Cellphones and Crashes

July 21st, 2009 at 8:10 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The number of fatal crashes on Auckland roads has risen sharply after a two-year lull, and say cellphone use is partly to blame.

Okay. Now I am open to that observation being correct, so what are the stats:

Fifty-four people have been killed this year in the region – just one down on the toll for the whole of 2008 and seven fewer than in 2007.

So crashes are definitely up.

Crash investigators say they have anecdotal evidence that more and more motorists are talking and texting on cellphones while behind the wheel.

Why give us anecdotal evidence only? Every crash is recorded and likely factors also recorded. Surely someone can produce stats for the first six months of the year in Auckland and give us hard data.

I get suspicious when I see stories like this, with no hard data behind them.

Mr Macdonald had also noticed an increase in pedestrians killed crossing the road while talking on the phone.

So will the Police advocate talking on a phone while outdoors be an offence?

Sergeant Stu Kearns of the Waitemata serious crash unit said his staff obtained warrants to search cellphone records whenever practical.

“I think it is a good practice in crashes where serious injuries or fatalities [occur] that you get a warrant to check cellphones.”

An excellent idea. The more data we have on the cause of crashes, the better decisions based on that data will be.

Roading policing staff have also spotted motorists applying make-up, reading newspapers or maps and engaged in amorous activity while behind the wheel.

Which is why I prefer a law targeting all driver distractions.

Police Association president Greg O’Connor said a ban on hand-held phones in cars was inevitable, but would be met with reluctance.

“The problem with the public is that they want everyone else banned from using a cellphone but not them and it won’t stop them from getting upset when they’re issued with a ticket for doing it.”

Or it might be they are aware of the scientific evidence that banning hands free phones are as “dangerous” as hand held phones. I have a hands free phone so any ban won’t affect me, but I think it is a tokenistic response. One should either ban all phones, or (preferably) have a tougher law dealing with all distractions. Targeting hand held phones only is unlikely to make much of an impact in my opinion.

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26 Responses to “Cellphones and Crashes”

  1. jcuknz (704 comments) says:

    I’d ban radios too, dreadful distraction.

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  2. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    It just amazes me that Senior Police are continually wittering on about this issue when they are failing miserably in so many other areas of their job and complain that lack of human resources is one of the reasons.

    Police management is politically corrupt and ineffective.

    Fire all of them.

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  3. bearhunter (859 comments) says:

    Can the police -please explain why it is that when the road toll come sdown they take exclusive credit for it and yet when it goes up it’s because of “cellphones” or “alcohol” or “driver error”? I don’t mind them taking the credit as long as they sometimes take the blame too.

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  4. Sonny Blount (1,845 comments) says:

    CD players should also be banned. Changing CDs whilst driving can cause crashes.

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  5. Sonny Blount (1,845 comments) says:

    Drink holders should be banned. Eating and drinking whilst driving is the most dangerous distraction iirc.

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  6. Sonny Blount (1,845 comments) says:

    Cyclists wearing walkmans should be banned. They can’t hear your brakes screeching.

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  7. jcuknz (704 comments) says:

    Oh for the Model T … you had to concentrate on driving them.

    Sonny … nor student pedestrians crossing the road either.

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  8. Camryn (550 comments) says:

    I wrote off my first car (a poor innocent 1974 Mini) by changing a tape while going too fast around an unfamiliar corner just after a summer rain shower. Sometimes it’s the combination of risk factors / mistakes that make the difference. NB. No-one was hurt, including myself. Very lucky.

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  9. Grant Michael McKenna (1,156 comments) says:

    Once again you demand facts. The people don’t want facts! They want action! Action now, without regard to the consequences! Ban everything! Now!

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  10. Brian Smaller (3,992 comments) says:

    Cyclists wearing walkmans should be banned. They can’t hear your brakes screeching.

    Sonny – I agree. I cycle all the time and see people cycling along blissfully unaware of the havoc roaring up behind them. Stupid.

