Herald on Cellphone ban while driving

March 17th, 2008 at 9:05 am by David Farrar

The Herald joins the campaign to ban .  Never mind there are many more dangerous distractions when driving, this one is flavour of the month.

People have got excited that Vodafone and Telecom have said they support such a ban.  This is not quite correct. They only want non-hands free use banned. This would not actually lead to a revenue drop for them, but a revenue gain as hundreds of thousands would have to buy a hands free kit.

And research has tended to show that cellphone use is almost equally distracting, whether or not it is hands free or not.  So such a ban would be a claytons response.

The Herald says:

For the purposes of impact and clarity, there must be a ban. Education programmes go only so far.

But where is the evidence for this assertion. Has ever run an education programme on cellphone use in cars? Would a rational response to the issue not be to first run an education programme, and only if it fails, then consider a ban?

So why not have a MOT road safety advertising campaign on the dangers of cellphone use (or even on wider distractions) in cars, and how to mitigate these.  Points could be:

  • Keep calls as short as possible – the longer they are, the more risk you incur
  • Judge the conditions – avoid any phone use in sub-optimal conditions such as congested roads, bad weather etc.
  • Never ever text while moving
  • Pull over to dial someone
  • Always get a passenger to answer your phone for you, if you are not driving alone

Justification for a ban often cites many other countries  have done it. But has it had any effect? Are there stats showing a decline in accidents due to cellphone use? Or has it just resulted in thousands more tickets?

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18 Responses to “Herald on Cellphone ban while driving”

  1. Paul Brislen (14 comments) says:

    Hi DPF, I can’t think of any distraction more dangerous than people sending and receiving TXT messages while trying to drive. I’d say it’s worse than trying to read a novel – the print is smaller and it’s a screen, not a page – and that’s about the stupidest thing I saw… until someone TXTing tried to run me down that is.

    As for making money out of it, I don’t think that’s the case either. We already include a handsfree headset with every mobile we sell, free of charge.

    It’s a bit like the issue around spam – you need a three-pronged approach: technology (to make it easy for customers to do what you’re asking them); legislation (the big stick) and education (so users realise this is socially unacceptable). One piece alone won’t do it, you need all three to get it done.

    Here’s what we recommend: Ignore the mobile if you can but if you have to take that call, pull over. Where it’s not safe to do so, use a hands free kit.

    Cheers

    Paul Brislen
    Vodafone External Communications Manager

    [DPF: Thanks for posting Paul. I agree texting while driving is moronic. I also think it is illegal under current law. Spam needed legislation because of its international nature, and its unique economic incentives. Very impressed with free hands free kit - is there one for the Blackberry? :-)]

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  2. Waymad (136 comments) says:

    Like seat-belts, yet another proposal that is completely impossible to police for 50% of the time. At night….

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  3. sean14 (62 comments) says:

    Changing a CD? Eating? Noisy children? Why the narrow focus on cellphones? Hell, let’s just ban driving, that would do wonders for the road toll.

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  4. Craig Ranapia (1,915 comments) says:

    Paul Brislan:

    Well, nice to see Vodafone encouraging its clients to use their products safely. Though just a wee bit depressing that you feel the need to state the blindingly obvious.

    And not to let the evidence get in the way of an editorial rant, I understand the LTSA’s own stats place cell phones well behind radios/CD players, smoking/eating/drinking and passengers (!) as a factor in accidents caused by ‘driver distraction’. That’s without getting into the real bizarro stuff like drivers who are ‘distracted’ because they’re applying makeup, reading newspapers and magazines or having oral sex performed on them. :)

    Just to get really radical for a moment, perhaps what really needs to become “socially unacceptable’ is the mindset that a driver’s license is some kind of fundamental and inalienable human right, no matter what kind of drooling incompetent you are behind the wheel. WTF do you have to do to lose your license for good in this country? If the laws we already have can’t — or won’t — be enforced, I don’t see the point of climbing on the banned wagon.

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  5. Gooner (995 comments) says:

    Driving whilst using a cellphone is already illegal – see Careless Use of a Motor Vehicle or Inconsiderate Use of same.

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  6. Deane Jessep (73 comments) says:

    David I think you will find that the hands free kits referred to are the headphone variety, however I use both a Bluetooth headset and a Nokia Bluetooth car kit with my Blackberry and find the experience very good.

    There are two parts to cell phone use causing problems:

    1) Driver distraction – Well covered and although the NZ police crash statistics place Cell phones behind a number of other factors these statistics are not very reliable… they rely on too many report factors most of which are skewed, the police officer has to record the facts accurately (while focusing on other more important aspects like safety at the time), there needs to be evidence (requiring an investigation that does not always happen), and/or the offender needs to be honest (something we people tend to dodge when our asses are on the line).
    Studies tend to show that Cell Phones are actually the worst offender so we really should do something about them.

