Friday, October 2, 2009

Driving is no time to multitask

Published Oct 2, 2009
Published Friday October 2, 2009

By Roger BuddenbergWorld-Herald Staff Writer
Uncle Sam wants you to put down the phone while driving, especially if you're thinking of text messaging.
Thursday, the Transportation Department ended a two-day “distracted-driving summit” in Washington by announcing a flurry of steps to highlight the danger of using communication devices behind the wheel and to force or shame motorists into embracing the message.
In Nebraska, State Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff said he would introduce a bill next January to extend the state's texting-while-driving ban from new teenage drivers to drivers all ages. The AAA auto club said it would crusade to get all states to do likewise by 2013.
“Driving while distracted should just feel wrong — just as driving without a seat belt or driving while intoxicated,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told the conference of researchers, safety groups, automakers and legislators. “We're not going to break everyone of their bad habits, but we are going to raise awareness and sharpen the consequences.”
Max Nelson, a 16-year-old junior at Millard North High School, agreed that changing teens' behavior behind the wheel probably would not be as simple as passing a texting ban.
“I'm pretty sure most people do it,” he said of texting while driving. “Even my mom does it — even though she tells me not to.”
On the other hand, he said, a ban would “probably make you think about it before you do it.”
LaHood said the Obama administration:
ŸBy presidential order, has banned the nation's 2 million federal employees from texting while driving. The order — which applies while driving on government business, driving government vehicles or using government equipment — is intended to set an example, “a very clear signal to the American public that distracted driving is dangerous and unacceptable,” LaHood said.
ŸWould encourage contractors and others doing business with the government to adopt policies banning texting while driving.
ŸWould seek new federal rules that could ban texting and limit phone use by truck drivers and interstate bus drivers. Similar rules for railroad operations will be made permanent.
ŸWould pull the commercial licenses of school bus drivers who were convicted of texting while driving.
ŸWould urge states to pass laws against distracted driving, particularly texting by school bus drivers.
ŸWould support efforts in Congress to devise a nationwide ban on texting behind the wheel, though LaHood declined to endorse particular legislation.
In July, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., introduced a bill to require all states to ban drivers from texting or e-mailing or lose 25 percent of their federal highway funds — the same method used in the past to prod states to adopt seat belt laws, a uniform drunken-driving standard and a drinking age of 21.
Schumer called drivers' use of handheld devices a “dangerous epidemic.” Bill co-sponsor Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., likened crashes caused by texting drivers to murder, saying, “The loaded gun may now be a BlackBerry.”
Similar House legislation was introduced last month by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y.
On the other hand, many states have questioned the use of what they call “sanctions” against states that do not pass laws Congress wants, especially during tough economic times.
“The words ‘federal mandate' and ‘federal sanctions' do not play well,” Bruce Starr, an Oregon state senator, said at the meeting.
The U.S. Transportation Department estimates that distraction — the interruption of a driver's attention in some way by an activity not essential to operating a motor vehicle — was a factor in 5,870 traffic deaths last year, or 16 percent of fatal crashes. That's up from an estimated 11 percent in 2005.
But the department is hampered in making that estimate because only 29 states, including Nebraska and Iowa, collect crash data specifically related to distracted driving.
Moreover, the collection task is difficult. Drivers are hesitant to admit to phone use, said Fred Zwonechek, Nebraska's highway safety administrator, and accident investigators must be trained to look for telltale signs.
Some researchers cautioned that banning all cell phone use by drivers would hinder the development of safety technologies that could let vehicles share traffic information with one other and alert emergency responders to crashes.
Commercial drivers and people who work from their cars have particular reasons, especially in a tough economy, to fret about new legislation.
Dick Reiser, general counsel for Omaha-based Werner Enterprises, one of the country's largest truckload carriers, said most big trucking operators have in-cab devices that allow drivers to send and receive messages from their dispatchers. Werner's system has safeguards that prevent messaging if the truck has a solo driver and is moving.
The American Trucking Association, Reiser said, wants to ensure that any legislative bans are not so far-reaching as to outlaw such systems.
The Nebraska Truckers Association thinks likewise, said President Larry Johnson. He called the in-cab communication systems a happy medium between pulling off the road to use a pay phone and using a cell phone or the CB radios of yesteryear.
Tens of thousands of other Americans have turned their cars, vans or trucks into mobile offices, wired with phones and computers to stay in touch with bosses and customers. Real estate agents, pharmaceutical salespeople, entrepreneurs, marketers, managers and others say they have little choice but to make their cars into cubicles in an economy that puts a premium on productivity.
The compulsion to work while driving often overrides evidence that the activity is dangerous. Studies suggest that a driver who talks on the phone is four times more likely to crash, even using a hands-free headset, than someone who is just driving. The risks are even greater when texting.
For all the perceived benefits of multitasking behind the wheel, the dangers have begun to take enough of a toll to prod some companies to ban the practice.
Some researchers say there's another reason to question the benefits of working behind the wheel: Several studies suggest that splitting attention between working and driving often leads to distracted conversations and bad decisions.
“There is an illusion of productivity,” said David Meyer, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. “To the extent that someone is focused on driving, the quality of work product is diminished. To the extent someone is focused on work and not driving, there's a risk of crashing and burning. Something's got to give.”
Meanwhile, AAA said it would be observing Heads Up Driving Week starting Monday and urged drivers to seize the moment to turn over a new leaf. Although 80 percent of motorists tell pollsters that distracted driving is a serious threat, two-thirds admit to driving while talking on a cell phone.
“This ‘do as I say, not as I do' attitude must change,” the auto club said.
World-Herald staff writers Pat Waters and Juan Perez Jr. contributed to this report, which includes material from the Associated Press and the New York Times.