    If cell phones are banned, will RT units be banned as well. Or will cops get an exemption?

    What is the worst (or best) distraction you have ever had while driving? Worst for me was a wasp roaring through the open window and getting behind my glasses while I was driving between taupo and Rotorua. I nearly veered off the road at 100kph. Best was this woman I knew…

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  11. peterwn (3,163 comments) says:

    A distinction needs to be made between texting, dialling and talking. A driver should not be texting – full stop. Same with dialling unless one touch speed dial. Banning use of RT systems like Teamtalk would seem excessively burdensome for utility and emergency services. With RT’s eliminating the hand held mike to a complete ‘hands free’ operation woud be the way to go.

    Laptops could be similary distracting although IMO a simple display for ‘dispatching’ messages like in taxis would be OK.

    Interestingly road train drivers allegedly read books when driving between Port Augusta and Darwin (a bit like driving Canada to Mexico) – now that is scary.

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  12. Chris2 (757 comments) says:

    There is already enough overseas research confirming the danger of hand-held cellphone use whilst driving – that’s all the “hard data” that is required, we don’t need any NZ research to confirm what has already been proven, before implementing a law change.

    [DPF: But the overseas research says hands free phones are just as dangerous so why not ban them also. The law should be consistent]

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  13. Chris2 (757 comments) says:

    DPF – you are quite correct. The research says that it is the distraction of using the phone that is the problem, not whether it is being held in your hand, or in a carkit cradle.

    Overseas jurisdictions have mostly opted to ban hand-held phones, and not hands-free carkits, probably because it is easier to police – you can see a driver holding a phone up to their ear, whereas it would be quite difficult to know if a person with a carkit installed was talking on the phone or singing along to their car radio.

    At least with a carkit, the driver does have both hands free to operate their car. I am sure we have all seen drivers holding a phone to their ear whilst trying to steer a corner with just one hand on the wheel, or failing to indicate a turn because they don’t have a hand free to operate the indicators.

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  14. Alan Wilkinson (1,816 comments) says:

    It’s not enough even to show that more crashes are occuring while the driver is using a cellphone.

    You have to show that cellphone users have more crashes than non-cellphone users which means measuring how often drivers are using cellphones and whether those who use cellphones are more likely to have crashes whether or not they use cellphones. The cops are nowhere near having or analysing the data to the required level.

    But totally crap statistics are what cops, media and politicians do best.

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  15. Chris2 (757 comments) says:

    Alan Wilkinson – there is no reason to believe that NZ research will produce statistics any different from the research already undertaken overseas, indeed the overseas research will have been compiled from a larger driving population so the results are possibly even more accurate than anything we could produce from our statistically small driving population.

    The following US site has some interesting figures on the contribution of cell phone use (hand held and hands-free) to road accidents:
    http://www.edgarsnyder.com/auto-accident/auto/cell/statistics.html

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  16. Sector 7g (236 comments) says:

    Research has shown that in 100% of vehicle accidents causing injury or death, one of the vehicles has been travelling faster than 0kph.

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  17. Alan Wilkinson (1,816 comments) says:

    Chris2 – there is no reason to believe there will be any meaningful NZ research. There is no-one in our bureaucracy competent to do it.

    Strangely enough I know a good deal about the statistics cited in your link and wrote this page some time ago:
    http://fastandsafe.org.nz/Pages/Facts/CellPhones/

    Overseas statistics show that those who are anyway careless drivers are most adversely affected when using cellphones. So are women as a group.

    Bottom line is that any new technology is a tool that can be used well or badly. Risk in life must be managed. Those who manage risk well have completely different outcomes from those who don’t. The notion that all drivers have the same risk profile is demonstrably totally false.

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  18. Kris K (3,570 comments) says:

    Alan Wilkinson 11:35 am,
    “It’s not enough even to show that more crashes are occuring while the driver is using a cellphone.
    You have to show that cellphone users have more crashes than non-cellphone users which means measuring how often drivers are using cellphones and whether those who use cellphones are more likely to have crashes whether or not they use cellphones. The cops are nowhere near having or analysing the data to the required level.
    But totally crap statistics are what cops, media and politicians do best.”

