Stats say a total ban on cellphone use by drivers isn’t justified

Last week, when pooh-poohing the proposed ban on all use of cellphones by motorists, I noted that the head of the National Transportation Safety Board seemed to be playing fast and loose with the statistics about distracted driving. Apparently, columnist Mona Charen had the same thought, and she followed up on it in a piece for the Washington Examiner.

The relevant portion:

NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman … stated flatly that 3,000 people lost their lives last year due to texting in the driver’s seat.

Is that true? No. In a detailed report on distracted driving issued earlier this year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that only 995 deaths resulted from distraction by cell phones in 2010. The 3,000-person figure refers to all distracted driving.

The Chicken Littles in D.C. notwithstanding, the roads are getting safer, not more dangerous. The number of car accident fatalities has been dropping steadily for decades. In 1990, 44,599 people lost their lives in crashes.

In 2010, 32,885 were killed — a decrease that is even more significant considering the rise in the total number of licensed drivers and cars on the road. According to the NHTSA, there were 1.7 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles driven in 1994, but only 1.14 in 2009, the lowest level in 60 years.

The stats on distracted driving do not break down further to tell us which ones involved hands-free devices, as opposed to a driver holding a phone and talking or texting on it. Before any blanket ban proposal can be taken seriously, such a breakdown should be made available.

Here are some other data points: In 1990, there were 302 crashes and 151 injured persons per million miles traveled. By 2009, those rates had fallen to 186 and 75, respectively.

That’s a 38 percent decline in the rate of crashes, and a 50 percent decline in the rate of injuries — in addition to the 33 percent decline in the rate of fatalities. In fact, there were more fatalities in 1960 than in 2009, even though the number of vehicle-miles traveled quadrupled during the past half-century.

So, it’s not as if the crash rate is holding steady but, due to improved vehicle safety, more people are surviving wrecks. Just as with the number of fatalities, the absolute numbers of crashes and injuries have fallen during the past two decades.

If lawmakers want traffic officers to be even more vigilant about looking for motorists driving recklessly, and if they want to enact stiffer fines for reckless driving for any reason — whether distracted, by a phone or something else, or not — fine. But a blanket ban on cellphone use by drivers simply is not justified by the evidence.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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88 comments Add your comment

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

December 20th, 2011
5:28 am

The Obozo Doctrine: Never let a crisis go to waste. And if there isn’t one, create one out of thin air or cause one.

ragnar danneskjold

December 20th, 2011
5:45 am

In a related development, all traffic deaths occurred in vehicles going faster than 10 mph, and in vehicles that get better than 20 mpg. Time to reduce the speed limit to 10 mph, and to ban all vehicles that get better than 20 mpg.

ragnar danneskjold

December 20th, 2011
5:46 am

Should I acknowledge posting that note while drinking coffee and driving 80 mph on the interstate?

Michael H. Smith

December 20th, 2011
6:22 am

Isn’t free speech wonderful, “obumer”?! I need to go for a drive, whip-out the old cellphone and say “obumer” 100 times while driving just for the fun of whizzing off every Marxist-Socialist Liberal Democrat in the state. OMG! I feel so much better just thinking about here, I just have to say it: “obumer”!

ragnar, you are too much my man :lol:

Joel Edge

December 20th, 2011
6:40 am

You’re not thinking like a nanny, Kyle. If accidents are declining, think how safe the roads would be with a ban on cellphones. Kind of like the jobs situation. Just think how many we would have lost if we hadn’t done X.

DeborahinAthens

December 20th, 2011
6:42 am

Twice in the last couple of months I have almost been hit head on by drivers yammering on their cell phones. One guy in a massive pickup truck (which would have smeared me like a grease ball) never even realized he was going out an in ramp in an office park! I believe in Darwin’s theories that we should let stupid people kill themselves. Mankind will be better for the loss. You want to ride a motorcycle without a helmut–go for it. You want to drive with no seatbelt–knock yourself out. But when you are about to kill an entire family (of superior intelligence!!!) because you think your conversation is so damn important…we’ve got a problem. So, if these a&&holes can’t figure this out, arrest them, fine,them and if they kill someone, put them in jail

Road Scholar

December 20th, 2011
6:45 am

Isn’t it interesting that we are apalled by 4500 soldiers being killed in Iraq in 8 years (approx 560/yr) but 33,000/yr driving deaths a year are “ok”? Oh, and children, the people that died were Repubs, Libs, and independants; death doesn’t pick by political parties.

