Espiner on cars and cellphones

July 27th, 2009 at 4:54 pm by David Farrar

A very good blog by Colin Espiner:

Why is banning handheld cellphones in cars?

I remember his predecessor, transport safety minister Harry Duynhoven, agonising over this one. First he was for the idea, then he wasn’t, then he was again. In the end he never got around to it.

Joyce has picked this one up, however, and appears ready to push it through into law. The only debate seems to be over the size of the penalty. A $50 fine or $100? Demerit points as well? That could lead to loss of licence.

And the question I have is whether the banning of handheld cellphones in car has ever been proven to reduce the number of crashes? Does it actually lead to less use of cellphones or does it just criminalise hundreds of thousands of people and results in lots of fines? Or does everyone just swap to hands free cellphones which are reputed to be as distracting?

I hope the Government has some good research to back up their decision. I remain far from convinced.

But the fact remains that handheld phones are no more dangerous than talking on a hands-free. And, according to the research, less dangerous than turning to talk to passengers in the back seat, fiddling with the stereo, or eating in the car – all of which cause more accidents.

Surely some common sense is required here. You don’t (or at least you shouldn’t) reach for a cup of coffee while overtaking on the open road. You don’t turn to yell at the kids while turning at an intersection. And you wouldn’t pick up the phone while completing a bit of tricky driving or trying to park.

On the other hand, on a straight piece of road with little traffic or while chugging along in rush hour, it might be safe to make a quick call. It’s all a matter of judgment, which is surely what driving – and many other things – is all about.

Exactly. Even with a hands free phone I will often stop talking to someone while reversing. Or if the weather is really bad. Or the traffic difficult. But sometimes it is quite safe to talk on the phone. Encourage safer use of phones rather than try to ban handheld phones.

My fear is that by banning handheld cellphones the Government is treating the public like idiots who can’t be trusted to know when it is reasonable to use one. Speed limits and alcohol bans are one thing. Handheld phones are quite another.

If you are pissed, you are pissed for the entire trip. Most people only use the phone for a few minutes on a trip, and do judge when it is safe to do so. For example a quick call at the lights to say you are running late. That will now be illegal if done on a hand held.

I guess National must have polled on this issue, and maybe there isn’t much public outrage. Certainly I think most agree that texting while driving is pretty silly. But I would have thought Joyce would have bigger issues to deal with in his portfolio than banning something for marginal, and probably debatable, safety gains.

Given National was once lukewarm on this idea, I can only conclude a bit of official capture has gone on here, a bit like Kate Wilkinson over the folic acid in bread debate.

In the wake of any skillful public relations campaign, however, I guess it will be pushed through. I wonder, though, whether public resentment might start building once the fines start rolling in.

Public polls have (sadly) shown strong support for such a measure. But I think the Government should be careful here. No-one will vote for a party because they banned handheld cellphones in cars . But if tens of thousands of NZers get fined for receiving a phone call, let alone lose their license then they could well vote against the party that did it.

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52 Responses to “Espiner on cars and cellphones”

  1. hubris (213 comments) says:

    Morons who read and send SMS messages whilst driving might be the target? Eyes off the road, swerving everywhere, etc.

    Currently the feds can do you for driving without due care anyway, which can cover using a phone. But I think you have to be weaving some before it’s worth their while.

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  2. Adolf Fiinkensein (2,834 comments) says:

    I reported a dickhead texting while driving and the *555 operator said “Sorry mate we can’t touch them until the law is changed.”

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  3. hubris (213 comments) says:

    # Adolf Fiinkensein (1012) Vote: Add rating 0 Subtract rating 0 Says:
    July 27th, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    I reported a dickhead texting while driving and the *555 operator said “Sorry mate we can’t touch them until the law is changed.”

    Yeah I think the feds actually need to be nearly knocked off the road by the swerving car before they can act at the moment. Not much bloody use really.

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  4. Winston (43 comments) says:

    I’m all in favour of a ban, although possibly a more generic offence, along the lines of the Chasers’ “being a wanker”, would we preferable. Also, could we ban people who TALK VERY LOUDLY ON THEIR PHONE IN PUBLIC PLACES to show the rest of us HOW IMPORTANT THEY ARE. Also people who constantly text when they are supposed to be talking to you. Thank you.