    Does one really need stats. to understand that hand-held cell phones result in increased driver inattention? As others have suggested, one only needs to drive behind someone while they’re on a cell phone to see the obvious drop in driving standard. Heck, I’ve followed someone who was driving fine until they got a call, and then watched their driving standard drop to that of someone who just got their license last week.

    Isn’t this just a common sense issue? Do we really need stats on ‘everything’ before we acknowledge what is otherwise obvious?

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  19. Chris2 (757 comments) says:

    Alan Wilkinson – thanks, your points are very valid, I agree completely that those who know how to manage risk are certainly more likely to have a better outcome.

    A reason for banning hand-held cellphone use whilst driving is really to manage the risk for those who are incapable of doing so for themselves (and consequently putting lives at risk) – many laws are introduced on this basis.

    The statistics on your website are now very dated (7-15 years old) and the uptake of cellphone ownership is much higher now then when the most recent statistics (2002) were compiled. Phones are much cheaper now too, so they are in the hands of morons who previously could only afford a car, OR a cellphone, but not both. Now they can afford both – but not the carkit.

    Also, the collected data will be a combination of witnesses having seen the driver using his cellphone before an accident, and self-reporting by the driver. Because of the increasing awareness of the dangers of using a cellphone while driving it could be reasonable to expect that some drivers will conceal or deny they were using their phone when they had an accident. So it’s entirely possible more accidents are caused by cellphone driving than are reported, more especially if the Police do not attend because it is a non-injury accident.

    I wonder if there will be any figures coming through soon regarding accidents caused by people fiddling with their in-car GPS whilst driving?

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  20. Alan Wilkinson (1,816 comments) says:

    Chris2: “A reason for banning hand-held cellphone use whilst driving is really to manage the risk for those who are incapable of doing so for themselves (and consequently putting lives at risk) – many laws are introduced on this basis.”

    Correct, and these are bad laws. They almost always have no effect on those they claim to manage but impact everyone else who didn’t need them.

    Kris K: “Do we really need stats on ‘everything’ before we acknowledge what is otherwise obvious?”

    Yes, because we have to balance costs against benefits.

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  21. Kris K (3,570 comments) says:

    Alan Wilkinson 2:35 pm,
    “Kris K: ‘Do we really need stats on ‘everything’ before we acknowledge what is otherwise obvious?’
    Yes, because we have to balance costs against benefits.”

    Alan, can I share some ‘stats’ with you about how many squares of paper I use to wipe my arse after a good crap?
    Do a cost/benefit analysis on that!

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  22. Alan Wilkinson (1,816 comments) says:

    Kris K, does the taxpayer pay for it?

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  23. Kris K (3,570 comments) says:

    Alan,

    I’m working on it!

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  24. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    “Research has shown that in 100% of vehicle accidents causing injury or death, one of the vehicles has been travelling faster than 0kph.”

    Jeez, there’s the obvious solution. Make the speed limit everywhere zero kph. We won’t have any means to travel anywhere, but we’ll be damn safe.

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  25. kaya (1,360 comments) says:

    Another piece of legislation ffs! Can’t the existing legislation around dangerous driving be applied when appropriate?

    I suppose the bureaunazis in Wellington need to keep the paper factory pumping, especially now that they have been told to pull their fingers out of their arses or go for a skate.

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  26. Zarchoff (100 comments) says:

    Interesting article on this in the SST today (26/7/09). An “expert” reckons that hands-free devices are just as bad because it is the distraction caused by the phone conversation, not holding the phone, that is dangerous. So that means it is the conversation that is the real distraction. So, should we ban talking to the driver (or the driver speaking to the passengers) in cars. That’ll be fun for the police to enforce.

    Does anyone have any quantitative evidence of the actual fatalities caused by cell phones use in cars?

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