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This is getting old...

So I came across this article right now:

Study: Hands-free phone not safer on road

and it got on my nerves a bit. I do a lot of driving for my job, and people talking on cell phones aren't the only or even the most annoying "bad" drivers out there. Honestly, I'm getting a bit bored/annoyed with the constant comparison of cell phones to drunk driving (and the implication that those are the two worst things you can do while driving). What I'd like to see is a study that compared ALL major forms of automobile distractions (talking with your friend in the passenger seat, screaming at your kids in the backseat, changing CDs/fiddling with the radio/DVD/Navigation system, shaving/putting on make-up etc...) and then gave us an idea of where drunk driving and cell phone use fall in the grand scheme of things.

The results from this study (3 accidents for the cell phone users, none for the drunk drivers) makes me wonder if maybe the old "I'm a better driver when I'm drunk" excuse doesn't have some truth to it when you compare it to how a given person normally drives (i.e. paying attention to other things), not to how they should be driving.

Comments

The only major accident I've been in my life involved sleep-dep and eating. Sleep-dep is worse than drunk driving plus cell phone usage combined.
Oh yeah, I forgot about sleep dep. That's definitely a biggie and yet we never really hear much about it (even though most of us have driven with it at one time or another). I know someone who was in a major accident once (single car fortunately) because they fell asleep at the wheel and when it came time to talk to the PD and insurance folks their official story was "a tire blew out" so that they wouldn't be at fault (and given how trashed the car was it was impossible to say otherwise).

See, any time I hear about oral sex while driving, I can't help but cringe at the prospect of what damage an "emergency stop" might cause without even hitting anything.

this just totally reminded me of that scene from "Parenthood"...when the cop asks how the accident happen and Steve Martin's character turns to his wife and says, "Show him honey." LOL
I don't know about you, but I see folks yammering away at their cell phones far more frequently than I see them eating, or deciplining their kids. There's also the horribly mistaken perception that talking on a cell-phone can't be bad, since it's just like talking to a passanger (especially if it's hands-free - most laws on the subject specify that hands-free is OK). I want to see the study that gives us the relative amounts of the distractions people have while driving, from eating to cell phone use to whacking kids to fiddling with A/C. Right now it's like half of drivers who think talking on cell phones is the worst thing for driving while the other half thinks it's not a distraction at all, and chances are neither is correct.
See, what I'm wondering is whether "the horribly mistaken perception that talking on a cell-phone can't be bad, since it's just like talking to a passanger" isn't wrong because talking to a passenger can be just as bad as talking on a cell phone (or doing any other significantly distracting activity).

From my own experience, I know that I tend to prefer driving by myself because it's easier for me to give my full attention to the road. Whenever I have passengers (especially folks I'm eager to talk to) I find that I don't pay as much attention to the road (and when I do I end up ignoring my passengers more than I'd like). This makes me think that the key factor (as the study does point out) is driver inattention (in general not just related to cell phones).

I think your idea for a study would be great. Find some way to test for attentiveness (or some way to quantify it) and figure out what the minimum threshhold of attention is for safely driving a car. I suspect that even though we may see more folks talking on their cell phones, the people who are actually driving badly (defined as getting or nearly getting in accidents) are usually the ones doing distracting things in addition to driving.

Unfortunately I'm not sure that this is something we could ever realy test for since I suspect the reason cell phones are so villified is because we see people on them when they get in an accident, but it's a lot harder to tell if you someone was nodding off, or if they were looking down at the radio/AC/shiny-new-electronic-gadget, or if they were looking in the rearview mirror yelling at their kids etc... Cell phones (like drunk driving) tend to be a noticeable target that leaves a trail, whereas most other distractions can often be denied or just not noticed.
Worst thing I've ever seen anybody do while driving was breastfeeding.

I was on my way to Suki's once and down near the Border highway & N/S interchange, i passed thsi woman in a van that kept serving from lane to lane. When i passed her, I looked into the van saw that she was attempting to steer w/ one hand while holding the baby to her breast w/ the other...hehe
yikes, just yikes...
I can't say for absolute certain that she was attempting to breast feed. She may have just been wearing a low-cut blouse, but there was no doubt that she was holding the baby w/ her right arm and trying to steer with her left.
DUDE.

....

Speaking as someone who's seen some BAD accidents in rural WA... PLEASE don't use this as an excuse to drive after drinking.

makes me wonder if maybe the old "I'm a better driver when I'm drunk" excuse doesn't have some truth to it

Sorry, but that really doesn't compute. I'm sure it IS bad to use a phone or be otherwise distracted whilst driving, but... no. Just no. Bad logic there, I'm afraid.

(If that wasn't what you were implying, then sorry, but we've had some SHOCKERS around here lately and I'm a little touchy on the car-accident subject.)
Actually the point I was trying to make is that maybe one of the problems with people driving (in general and drunk) is that they are such crappy drivers when they're sober (because they don't pay attention) that when they get behind the wheel while they're drunk they actually are better because they're so freaked out about getting pulled over for a DUI that they actually pay attention to what they're doing (this would, of course, only apply somewhere with enough cops looking to catch DUIs that it would scare the drunks).

That's not to say drunk driving isn't a Very Very Bad Thing (tm) just that maybe too many people discount how bad all the other things they do are in the context of stealing their attention away from the road for periods of time. IIRC, one of the major problems with drunk driving is just how much slower reaction times are even if the person isn't falling down drunk. Now think about how much worse accidents can be if instead of having slower reaction times you don't react at all because you aren't looking at the road to even start reacting when the shit hits the fan.

I tend to be a bit of a news junky and one thing I've noticed is that around here (rural WA is probably a lot different since EP is a big city and a major traffic corridor) there are relatively few road closing accidents that result from drunk driving (I'm basing this on browsing the local traffic reports). That's not to say cops don't stop plenty of drunk drivers meandering around town, but the vast majority of our accidents seem to happen during morning rush hour, evening rush hour, and during the day (in that order). There seem to be much fewer accidents between 2am-3am (when the bars close), than there are from 2pm-3pm (when schools start letting out). In my own personal experience, I've been in a few accidents and I've seen plenty of bad accidents and they've all happened during the day and they've all been a result of people not paying attention to what they're doing (i.e. driving).

Ultimately, my point is that maybe cell phones and drunk driving aren't the only two Bad Things that people do on the road, maybe they're just the ones that people fixate on because it's easier to point fingers at those groups of people because it's harder for them to lie their way out of things. If that's the case, then maybe we need to make people more aware that first and foremost they need to pay attention to their driving and leave the DVD players, heart to heart in-person chats, happy hour, and the big time telephone deals outside of the driver's seat.