    While I’m here, Dave Barry has pointed out that the following is not funny:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31853449/?GT1=43001

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  5. brucehoult (195 comments) says:

    I’m at a loss to see how TXTing is more distracting than dialling a number. It’s far easier to stop TXTing and put it down for a minute or two when something needing your full attention comes up than it is to stop talking to someone on a call.

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  6. hubris (213 comments) says:

    …as long as you see it coming up.

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  7. Jeff83 (771 comments) says:

    I talk on my phone currently in the car, if it was illegal I definitely think I would think twice about doing so. Further I wouldnt get a handsfree kit because I cant justify the money. So I would be one less person yabbering on the phone.

    To be frank I think it effects some people more than others, some you see talking on the phone and driving quite irratically, some are likely fine.

    Re your argument about banning all distractions you have to get to a level where it is realistic. Noone is going to want people to ban music in cars, and whilst it is linked to distractions I wonder if anyone has done studies whether it helps tired drivers concentrate, a random thought. But anyway people are not going to put up with driving without sound, people are more likely to do so re no cell phones.

    Re food – think you could potentially educate people more, but again the whole nanny state thing sort of screams at you. Phones just seem easier, there is public support, it will theoritically save some lives, so cant see it as the coming of the apocolipse if it is passed. Have more of an issue with the banning of party pills, which killed noone and potentially only harmed the users, than this. I imagine you would see both as stupid, and well likely right, I just dont see it as a major inconvience, I could be wrong.

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  8. Alan Wilkinson (1,850 comments) says:

    Anything that takes your eyes off the road for more than a moment is dangerous driving. I don’t see how you can read a text without doing that so I am relaxed about banning texting.

    But banning handheld voice is just stupid. It will result in tens of thousands of fines and have no impact on the road toll as has already been experienced in the UK since 2003.

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  9. Adolf Fiinkensein (2,834 comments) says:

    Jeff83, I understand that it is relatively inexpensive these days to set them up. My hands free kit cost about $350 some five years ago.

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  10. ben (2,414 comments) says:

    No-one will vote for a party because they banned handheld cellphones in cars . But if tens of thousands of NZers get fined for receiving a phone call, let alone lose their license then they could well vote against the party that did it.

    And who exactly are we going to vote for instead? Show me the party in government that has even a modicum of respect for individual liberty and freedom.

    [DPF: We may not change our votes. Joe average swinging vote might]

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  11. Durandal (5 comments) says:

    As a road safety researcher I do have to agree that this ban is pretty much pointless, especially because it doesn’t included handsfree phones. The research (even research carried out within NZ) is pretty clear that handsfree is just as bad as hands held. Although those of you with stock in handsfree kit retailers/makers will be happy to hear that the research is also clear that this kind of band (on just hands held phones) does lead to large profits for these folks.

    Overall though a proper ban on cellphones, including handsfree that is, is a bit unworkable simply because it is nearly completely unenforceable. I mean how does the police officer tell if the person is just singing along with their stereo or talking on handsfree? Certainly reports from other areas who have put proper bans in play have been exactly that, the police just feel its too hard to enforce.

    So why is it going ahead? Because as you say (and as Joyce openly admitted in a Stuff article the other day) its popular. That’s it. Joyce in that article even admits that the research shows handsfree are just as bad, but says that people won’t support that ban. So much for evidence driven policy huh?

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  12. kaya (1,360 comments) says:

    Texting is nuts and should be banned. Other than that, if an accident can be attributed to stupid behaviour, make the penalty commensurate with the stupidity.

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  13. Jeff83 (771 comments) says:

    “Jeff83, I understand that it is relatively inexpensive these days to set them up. My hands free kit cost about $350 some five years ago.”

    Well that might change things. That was my understanding as well (being in that price range) apart from these horrible makeshift devices which one could get.

    [DPF: Do what I did - get a bluetooth stereo. It automatically functions as a handsfree phone also]

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  14. Viking2 (11,283 comments) says:

    Surely the point is that you are in charge of a lethal weapon that relies on your attention for its direction and motion. Anything that distracts that attention should be removed. Now many of you think you are clever and all that but wait till the one time your life or the life of someone else depends on your attention and hope like hell you are not on the phone.
    Actually what makes phone use and awareness so difficult is the they both use the same processing terminals in the brain. So there is a conflict of attention, in other words attention deficit disorder. And most of us know what that brings.

