Driving While Telephoning is Deadly

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(cc photo by woodleywonderworks)

(cc photo by woodleywonderworks)

One of the stranger things about the United States is our habit of constantly ignoring the massive public health risks associated with automobile use. Matt Richtel has a great piece in the NYT about the specific case of people who talk on their cell phones while they drive:

Extensive research shows the dangers of distracted driving. Studies say that drivers using phones are four times as likely to cause a crash as other drivers, and the likelihood that they will crash is equal to that of someone with a .08 percent blood alcohol level, the point at which drivers are generally considered intoxicated. Research also shows that hands-free devices do not eliminate the risks, and may worsen them by suggesting that the behavior is safe.

A 2003 Harvard study estimated that cellphone distractions caused 2,600 traffic deaths every year, and 330,000 accidents that result in moderate or severe injuries.

And of course your decision to be reckless and talk on the phone while driving is a lethal threat not just to you and your passengers, but to other people on the road. Especially to people who may be trying to use public streets without encasing themselves in a vast steel exoskeleton.

Part of the problem here is that there simply aren’t enough laws prohibiting this behavior and they’re not enforced strictly enough. But as with drunk driving, there’s also a problem that widespread auto dependency makes it difficult to enforce rules in a properly stringent manner. If having your license taken away from you was more “pain in the ass” and less “crippling disability” then it would be more viable to do it when people exhibit clear patterns of reckless behavior. Meanwhile, literally thousands of lives are at stake.