Thursday, December 6, 2012

Texting While Driving Turns Sneaky

I've been thinking a lot about prohibitions since my fellow Washingtonians voted to legalize marijuana. Effective today State law allows anyone 21 or over to have up to an ounce on them...but they can't smoke in public.

While smoking pot may have its own implications on driving safety, it's not what keeps running through my mind right now. Decades ago, making cannabis illegal led to an incredible black market for it. Just like it did with alcohol during Prohibition. Back then, it was how fortunes were made. Al Capone and his mob ruled. And in more modern times, the war on drugs has made for some powerful cartels and corruption in governments around the world.

As well meaning as it may be, prohibition doesn't seem to work very well. Prohibition of alcohol. Prohibition of cannabis. Prohibition of just about anything . . . I'm pretty sure it's because people are rebellious by nature and if you tell them what to do then they may just do the opposite. But they don't stop there, they also give demand for a black market trade to develop. There are a couple parts to human nature that transcend political, cultural, religious and ethnic boundaries. First, people are rebellious. And second, they're notorious for their creativity in finding ways to get around laws.

So what about the prohibition of holding a cell phone to your ear or texting while driving? Have the number of fatalities on our roads decreased since we made our anti-cell phone laws? Do the laws actually save lives? It'd be great if the answer was yes. But it's not. It's "we don't know."

In 2010 the way distracted driving statistics were collected changed so that cell phone use as a distraction factor is now counted by itself  instead of being grouped with the others. The 2011 numbers haven't been released to the public yet so we can't even do a two year comparison. NHSTA calculates that in 2010 there were 3,092 crash deaths due to texting and cell phone use while driving. That's a lot. But it's not the 10,228 that alcohol had.

I see drivers on cell phones every day. It still amazes me because they don't make any effort to hide what they are doing. When I'm at stop lights or on the freeway I frequently see drivers texting. These drivers are a lot sneakier than the phone users. Texters used to have their phones up high on the steering wheel ... so even though what they were doing was risky, at least they had some peripheral vision or general idea about traffic conditions.

Now that it's illegal, hand-held devices have been lowered below the window line.Yikes! Reading a message in your lap cuts out any peripheral vision a driver would have had if the phone were higher. It's like driving blind.

So what's the solution? The fact is that most drivers are able to manage their daily distractions without being involved in a collision. They don't crash every day. Or every year for that matter.

Should law enforcement focus on dangerous driving maneuvers that were actually committed (like drifting out of their lane, speeding, tailgating, etc.) or continue to micro-manage distractions that may or may not result in a collision? Is the ban on cell phones enough? Should we also ban eating, looking at a map or GPS or adjusting the audio system? How about talking to passengers or driving children around?

What if anti-cell phone laws were put in place like drunk driving laws? So a person had to be over 21 (or have a driver's license for at least 5 years) to use their phone or engage in other distractions.

Maybe we should make our driving test more difficult. As is, it takes less than 15 minutes and tests our ability to not crash. Why not test a driver's ability to drive well? And throw in a distracted driving element, too. Why not be true to real life and test how well someone drives with a baby crying in the back seat, adjusting the radio at least once and changing the air flow from the dash to the floor? And the examiner should come equipped with questions for the test taker to answer just to prove that they can talk and drive safely at the same time. The test should definitely include the freeway and busy city driving. And looking for an address in an unknown city. Not all of these suggestions are practical, but oooh imaging the possibilities is so fun!

What do you think? Does the cell phone ban work? Is there a better way than our current system to approach traffic safety? What will it take to get traffic fatalities down to zero?

6 comments:

  1. Here, it's been illegal to use your cell phone while driving for a while. You get caught, you get a fine. Hands-free devices are allowed (headphones, bluetooth, etc.).

    It doesn't help much. You can often see people who just sat in the car to drive away, and they're holding their phone to the ear. I often joke that they have too much/many leasing rates to pay for the car, that they can't afford a (10€ or more for a bluetooth) headphone. Or, even more likely, if you drive a company car, why should you pay for one out of your own pocket??? Fortunately, texting while driving is not so popular around here, because the call rates are not that high. Or again, the company pays the cell phone bill.

    And our darling government is too occupied with banning speeding anyway.

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  2. Love your ideas about making the driving test more difficult. Every *** can pass one in the US. Here, you have at least be able to afford one...

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    1. Tina, how much does it cost to get a Slovene driver's license? Do you have education requirements to get a license?

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    2. In "my time", it was like this:
      - first aid course + exam (valid for 2 years)
      - medical exam (once you turned 18)
      - "društveni CPP" - road and traffic regulations course + exam, usually with the driving school you then took the lessons from (though not necessary - the same driving school, that is), if you failed the exam 2x, you had to re-take the course as well
      - driving lessons (18 lessons, usually do-able in about 25 hours with the instructor, usually on the driving school's car)
      - "društveni izpit" - driving school practical exam, after the lessons, before you could apply for the state examination
      - "state CPP" - anytime after the "društveni CPP" and before the state practical exam
      - "state examination" - after which you actually get the driving permit

      Basically, you can't start with actual driving lessons before you turn 18. And, of course, each "thing" had to be paid separately. They changed it somewhat since then, now you don't have to take 2 CPP exams anymore, only the state one remains, but you have to pass it before starting your practical lessons.

      Another new thing is "driving with a companion" - you have to pass the first aid and medical exam, fulfill the requirements of a CPP course (20 hours at least), pass the state CPP exam, have at least 20 hours if driving lessons with the driving school - only then can you "switch" to the companion (minimum 27 years of age, 5 years of valid drivers license, no serious traffic violations, usually a parent - but it can be a different person, and if the candidate is under 18, the parents have to allow it in writing). You have 2 years to pass the state driving exam if you take this program (and you can start driving with a companion when you're 16 and a half).

      In any case, you can not even apply for the state driving exam before you're 18.

      Prices? Well, I looked online at one of the driving schools' prices, I suppose they are similar elsewhere...

      - 23€ per driving lesson (minimally 22 required by law)
      - 85€ CPP + exam (different driving schools for CPP and lessons) OR
      - 50€ CPP + exam (same school for CPP and lessons)
      - 35€ first aid
      - 35-45€ medical exam
      - 32€ CPP state exam
      - 16€ state driving exam

      So, luxury.

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    3. I agree with the harder test thing. It's way too easy as it is now.

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