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  15. hubris (213 comments) says:

    Durandal(1) Vote: Add rating 0 Subtract rating 0 Says:
    July 27th, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    As a road safety researcher I do have to agree that this ban is pretty much pointless,

    Does the research split the figures into SMSing versus voice, or is it simply based on phone use – hands-on and hands-free?

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  16. Lucia Maria (2,239 comments) says:

    We vote out one government that acts too much like nanny, and we get another one. And in this case, the public apparently likes it! What does that say about New Zealanders?

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  17. Shunda barunda (2,972 comments) says:

    By this logic they should ban car stereo’s as well.
    :roll:

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  18. Michaels (1,318 comments) says:

    I was parked at a red light a few weeks back, the light went green and the 2 cars in front of me drove off and I followed.
    A van from the left came straight through a red light and although I braked heavily and pulled up the hand brake, the van swiped the front of my wagon. $2800 damage.
    Why did this van come through a red light at about 80km?? Because the driver and the passenger were talking and never saw the red light.
    So ban passengers. But more so, ban texting while driving, that’s just damn dangerous.

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  19. Chris G (106 comments) says:

    lucia it says they’re a hell of a lot more sensible than you lot. Its quite obvious that texting and driving is fuckin dangerous – admittedly I’m liable to do it though – har har har. But honestly, I’d love to hear the knee-jerk reactions of someone who gets swiped or has a near miss with a texter-driverer.

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  20. Rex Widerstrom (5,330 comments) says:

    But if tens of thousands of NZers get fined for receiving a phone call, let alone lose their license then they could well vote against the party that did it.

    *sigh* If only that were true. But the Australian experience (where it’s illegal in most, if not all, States and Territories) suggests otherwise. On one of the first occasions I drove on an Australian road I was pulled over and hit with a $150 fine and demerit points for talking on a cellphone. Pointing out that there were no signs or other warnings against this anywhere, and thus it was entirely inadvertent lawbreaking on my part, elicited nothing but a smirk and “Welcome to Australia”.

    The penalties have just been increased, and there’s talk of increasing them again. IIRC the media were saying some 70,000 people cop a fine for it in WA alone. But do they rise up against the morons who imposed this nanny statism? No, because:

    - Both major parties love gouging money from productive people (and it’s inevitably productive people who need to be on the phone in their car) so it’s now the policy of both.

    - There will always be a vocal minority (backed by half-assed “experts”) who think that just because they need to be told to put their pants on one leg at a time, the rest of us do too. Thus any attempt to suggest that maybe we don’t need coppers fining us for doing anything other than looking straight ahead and driving at 40 km/h is met with a barrage of emotive “you want us all to die!!!” claptrap, meaning most people don’t bother.

    - The Police are extremely astute PR operators. One of the first things they did when given yet another new power with which to harrass us was to fine the former Minister of Transport – who’d introduced the offence – for merely shifting her cellphone from the centre console to the passenger seat. Then they called the media. The ex-Minister was, of course, sheepishly made to admit that it was a “fair cop” when it was nothing of the sort. But now they had carte blanche to ticket anyone who so much as touched a phone while driving, let alone took their eyes off the road to text using it.

    So once it’s in place, DPF, the only thing you’re going to get is regularly increased penalties because “people aren’t listening”. Bit like speeding and the road toll, really.

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  21. Gooner (995 comments) says:

    I don’t care about the evidence that it causes crashes. I want to see the evidence that says prohibiting it will reduce crashes. This country is full of *ban* politicians. Lucia Maria is right, as is Rex W. The only pleasure I get from all this is that I never voted for this lot.

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  22. MT_Tinman (3,055 comments) says:

    “But Officer I wasn’t txting, I was looking up a ‘phone number.”

    I must admit to disappointment over many of the comments so far, particularly those of DPF and the quoted Espiner.

    I certainly hope that the current government does not do what the last lot became known for and just pass legislation that it sees will get it re-elected.

    Most, if not all cellphones have a setting allowing hands-free use and the blue-tooth ear-piece I use cost approx $100 so cost of hands free is negligble and no argument that people can’t afford to use hand-free holds water.

    The other point I make is that cellphone conversations are not always very short and even those that are not long can (and often do) extend over several innercity intersections (except in Auckland of course) and many traffic situations.

    I’m not a big fan of banning anything but in this case my skin is at stake …… Ban the buggers!