Road Scholar

December 20th, 2011
6:47 am

Deb: Good morning! And I bet both of the drivers who almost hit you looked at YOU in disbelief that You were doing something wrong!

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

December 20th, 2011
7:02 am

A few days ago a Mercedes driver unsuccessfully tried to usurp my right-of-way and had to slam on the brakes when I declined to give it up. He was rear-ended by a BMW. Both were on cell phones. I was laughing so hard it didn’t even occur to me to stop to see if they were OK. F ‘em.

JF McNamara

December 20th, 2011
7:05 am

I’m actually against adult seat belt laws because you are making a risky choice for youself. It’s your problem, because you got to choose. You killing me because you wanted to talk on the phone is not something I have control over. You are committing vehicular homicide. That’s a big difference.

Those who don’t understand this difference seem to be the people against this law. Laws to protect you from you are “nanny” laws. Laws to protect ME from you are protective of society.

lulu

December 20th, 2011
7:27 am

Kyle, I think you are missing the point. The NTSB isn’t making laws or forcing states to make laws. They are looking at the data available and commenting on a clear connection. Would lives be saved if no drivers used cell phones? Yes. Of course there are plenty of other factors; these are not ignored by researchers, but rather lost in simple-minded interpretations.

The NTSB is simply saying that if savings lives were the only priority of lawmakers, cell phone use by drivers should be banned. It’s for the lawmakers to determine whether it would be reasonable to ban cell phone use, taking into consideration the cost of enforcing a ban, the political costs of enacting such a ban, cost-benefit analysis of the number of potential lives saved, and so on.

Don

December 20th, 2011
7:29 am

The NTSB has a long history of wacky recommendations. Good thing they are an agency without any teeth. Maybe they need to go away and leave transportation safety to FHWA, FRA and FAA.

Phil Lewis

December 20th, 2011
7:31 am

I travel across the country for my work, and I average about 45000 miles on my vehicle yearly. I can honestly say that driving in Atlanta is probably the most dangerous. I’ve seen everything from cellphone use, reading, eating soup while reading ( how does that work?), to even the driver sleeping.
I believe that once people’s decisions/actions endanger another individual all right to personal choice is lost. Riding a motorcycle without a helmet is a choice. You only endanger yourself. Distracted driving endangers you, and everyone around you, but the other drivers didn’t get to choose..

barking frog

December 20th, 2011
7:38 am

I would like to see exactly how it was determined that the 995
were using a cell at the time of the crash and who made the
determination and how that finding was recorded.

Good Grief

December 20th, 2011
7:48 am

If the driver is not allowed to TALK on their cellphone, then they shouldn’t be allowed to TALK to passengers either. Or listen to the radio, because they might SING along with the station. Here’s a wonderful new wrinkle to government regulation. Require that every new car built in the coming decade contain an isolation booth for the driver so that he or she cannot possibly be distracted while driving.

Better yet, let’s ban private ownership of vehicles. After all, vehicles cause more death per annum than firearms. So if we ban private ownership of vehicles we’ll surely make America safer. Then we can use government transit to get us where we need to go. Stalin be praised. [/sarcasm]

Jimmy62

December 20th, 2011
7:48 am

DeborahinAthens: Statistically, the kids in your car are far more likely to cause a distraction and a wreck. So why don’t we ship you off to jail for driving with your kids in the car? Don’t you care about other people? You endanger everyone else on the road from your selfish desire to transport your kids despite their distraction-creating abilities.

Lulu: That is what they are saying. But still you are missing the point. Their own statistics show they are wrong. So either they don’t know math, or they are being purposefully deceptive.

