, the drivers attention is taken away from the driving.

    The same logic could apply to books. Can't let little Johnny have his picture book open in the car, the driver might look at it! Heck, just think what would happen if the driver took his eyes off the road and looked at their speedometer. Clearly we should ban speedometers. For that matter, drivers might look at scenery around them. We should either ban scenery or put all our roads in tunnels. (WON'T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN?(except while driving))

    The better solution is to just enforce current reckless or careless driving laws. We don't need to play whack-a-mole with every new technology.

  • by GeckoAddict (1154537) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @03:24PM (#33738664)
    Exactly. Enforce the reckless endangerment and distracted driving laws already on the books. No need to come up with a specific version of a law that is already in effect but not enforced well. The solution isn't new laws, it's better enforcement.
  • by Homr Zodyssey (905161) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @04:23PM (#33739532) Journal

    Along with the other hypothetical situations that have been mentioned, what if you need to report a dangerous situation?
     
    One time, my wife and I were travelling down the interstate at night when we saw an obviously drunk driver, swerving across 5 lanes, back and forth and back and forth. I was driving, so my wife called the state police to report the guy.
     
    In another incident, my wife and her friend were travelling through a rural area when a truckload of rednecks started harassing them -- following real close honking their horn, passing them and then slowing down to a crawl, getting next to them and making lewd gestures, etc. My wife was driving, so her friend called the police on the guys.

    In both of these situations, stopping and getting out of the car to make the call would have been dangerous.

  • by horatio (127595) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @04:59PM (#33740000)

    It seems like education is likely to be the only solution.

    My approach to education: If you hit me b/c you were fucking with your phone, I may exercise my option to beat the shit out of you.

    You're on the road to drive. If you cannot or do not want to be responsible for operating a 3,000lb weapon, pull over - or call a cab. I'm sorry that it is so much to ask that while you're sharing the road with other people, you take some responsibility for what you're doing and pay attention. Your first job when behind the wheel is not your makeup, not your hair, not your girlfriends' latest hangup, not your buddy's party last night. Drive your damn car like both our lives depend on it.

  • by milkmage (795746) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @05:18PM (#33740250)

    how about concentrating 100% on the task, that if not performed correctly, can cause great bodily harm to yourself or others?

    what's so fucking important that you can't pullover or at least wait until you stop?

  • by steve_bryan (2671) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @05:38PM (#33740472)

    Here's an idea. If that text is so damned important, pull off the road, park the car and send the damned text. When you are done with all your calls and texting, start the car and drive. Problem solved. People found texting or calling while they are supposed to be driving should be flogged and repeat offenders could face the death penalty. Better they should die alone rather than take others with them. And you kids, get off my lawn!

  • by BasilBrush (643681) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @06:48PM (#33741258)

    "Transition" is indeed the magic word. Nothing happens overnight.

    The fact remains, the current split between commercial areas and residential areas is bad. Mixed areas are better, and would reduce car usage. That's the direction planning decisions of the future should go.

  • by Frankie70 (803801) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @07:38PM (#33741730)

    When a criminal murders someone & there are witnesses, he typically kills the witnesses also.
    If there weren't anti-murder laws, he wouldn't have to kill the witnesses.

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