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  23. Alan Wilkinson (1,850 comments) says:

    There is simply no evidence that benefits outweigh costs:

    http://www.civil.utah.edu/~zhou/cell_phone_and_distracted_driver.pdf

    The same recent literature survey concludes overwhelming evidence that legislating bans has very poor results for road safety, though doubtless excellent results for makers of hands-free kits and fine collectors.

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  24. peterwn (3,215 comments) says:

    This begs a wider issue to which the Leader needs to pay close attention. It is one thing strong minded Ministers getting their ideas put into effect but quite another to ensure they are not pissing off their electoral base. Allowing central and local bureaucracies to take an excessively punitive attitude towards the people is one sure way to piss off electors. New Zealand should be run to suit the people, not the bureaucrat. IMO Messers Bolger and Birch & co succeeded in brassing off the electorate so much that this contributed to Labour having three terms whereas all things equal, National should have been able to ‘burn off’ Labour after one term.

    I have previously mentioned the punitive penalty regime that IRD proposed and Bill Birch supported, which Mike Cullen subsequently had to ease back. Or Maurice Williamson’s road privatisation proposal – which in effect amounted to a land-grab of the street outside your house – with some outfit imposing high chsrges for the pipes and cables serving your property.

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  25. Durandal (5 comments) says:

    @ hubris

    Yeah most of the research looks mainly at the difference between handheld/handsfree (and also sometimes passenger/passive listening). I have seen a couple that look at txting, which combines the major problem of “mind off the road” with occasionally “eyes off the road” (although in many cases people can txt by feel). Mostly they find that, unsurprisingly, its not that great to txt and drive.

    Interestingly the thing about talking to a passenger is that there is some evidence that it is better because passengers are more reactive, in that they can also see what is going on on the road too.. so are forgiving of pauses and such. Whereas someone on the other end of a cellphone can’t tell what kind of situation you are dealing with so won’t pause/hold off talking when you get in situations where the road demands more attention.

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  26. kiki (425 comments) says:

    Stupid law, officer this is an itouch ipod it’s not a phone or it is an iphone but I was changing the music.

    Why do we vote in people who only want to ban?

    and on the subject of stupid and what those in power think of us, why won’t they get rid of the stupid give way to those turning right rule! What a pleasure it is to drive in other countries where you don’t have to worry about what the driver on the other-side of the road is thinking. Just turn.

    This rule causes something between 1500 to 2500 crashes a year and the reason given for not changing back is we drivers would get confused.

    This is not about our safety it’s about the police growing their work base so they can justify more money and yet more power.

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  27. Haiku Dave (273 comments) says:

    “If you are pissed, you are pissed for the entire trip.”

    that’s not true, i’ve been
    driving home and have sobered
    up during the trip

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  28. Glutaemus Maximus (2,207 comments) says:

    Phone use in cars is evidentially a problem.

    Even worse when they are used in very heavy trucks.

    Speech or txting is very distracting. Txting even more so.

    I support any move to stop needless accidents, that result in any injury or even death.

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  29. Pascal (2,015 comments) says:

    There are too many idiots who do not have the discretion to decide when it is safe to use a phone while driving. The number of times I’m driving behind somebody who fails to indicate, weaves across the road like a drunken person even past police cars without being stopped is ludicrous. And from the slightly more elevated position on a motorcycle you can SEE the bastards are busy trying to write a text message, while turning and driving. Or doing a 100km/h + down the motorway, eyes on the phone only glancing up from time to time to see what they’re about to run into.

    No fucking thank you. I don’t want to be roadkill because somebody is writing the literary equivalent of a vomit of consonants to their m8 thr 2 c sn. Fuck that.

    These people are too dumb to make intelligent decisions. For my safety, I’d prefer it if they were not allowed to use the phone, handsfree or otherwise, unless they are pulled over. No eating. No turning around. No fucking around in the car.

    When you are driving you should be concentrating on your driving. Anything else and you’re not giving 100% attention to the task that is most likely to kill yourself and other people.

    I wonder if anyone has done studies whether it helps tired drivers concentrate

    Or, you know, they could do the intelligent thing and pull over and rest. Rather than risking the lives of other motorists by just turning up the radio.

