I know I usually talk about what’s happening in the online world every week, and at first glance this may not seem to be related, but bear with me. I’m covering this topic today because it illustrates how deeply integrated tech has become into our daily lives in our “always-on” culture.
Mobile devices have rapidly become a intrinsic part of the fabric of modern society over the past decade or so. Roughly half the population of the U.S. carry smartphones, and the vast majority of people out there have texting-capable cell phones. We have become addicted to constant connectivity (I know I have, at least). It should come as no surprise that a lot of that usage happens while at the wheel of a vehicle. This is dangerous.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has just issued a call to all 50 states to outright ban cell phones and other mobile devices while driving. Unable to dictate policies all by themselves, its five members issued a unanimous recommendation that talking, texting, or checking email while driving should be against the law in all 50 states. As you may imagine, people are clutching their iPhones and Androids protectively.
Chuck Squatriglia of Wired takes a look:
The move is sure to bring howls of protest from just about every quarter, as a recent study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that, at any given time during daylight hours, as many as 13.5 million people are fiddling with a phone when they should be driving.
The recommendation, unanimously approved Tuesday by the five-member board, would apply to hand-held and hands-free devices used by the drivers of any and all vehicles on the road. Passengers would continue being able to play Fruit Ninja to while away the time, and drivers could use phones in an emergency.
More often than not, when you see this sort of announcement, it is because some recent tragedy has thrown the problem into sharp relief. While there is never a lack of reports on accidents caused by texting, it was this one Missouri pileup that seems to have triggered it. We recommend you visit https://www.mycaraccidentattorney.com/arizona-rollover-collisions/ for more information about car accident laws.
The board’s decision was spurred by a massive pileup near Gray Summit, Missouri, that killed two people and injured 38 others on Aug. 5, 2010. It was caused by a 19-year-old-pickup driver who sent or received 11 texts in the 11 minutes immediately before the crash.
The accident is a ‘big red flag for all drivers,’ NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman said, according to the Christian Science Monitor. ‘Driving was not his only priority. No call, no text, no update is worth a human life.’
Now, I’m a cyclist in a major American city. Almost every time I have suffered a near-accident over the past five years, it has been due to someone talking, texting, or Web surfing when they should have been driving. As an illustration, I just walked up the block to a fairly major street and watched the drivers going through one traffic light. Every single car that crossed the intersection had its driver either talking or texting on his or her mobile. I counted 12 of them.
As you may imagine, I’m not a fan of this behavior. Even so, I don’t believe that a ban is the answer.
The problem is that not only is a ban basically unenforceable, but that the existing state laws often go unenforced. A ban would simply make many people conceal their use, something that would drastically increase the danger they pose.
Mark Phelan of the Detroit Free Press makes a very good point on the subject:
Banning all uses of mobile phones in cars would be the most pointless and universally ignored law since Prohibition.
On the other hand, a national mandate requiring hands-free phones for conversations in a moving vehicle will make America’s roads safer. […]
A total ban on phone use in cars would breed contempt for the law and saddle overworked police officers with an unnecessary responsibility that would keep them from more important work. It also would be unenforceable: Imagine the old 55-m.p.h. speed limit, only without radar detectors. The police would have to peer into every car to figure out who was in violation. A ban also would increase driver distraction as people sneaked phone calls, used speakerphones that weren’t designed for cars, and constantly watched for police cars instead of concentrating on their driving and having a normal conversation
Think about how you and the people in your social circle would behave if a ban were instituted. How many sneaky, below-the-dashboard text messages would occur? Mandating hands-free equipment looks like a choice that aligns far more accurately with human nature.
We love our connectivity, and unenforceable dictates will not change that, but hands-free technology could greatly mollify their downside. To quote the movie Serenity, “you can’t stop the signal.” Besides, even if the states don’t go for an outright ban, the existing laws are an insane patchwork that varies wildly from one jurisdiction to another.
Source: “Feds Want To Take Your Phone Out of Your Car,” Wired, 12/04/11
Source: “Mark Phelan: Hands-free phones make sense — but ban doesn’t,” Detroit Free Press, 12/14/11
Image by eyeliam, used under its Creative Commons license.
George “Loki” Williams is the community and brand manager for award wining game company Savage Mojo, Ltd. and the owner of SocialGumbo, LLC, an online consultancy specializing in Web content and online communications. Loki has produced content for clients including the Open Society Institute, National Association of Broadcasters, Kobold Press, and Kaiser Permanente. His work has been seen or written about in The New York Times, The BBC, Air America, The Gambit Weekly, and NOLA.com, among others.