Marmaduke Maximillian Winchester III said...

I think texting while driving is a 100 times stupider than talking on the phone while driving. I don't even see how you can do it. Even if you don't look at the phone it's really hard to text without making mistakes. If it's really that important pull over on the side of the road and text them.

Sandy Beach said...

I agree with Max. Texting while driving is very very very stupid. No matter what you think, texting is a distraction. Your eyes are not focused on the road and what is happening around you, and your hands are off the wheel. Driving already has distractions, like the radio and other people, so why add risk to yourself and others around you. I personally know someone my age that died because she was texting and driving. She was the only on the road, focused on the text, and died because of it. Is it too hard to wait a few minutes to text someone? I'm sure they would wait for a text instead of have your life taken from you.

Mister T said...

It is stupid to text while driving, but how long will it take for the government to realize that no matter what laws they make, people will still do stupid stuff while driving? Isn't part of having all this freedom the right to make stupid mistakes and suffer the consequences?

typhoid penny said...

I agree that texting while driving is not the smartest thing to do, but does the government really have a right to make a law prohibiting it for everyone?

Pirate For Hire said...

If we are going to eliminate in-car distractions we should pull out all radios and prohibit any passengers in the car with the driver. I don't think that there should be legislation about texting while driving as it is a personal choice. It's someone decision to text and if it puts them in harms way that was their decision. I can honestly say that I have sent a few text messages while driving before and have never felt like I was in an accident situation. I also drive a manual car...

Snuffleupagus said...

I think texting while driving is a major distraction to drivers but so is talking on the phone. The current law, at least as far as I know, for Nebraska is that new drivers cannot use their phone or any other electronic device while driving, but it doesn't place any restrictions on adult drivers. Isn't it the same risk at any age group? Its a poor decision but I don't think any law will make people quit.

Cap N. Crunch said...

I agree that text while driving is one of the dumbest things a driver can do while driving. I also find it very shocking that in Nebraska that there are only texting laws for teens. Any person can be distracted while driving and texting, it's not just teens. A while ago I saw a report on the Today Show about this bus driver who slammed into other cars because he wasn't paying attention to the road. This is a BUS DRIVER, his job is to get people from point A to point B, so he should be a good driver. Even "good" drivers can cause havoc and destruction while texting and driving.