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  30. expat (4,048 comments) says:

    Heres WHY cell phone use in cars should be restricted to hands free kits only:

    >>>>>
    brucehoult (74) Vote: 4 0 Says:
    July 27th, 2009 at 5:20 pm

    I’m at a loss to see how TXTing is more distracting than dialling a number. It’s far easier to stop TXTing and put it down for a minute or two when something needing your full attention comes up than it is to stop talking to someone on a call.
    >>>>>

    I’m sorry, but if you see no problem with txting while driving then you need to hand over your drivers license and vehicle keys to the nearest person with a clue.

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  31. Banana Llama (1,105 comments) says:

    So when will we get a precrime unit?

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  32. Brian Smaller (4,028 comments) says:

    I reported a dickhead texting while driving and the *555 operator said “Sorry mate we can’t touch them until the law is changed.”

    I reported someone for following too closely using the *555 service. The operator at the Police comunications centre rang be back when we lost connection – it was on the Desert Road. Apparently sometimes it is OK to use a cell phone while driving. I bet that service will drop away if people have to stop to report an incident. Will they do it if they are on a motorway where there is no stopping allowed? Doubt it.

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  33. expat (4,048 comments) says:

    Banana, tightening up dangerous behaviour while steering a near flying piece of steel moving at terminal velocity sideways isn’t an orwellian intrusion in civil rights.

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  34. Brian Smaller (4,028 comments) says:

    So what does “using” a cell phone mean? Will just holding a cellphone in your hand be an offence?

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  35. Banana Llama (1,105 comments) says:

    So everyone who uses a cellphone while driving will cause what you describe?

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  36. expat (4,048 comments) says:

    by definition driving a car is steering a near flying piece of steel moving at terminal velocity sideways, so yes.

    actually, why don’t we allow people to carry guns in shopping malls since no-one will use them inappropriately.

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  37. Banana Llama (1,105 comments) says:

    Sure why not, we could drop a vehicle out the back of C-130 fall sideways at terminal velocity while talking on our cellphone and providing we survive the impact, get out and head to the shopping mall with our firearm of choice ( might i suggest a home made one without barrel rifling, much easier to replace ) and go buy a coke.

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  38. expat (4,048 comments) says:

    you’d think that the way some people get a hard-on about cell phone use that life would end if you couldnt make a ph call (or text at 100kmph in the rain at night) for a few minutes until you pulled over or stopped. Or, gasp! you could let the message go to voice mail and, shock! call the other party back!

    radical thinking I now but baby steps huh.

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  39. getstaffed (9,189 comments) says:

    I’m unsure of the science of any danger posed by cellphone use while driving.

    What I am sure of, from personal experience as a regular cyclist, is that a disporportionate number of ‘near hits’ on me are from drivers looking longingly at their cellphones… most probably txt’ing. And not to be outdone, I’ve also seen a couple of cyclists using their phones while in the saddle. Idots.

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  40. Chris2 (768 comments) says:

    DPF (and Espiner) – you guys just don’t get it do you?

    Driving a car is a life-threatening task that requires full-time concentration. That’s means minimising actions irrelevant to driving, whether it be eating, drinking, etc, etc. I don’t give a rats if you want to eat, drink and talk on your cellphone just so long as you do it on your own private road. But the moment you use the public roads your extraordinary selfishness puts the life and property of all other road users and pedestrians at risks.

    I detect an undeclared conflict of interest here – as journalists why don’t you admit that you use your cellphones all day as part of your job, and much of that use is whilst you are in charge of motorcar. Can’t you at least be honest about the reason for your crusade on this topic.

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  41. Alan Wilkinson (1,850 comments) says:

    Chris2, why can’t you be honest that nowhere this law has been introduced has it made a detectable difference to the road toll? So all your self-righteous indignation is in support of nothing.

    Yes, using cellphones in cars has a huge economic benefit to the country. Exactly how big no-one knows, just as we don’t know how big the cost is. The only thing we do know is that passing this law will make no detectable difference to the cost apart from that of enforcement and pointless purchases of handsfree kits.

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  42. Chris2 (768 comments) says:

    Alan Wilkinson – why does your argument only ever mention cellphone-attributed motor deaths in this debate – as if it is the only cost?

    Why don’t you show the same enthusiasm for establishing how many millions of dollars of non-injury damage is caused by drivers using cellphones? Or indeed how many non-fatal injuries are caused by cellphone-induced driving?

    You have adopted a simplistic approach to this discussion in choosing to concentrate only on the death statistics, and not the wider costs to society – ACC costs for non-death injury, repairs to cars and property, lost productivity due to cars being with panel beaters, increased insurance premiums, increased ACC premiums, etc.

