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Cellphones Handhelds Transportation

Could Anti-Texting Laws Make Roads More Dangerous? 709

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 radtea ( 464814 ) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @01:32PM (#33736682)

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

  • Dont hate, educate (Score:3, Interesting)

    by thechemic ( 1329333 ) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @01:35PM (#33736734)
    It is better to change people thru inspiration and education rather than by force and control. Always has been, always will be. However, if the states launched an education campaign about texting & driving dangers, that would be an expensive, not an income from citations. Also, our precious insurance companies wouldnt be able to jack your rates up nearly as high.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @01:35PM (#33736750)

    What about texting in trains, airplanes? While driving at a constant speed when no acceleration can be detected?

  • by captaindomon ( 870655 ) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @01:36PM (#33736764)
    Write people an extremely hefty fine if they are involved in an accident while texting. Make it easier to convict them on involuntary manslaughter charges if they were texting at the time they hit a pedestrian. If people can safely text, great. If not, punish them when they cause problems. This is the same as any other distraction while driving - you can think about other things than the road while driving legally (work problems, family problems, etc). If you can still safely drive, great. If not, you pay the piper when you hurt someone else.
  • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @01:47PM (#33736966) Homepage
    I sense a business opportunity here folks. What about this line of reasoning: If $idiot_text_addled_driver did not have to actually control their vehicle, they could do whatever the hell they wanted to in the front seat. (No, I'm not going there).

    While we could, in theory, make completely autonomous vehicles, it's not likely to happen for a very long time. Even the military UAVs are actually flown by a human somewhere in Nevada. OK, we're winding down the war in Afghanistan (right?) and we need to keep those highly trained video game operators^Hpilots doing something. It would be relatively easy to dump the UAV control package into a plain ol car. Charge $idiot_text_addled_driver for the privilege of having their vehicle controlled by someone that is remotedly (pun intended) capable of doing it. Safety, convenience and additional cost rolled up into one high tech package. What's not to like?

    On second thought, I just re invented the chauffeur. Oops.
  • Recidivism? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by goodmanj ( 234846 ) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @01:50PM (#33737042)

    One thing about this study: the laws are only a year or so old in most states. In my experience, people tend to ignore minor laws until they get caught, then change their behavior to avoid repeat offense penalties. There hasn't been enough time for the average texting addict to get busted and possibly break the habit.

    Let's look back on this in a year or two before we make a final verdict.

  • by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @01:51PM (#33737052)

    I sometimes wrestle with th question of whether or not dangerous behaviors should be punishable at whatever level it takes to make people stop doing them.

    For example, we know texting while driving is dangerous, based on stastics. It significantly risks other people's lives. Also, any sane person should know it's just a dumb idea.

    So would it be just, or a good idea, to simply have a thre strikes rule for this? First strike - no driver's license for 6 months. Second strike - a public caning. Third strike - execution or banishment to Wasilla, AK (offender's choice).

    Similarly for dealing dangerous drugs, or drunk driving.

    Why is it that when the repeat offenders play a game of chicken with the law, it's always the non-offenders that blink and let the offender get off with light punishment? (I'm thinking of drunk drivers with many, many offenses.) Why can't these repeat offenders be given threats of penalties so serious that it actually curbs their behaviors that endanger others?

  • by aegl ( 1041528 ) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @02:05PM (#33737330)

    Catch someone texting while driving - impound their car and tow it away. We already do this for people who are too drunk to drive. This just does the same for people who are too stupid to be allowed to drive.

    Take the phone away too.

  • And in other news (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HereIAmJH ( 1319621 ) <HereIAmJH@hdtrvs . o rg> on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @02:06PM (#33737342)

    Studies have found that laws prohibiting bank robberies have failed to reduce the number of thefts while making them more dangerous for innocent bystanders. Police officer's attempts to enforce those laws have only encouraged criminals to carry weapons.

    While I think it is ridiculous to write a law to make prosecuting every little driving distraction easier, the fact is the law is there. If people are attempting to be more discreet while still violating the law, the problem isn't that this makes them more dangerous. The problem is that the penalties are not severe enough to stop the behavior.

    Example: I'll drive 5 over on the interstate because I know the chance of getting a ticket is slim. I won't drive 5 over in a school zone. The risks are higher and the penalties are nasty.

  • Exactly (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tooyoung ( 853621 ) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @02:15PM (#33737528)
    I was on a walk at night several months ago and a woman drove by with the dome light on in her car. With the inside of her car being perfectly illuminated against the darkness, I could clearly see that she was reading a book. This was especially scary, as she was driving through a school zone in a neighborhood with many children and few lights (reduced light pollution, I think is the goal). I would expect that if she had driven by a cop, she would have been pulled over and sited for reckless endangerment. Why should this be different for texting?
  • by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @02:37PM (#33737934) Homepage Journal
    It always seems like the texting person survives and someone else dies. Pity the situation can't just be reversed.

    They'll be more easily caught though, because they'll be swerving all over the road.