    2) Driving ability – When using a non hands free cell phone the driver’s ability to actually control the vehicle is significantly decreased. The device takes a very valuable hand away from the controls and during an accident it is usually dropped; further decreasing a focus on what’s going on.

    Hands free phones may not entirely deal with point one but will certainly deal with point two. Also with the increasing prevalence of wireless email and internet it is probably best we do something about the problem now rather than later.

    Waymad: I think you will find the glow of a Cell Phone it is easier to spot at night than during the day.
    Gooner: You are right but relying on those laws usually requires an accident to procure even just an indictment, better to put a fence at the top than an ambulance at the bottom.

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  7. Ben Wilson (523 comments) says:

    How ’bout this for a crazy idea. You get busted for having an accident. When it comes time to assess whose fault it was, the critical factor is ‘who disobeyed the road rules’. What they were doing at the time is scarcely of relevance.

    Personally if I have to use a cellphone I just drive way more carefully, leaving a huge gap and going slower. I think a lot of accidents are caused not by what people are doing when they drive, but how badly they drive most of the time anyway. When they compound the problem with distractions, accidents become more likely, but that is not entirely the fault of the distractions. It is the fault of poor education about how to drive safely, or indeed, why you would want to drive safely.

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  8. RRM (9,924 comments) says:

    Any activity that involves you taking your eyes off the road or your hands off the wheel is a driving hazard. I am simply amazed that people are trying to construct arguments against outlawing behaviour that is potentially hazardous to other people on the roads as well as the driver doing the phoning.

    A proposal to ban the use of hand-held cellphones while driving is not invalid merely because other similar (?) hazards have not been addressed.

    On most roads it is not hard to pull off to the side of the road if you want to make or receive a call. It is not hard to ignore your phone and let it ring, if you happen to be on the Newmarket Viaduct or in the Terrace tunnel and you can’t pull over to the side of the road.

    Ultimately, missing a phone call is a small price to pay for not crashing your car. :-)

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  9. Ben Wilson (523 comments) says:

    Any activity that involves you taking your eyes off the road or your hands off the wheel is a driving hazard.

    Like changing gears? Should manual vehicles be outlawed? Quite a few of the in-vehicle gauges require taking your eyes off the road too, like the speedometer.

    Obviously we can learn to cope with such distractions. Talking requires precious brainpower, but most of us can talk while we drive. We just look at the speedo very briefly, and coordinate our gear changes to not happen while we are cornering. Talking on a cellphone is similar – you can do it when you are driving, but you do have to do it differently.

    Txting is a different matter. It requires not only the eyes but also a hand, and the eyes can’t just dart to the phone and back – they have to fix there for a long time. To do that is mostly crazy if you are moving.

    But again I say that it is the careless inappropriate inattention to the road, not the txting, which is the problem. We already have laws which cope perfectly well with the consequences of careless inattention of all types. Why do we need a new one? It’s totally arbitrary to pick on phone use, and it punishes a lot of people who can actually drive and use a cellphone appropriately, making criminal behaviour out of something that was harmless to others and of considerable benefit to the cellphone user.

    There are a lot of times you can’t pull over, like when you’re driving on the motorway, or any road with dotted yellow lines. A lot of the time you are stuck in the car for considerable time, when commuting, without any real ability to pull over, or any greatly taxing demands on your driving skills either.

    I’m not advocating reckless use of cellphones. I’m just against more bloody laws to criminalize what isn’t a crime to compensate for the careless inattention of people who are already careless and inattentive anyway. We’d get a lot more benefit out of an information campaign telling people how to drive better, which could of course give reams of useful advice about the dangers of cellphone use in a car.

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  10. David Farrar (1,898 comments) says:

    RRM: So long as you also ban passengers, radios, food and drink in cars also, then go for it.

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  11. Spam (588 comments) says:

    DPF,

    Concentration, or two hands on the wheel?

    Having a conversation with a passenger requires less concentration than having one with someone on a cellphone, and the passenger is also normally watching the road, and will stop talking (or scream loudly) if they see a hazard coming up – the person on the cellphone will continue to prattle on.

    Radios are background noise, and can be tuned out – or do you mean changing stations? This is only a distration for a few seconds, not a few minutes.

    Food & drink? Again, its requires less concentration to eat & drink than it does to talk on a cellphone.

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  12. Ben Wilson (523 comments) says:

    Food & drink? Again, its requires less concentration to eat & drink than it does to talk on a cellphone.