    There is more to this subject than simply the number of lives lost or saved.

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  43. Pascal (2,015 comments) says:

    I quite simply do not care about the cost or the econmic benefit. I am interested in staying alive on the road and there is a number of other motorists who do not have the ability to multi-task well enough to drive safely. They are endangering my life. Period.

    No cellphones. No hands-free kits. If the call is that important, pull over, stop and make the call.

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  44. Alan Wilkinson (1,850 comments) says:

    Chris2, you are wrong. The studies have tried to look at all of the associated costs as well as the benefits so as to compare them but no conclusions are able to be drawn. What is certain from numerous precedents, is that no detectable benefit will result from this law.

    Pascal, the focus should be on having them drive safely, whether using a cellphone or not. If you are going to be killed on the road, the likelihood is overwhelmingly that it will be by someone who is NOT talking on a cellphone.

    However, I agree that texting should be banned. IMO it should already be illegal simply as clearly dangerous driving.

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  45. Chris2 (768 comments) says:

    Alan Wilkinson – how about I do a “Paula Bennett” on you, and release information from your own quoted studies above, that you failed to disclose. Such as:

    “if the collection of this data is a requirement for every state, it would likely still be inaccurate because of the public’s reluctance to report cell phone use to police. Because the risks of using cell phones while driving are becoming commonly known and more states are adopting laws to outlaw the use of cell phones while driving, the likelihood that an offender admit to using a cell phone to a police officer becomes less. In addition, a police officer’s reasonable investigation time does not allow for a comprehensive investigation of every crash to include determining the use of cell phones. This is more likely to be reserved for very serious crashes where serious injury and or loss of life were present.” …. and …

    “In 2001, New York became the first state to adopt a law that bans the use of hand-held cell phone devices by all drivers. Prior to the law, the rate of drivers using cell phones was observed at 2.3 percent. Immediately after to several months after the enactment of the law, the observed cell phone use dropped by approximately 50 percent to 1.1 percent. By March of 2003, the rate of cell phone use had risen back up to 2.1 percent which almost matches that of the pre-ban rate. Between December of 2001 and January of 2003, only about two percent of the traffic citations issued in New York were for
    cell phone use even though a survey conducted by NHTSA of New York drivers showed that 30 percent admitted to still using their phones while driving. A possibility for the decline in effectiveness is the decline in media attention and enforcement since its inception” …and…

    “Experimental and behavioral studies have drawn an unambiguous conclusion that cell phone use by drivers results in a cognitive distraction leading to an increased risk of collision. Studies have also been able to quantify this risk as at least as dangerous as driving while impaired by alcohol at the legal limit of .08 mg/ml. Epidemiological examination of actual crash data compared against cell phone records provides confirmation that driving while using a cell phone increases the risk of collision. In the epidemiological studies reviewed in this paper, the increased risk of collision when using a cell phone while driving was found to be between 1.3 and 5.59 times greater than non-users. Real-world data, although scarce, has also confirmed that cell phone use while driving is the single largest driver distraction leading to collisions”

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  46. hubris (213 comments) says:

    Ooh, a study on txting vs voice:

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10587268

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  47. Pascal (2,015 comments) says:

    Yesterday afternoon on the way home there was a young man driving a mid eighties Toyota. I’d guess his age to be around 24 or so. At the Dominion Road / Mt Albert road intersection, he was driving at a speed of approximately 15km/h while traffic was queued up behind him before the lane splits into two. Because of his slowness, the majority of the queue failed to make it across the lights in what would have been a normal time frame.

    When he stopped he was about 7 meters from the lights. I filtered through on the motorcycle and had a look in his window. He was busy writing a text message.

    From there until the Owairaka Road turnoff he kept on texting. His speed varied between the 15km/h when he was looking at his mobile phone and writing a message and a speed somewhere above 50km/h. He was catching up to other traffic traveling at the speed limit, which indicates he was speeding.

    The way he was weaving across the road and driving unpredictably is a clear danger to other motorists.

    At the same intersection between Dominion and Mt Albert a woman was turning onto Dominion Road. She was talking on her mobile phone and, because of the phone clenched between ear and shoulder, she was unable to navigate the corner successfully. She could not turn the vehicle into the lane it was supposed to go into, but cut across two and came dangerously close to hitting a vehicle waiting to turn. Fortunately she managed to correct her driving and kept going, chattering away on the mobile phone.