    Some drunk driver the other day was convicted of murder instead of manslaughter because he'd already had a DUI conviction, knew that driving under the influence could lead to someone else's death, chose to drive while drunk anyway and killed someone. Just run a "Don't drive while texting" PSA campaign and then punish infractions severely and punish deaths caused by people who were texting VERY severely and people should get the idea pretty quickly. It's a pity about all those innocent bystanders who are going to die before people realize that the consequences of doing this will too severe for them to risk doing it, though.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @03:08PM (#33738412)

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

    Okay, then I'll not exaggerate. I had a friend who tailgated horribly. She drove less than half a car length behind the car in front of her no matter what. Any lane, any speed, any condition. Eventually she totaled her car, in the rain. Why? "Because the car in front of her stopped too fast." In her mind, it wasn't her fault. Last time I rode with her, she was still tailgating everyone. Twice the car in front of her drove off in the shoulder when there were puddles, splashing her car with mud. The second time she said, "I think he did that intentionally." I said, "Probably because you're tailgating." She said, "That couldn't be it." Idiot. Dangerous idiot.

  • by FatRichie ( 1456467 ) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @03:25PM (#33738678)
    **The solution is to allow texting, but increase severity of penalties when the driver is texting while **committing another offense.


    There will always be those that cannot handle the responsibility of multitasking, and they should be punished when they are proven incompetent. If they can't handle the car, they get it taken away: at first the license, if again, then the vehicle, if again, then jail.

    This is why drunk driving laws are ineffective... first is a fine, then maybe another, then maybe a license suspension, then maybe another fine, then maybe a few days in jail.

    Get SERIOUS with these offenders, and people will start to consider the consequences more seriously.

    My fear is that if texting is outlawed, next comes cell phone usage (already in some locations) then eating while driving, then talking passengers, etc. Driving the long, open, boring roads of the Midwest, I depend on talking with others and snacking just to stay awake. But I'm smart enough to know that driving comes first... I set things aside when I'm in town, or if road conditions are tough... but by virtue of REALLY needing to concentrate on the road, I don't need those other things to keep me alert. And if I can't get my priorities straight when I'm driving and cause an accident because of it... I expect to get in REAL trouble.
  • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @03:36PM (#33738808) Homepage Journal

    And braking time is only a tiny portion of what controls whether you have an accident. Drunk drivers also swerve all over the road, then drive off the road and hit things. Most drunk driving accidents are not caused by traffic in front of them coming to a complete stop and them taking too long to respond. In fact, that occurs so rarely on most highways that it's almost completely irrelevant.

    The fact is that reaction time only matters when something goes catastrophically wrong. Good drivers (read: sober) can generally take other precautions to avoid getting into situations where their reaction times will matter. Thus, if you are driving correctly (leaving proper distance between you and the car in front of you, etc.), driving while talking on the phone is no more dangerous than driving without talking on the phone.

    Distractions are sometimes avoidable, sometimes not. If people don't know how to properly compensate for the level of distraction, distractions will continue to cause accidents, but this need not be the case. What we need to be doing is educating people on how to properly drive when distracted instead of just teaching them the laughably unrealistic and overly simplistic rule that they should avoid distractions. Distracted driver training should be a mandatory part of every driver ed curriculum. The basic rules are:

    • Be sure to tell the person on the other end of any phone call that you are in a car so that they know that you may have to suddenly stop talking and listening.
    • Do not allow distractions on any road that you are unfamiliar with. Take control as needed.
    • Keep double the normal stopping distance.
    • Slow down well in advance of traffic lights in case they change on you.
    • As distraction increases, your speed should decrease. Let the other drivers pass you. If they cut right in front of you, put on your brakes immediately to increase the space.
    • Watch for tricky situations. Cars passing you at a rapid speed mean that something could go very wrong very quickly up ahead. Same goes for brake lights in the distance.
    • When you notice a potentially tricky situation starting to form, say "hold on a minute" and drop the phone. Stop talking. Stop listening.
    • Do not attempt to call anyone back if a call drops on a difficult section of the road. It is better to wait than to wreck.
    • Do not attempt to answer questions that require significant thinking. Tell them you'll get back to them when you're not steering a four-wheeled bomb.

    If you do all of these things religiously, they will more than make up for any deficit in attention caused by talking on the phone.

  • by mlts ( 1038732 ) * on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @03:49PM (#33739020)

    If texting ends up similar to DWI, that might just happen, where front line police officers would be able to check a person's call records for any calls/texts made in the past 1-5 minutes on the phone... perhaps even be able to have some augmented reality item that scans license plates, checks the owner's call records for any calls/texts made, and that would be grounds to pull someone over, even if it isn't the owner driving the car.

    Would it go this far? Who knows. However, this can be easily done, and because citations are a great revenue source for municipal areas who are unable to raise taxes, it might just end up happening.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @07:29PM (#33741630)

    Over the last 15 years cell phone use has gone from nearly nothing to nearly saturation but the accident rate in that time has gone DOWN. Not up, DOWN. If cell phones made us what ever ridiculous percentage they're saying today more likely to have a wreck the rate surely would have gone UP. It went DOWN. Folks will claim that vehicle safety improvements resulted in fewer accidents. I'd say, prove it. Anti-lock brakes didn't lower the rate. And we're talking accidents, not injuries, so seat belts and air bags don't enter in to it.

10.0 times 0.1 is hardly ever 1.0.