    Not sure about that. Once the phone is answered, you’re just talking. Eating involves a lot of coordinated hand-eye movement. It’s easy to drop food on yourself, and if it’s hot, or you’re worried about your clothes, it’s extremely distracting. Again, there are levels of good sense. I heard of a woman who got killed somewhere in NZ who was making herself a cup of tea while driving, and was killed. But munching on a chocolate bar, or swigging a bottle of water are hardly difficult chores.

    And with food, the law still covers foolishness. If you rear end someone because you’re trying to open a chocolate bar, the law against rear ending people comes into play. It wouldn’t matter if you were watching the road scrupulously but were just traveling too close, or if you were writing a blog post on your cellphone, the crime is still the same – you were driving carelessly.

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  13. RRM (9,924 comments) says:

    DPF: Sarky. You really don’t like me, do you?

    Let us not confuse the core functions of the car with avoidable distractions.

    Changing gears is one of the essential functions of the car – and you have been assessed by the proper authorities (your driving license test) on your ability to do that competently. The gear lever is not an avoidable distraction. (Especially not of you appreciate that getting into the right gear for the next bend improves the safety of the whole thing, it does not reduce it!)

    Transporting passengers is also a core function of a car (although dyed-in-the-wool solo commuters may have forgotten this :-) ) And again, you had a passenger with you when you did your driving test so you have proved yourself competent to do it.

    Holding your phone up to your ear to talk into it (or holding it in front of you to look at it while you txt) while you are driving is not an essential function of the car. These are therefore avoidable distractions, (EASILY avoidable!) and I would have thought it would be far better to avoid them.

    You make a fairer point about the radio, but the radio does not require you to mentally hold up your end of a conversation AND at the same time physically hold something up against your ear for a prolonged period of time with one of your driving hands. And again, you probably did your license test in a car with a radio in it (?) so in a sense you have been assessed on your ability to choose appropriate (i.e. safe) times to adjust the radio.

    [Disclaimer: I am in no way connected with the Police or the LTSA; and am just a private know-it-all type who is quite interested in cars! But I also take a very responsibility-centric view of my driving. I.e: it is a privilege to be allowed to use the nation's roads, and I owe it to the other road users around me to be careful not to put them in any more danger than is absolutely necessary.]

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  14. Ben Wilson (523 comments) says:

    The gear lever is not an avoidable distraction.

    You could buy an automatic. I only use the example of the gear lever as a distraction which involves repeatedly removing a hand from the wheel and yet poses no threat that we don’t accept.

    And again, you had a passenger with you when you did your driving test so you have proved yourself competent to do it.

    I did not have a screaming child, or a backseat driving loudmouth, or someone who insists on talking about deep stuff, or a gang of yahoos when I did my test. But all of those distractions are OK because we’ve always had them and we’ve learned to live with them. We can do the same with phones.

    And again, you probably did your license test in a car with a radio in it (?) so in a sense you have been assessed on your ability to choose appropriate (i.e. safe) times to adjust the radio.

    Yeah, like “Not during a driving test”. Some radios are incredibly distracting – I have an MP3 player which requires 3 different motions to change albums, and you need to look at the display to see the album title. Admittedly that’s one of the really fucked things about it. But I’ve learned not to fiddle with it when I really need to watch the road. The exact same ability is present with respect to cellphones, I can pick the time to hold it to my ear and talk, and the times to say sorry and put it down to drive. Of course I won’t be able to do this if it’s against the law at all times.

    That vast majority will think twice before using a handheld or sending a TXT while driving for no other reason than that – it’s the law. If that reduces the incident rate by 80% that will go a long way to solving the problem.

    It will also go a long way to pissing a lot of people off unnecessarily. That’s not a totally valueless thing. It’s a huge thing, yet another intrusion of government into our lives which has not been shown to reduce the road toll at all.

    But I’m sure it will sell a lot of hands-free kits, eh Paul? :-)

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  15. thehawkreturns (162 comments) says:

    Consumer magazine point out that in the over 21000 vehicle crashes last year only 90 were related to cellphone use.

    There is NO evidence that banning them reduces their use (hands not free).

    New Zealand seems filled with poorly trained drivers, poor roads, poorly maintained vehicles and, aside from rigorous policing of speed limits, almost no policing of any road behaviour. I have never spotted the police pulling over a driver blocking the outside lane of a motorway or not signalling prior to lane changing etc etc. Weaving dangerously through traffic seems positively approved of in Auckland.

    Picking on cellphones is a. A revenue gatherer for the Socialist State and b. A revenue gatherer for makers of hands free kits
    and c. A complete distraction from picking on this appalling government.

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  16. Seán (397 comments) says:

    Re the post. Well said DPF. Agree wholeheartedly.

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