    These people are distracted. They are concentrating on their phones, not on the road. They are a danger to other motorists, because their actions become unpredictable. While they are not busy concentrating on traffic, their speed drops. Then rises again as they notice the slowness. Sometimes above the speed limit as they attempt to “catch up”.

    This makes them unpredictable. You, as another road user, cannot judge what they are going to do. You have no frame of reference unless you look at a drunk driver.

    This is too dangerous.

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  48. Alan Wilkinson (1,850 comments) says:

    Pascal, I agree. Texting or taking your eyes off the road for any other reason more than momentarily should be illegal, and probably already is under careless driving prohibitions.

    Chris2, I fail to see how any of that contradicts anything I have said. The studies both scientific and economic have given such wildly varying estimates of risks, costs and benefits that nothing can reasonably be concluded. However, as the New York study concluded, within a short time cellphone use had returned to pre-ban levels as I documented here several years ago:

    http://fastandsafe.org.nz/Pages/Facts/CellPhones/

    And as I have repeatedly pointed out and is the conclusion of the report you are quoting, there is no evidence any ban has had a significant effect anywhere.

    The simple reason for focusing on fatalities is that these are unambiguously quantifiable. However the economic studies do not ignore other injuries and property damage.

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  49. Pascal (2,015 comments) says:

    “Experimental and behavioral studies have drawn an unambiguous conclusion that cell phone use by drivers results in a cognitive distraction leading to an increased risk of collision. Studies have also been able to quantify this risk as at least as dangerous as driving while impaired by alcohol at the legal limit of .08 mg/ml. Epidemiological examination of actual crash data compared against cell phone records provides confirmation that driving while using a cell phone increases the risk of collision. In the epidemiological studies reviewed in this paper, the increased risk of collision when using a cell phone while driving was found to be between 1.3 and 5.59 times greater than non-users. Real-world data, although scarce, has also confirmed that cell phone use while driving is the single largest driver distraction leading to collisions

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  50. Alan Wilkinson (1,850 comments) says:

    Pascal, the study you quote puts it differently:

    • The most common distraction for drivers is the use of cell phones. However, the number of crashes and near-crashes attributable to dialing is nearly identical to the number associated with talking or listening. Dialing is more dangerous but occurs less often than talking or listening.
    • Reaching for a moving object increased the risk of a crash or near-crash by 9 times; looking at an external object by 3.7 times; reading by 3 times; applying makeup by 3 times; dialing a hand-held device (typically a cell phone) by almost 3 times; and talking or listening on a hand-held device by 1.3 times.

    Cell phone use is only the most common because it is the most frequent. Talking on the phone has the least adverse impact on risk of the distractions named.

    Studies on cognitive impact fail to take into account real-world risk-minimisation strategies sensible drivers adopt. The risk of a crash on a safe piece of road is so close to zero that a 30% increase (even if it applied rather being a statistical artifact) is meaningless. Whereas high risk areas like intersections are where almost all crashes occur. Suspending phone use in those places removes the additional risk factor.

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  51. Pascal (2,015 comments) says:

    And greatly increases the costs and difficulties of enforcement for a negligible gain. I guess because I’m not glued to a phone all day I do not understand why people are so attached to using them in their cars. And I guess I don’t understand why people would argue FOR a distraction that, as you say, is the most frequently used object leading to a crash or a near crash.

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  52. Alan Wilkinson (1,850 comments) says:

    “I don’t understand why people would argue FOR a distraction that, as you say, is the most frequently used object leading to a crash or a near crash.”

    You don’t seem to understand the difference between frequency and risk. If everyone used a cellphone all the time then every crash would show cellphone use as a factor. To determine risk you have to see if the number of crashes are disproportionate to the frequency of use. Hence the factor of 1.3.

    So the risk is 30% greater on average than non-cellphone use. Not a lot – and certainly not the 4x usually misquoted by ban advocates. (That came from an old study in which the authors specifically stated the result should not be used to set policy.)

    The margin of error on the estimate is probably substantial. And the risk is non-uniform. Other studies have indicated women as a group and drivers who anyway have the most crashes have the greatest risk.

    The reason for arguing against a ban is simply that the benefits would certainly be outweighed by the costs for very many people while the evidence is clear that legal bans are anyway ineffective and the overall cost/benefit balance for the population is unknown.

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