Jimmy62

December 20th, 2011
7:50 am

Phil Lewis: Driving at all causes more deaths than not driving. So if we make a law so that only you are allowed to drive, then you will be safe. Otherwise there will always be that danger of other drivers being stupid, or more likely you being stupid. I choose to drive, despite the fact that the marginal danger from driving is more than the marginal danger from driving while talking on a phone. You got a problem with that?

Really?

December 20th, 2011
7:52 am

@DebrainAthens — sorry, but ‘thinning the herd’ via evolution only works if the people killed are young enough to still reproduce. Otherwise it’s just a simple waste of humanity and future generations are not better.

Tigger

December 20th, 2011
7:57 am

If they ban cell phone use when driving, then they should also ban their use by all law enforcement officers as well. If it’s unsafe for us, it’s just as unsafe for them to do it as well.

Eric

December 20th, 2011
7:58 am

I’ve got no problems with handsfree devices, but how can anybody here argue that driving one-handed with a device in the other isn’t dangerous? And those whining about a cell ban being somehow an infringement on civil liberties, please explain how your me-first attitude shouldn’t extend to drinking and driving laws. As for the statistics, who is going to forward the information that they were distracted by a device after an accident occurs? In what loony world would be compolain about a law to make our lives, and those of our children,obviously safer at the cost of what? Just having to pull over to make a call.

look around

December 20th, 2011
8:07 am

a bit extreme but I can’t say I totally disagree. I often ride a motorcycle and you would not believe how often people are preoccupied talking on a phone. Don’t complain about my loud pipes until you start looking around.

HadIt

December 20th, 2011
8:14 am

And I suppose the criminal laws against marijuana (while allowing alcohol) are “justified by the evidence.”

GT

December 20th, 2011
8:14 am

The right can micro manage our lives on Sunday or drugs or gambling, and then turn around with the exact opposite logic in defending their rights for self determination of such things as cellphones in cars. I think we create a law against jumping off 100 foot bridges, have Obama come out with a speech supporting it and within a week half the population of the red states of this country would disappear as bridges clogged up with traffic.

Gimme Gimme Gimme

December 20th, 2011
8:16 am

look around,

Loud pipes are no longer cool, you’re just annoying people trying to pretend you are younger than you are.

Wait until a distracted driver hits your car...

December 20th, 2011
8:23 am

Well, if only 995 lives/year could be saved by enacting a nationwide law (instead of 3000) then by all means let them die. They deserve to die if they can’t chat and drive.

Wait until a distracted driver hits your car...

December 20th, 2011
8:24 am

It’s not like you can’t get hands-free equipment these days…

Kramer

December 20th, 2011
8:27 am

Make a law that states you have to use hands free cell phones. Once again it is over kill from our leaders in DC. What is next, you can’t eat and drive? Hands must be at 10 & 2 on the steering wheel?

Lil' Barry Blowhard (Revised Upward)

December 20th, 2011
8:29 am

Lil’ Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)
December 20th, 2011
7:02 am
A few days ago a Mercedes driver unsuccessfully tried to usurp my right-of-way and had to slam on the brakes when I declined to give it up. He was rear-ended by a BMW. Both were on cell phones. I was laughing so hard it didn’t even occur to me to stop to see if they were OK. F ‘em.

LBB – being that guy not letting people in, because that piece of road right-of-way is “his”, and then laughing at other’s misery. I NEVER would have guessed it……

Gimme Gimme Gimme

December 20th, 2011
8:31 am

Road Scholar@6:45,

So what is your solution, ban driving?

Bhorsoft

December 20th, 2011
8:32 am

Agree with look around, I’m also a motorcyclist and see more folks on cell phones than not when driving. I can almost always tell a cell phone using driver when I’m behind them as their lane control is poor – weaving side to side, they fail to use signals when turning, and they don’t maintain a steady speed. Funny, those are the same things I see in drunk drivers as well. Having had some close calls due to cell phone drivers, I say ban them in vehicles since people don’t choose the right thing.

If we don’t want to ban them, then make penalties a lot stiffer when they cause an accident. If you are using a cell phone and hit some one – you go to jail. If you injure someone, it is attempted homicide. If you kill someone, it is homicide with 25 year+ sentence. Bottom line, you ruin someone’s life because of a stupid decision, you pay the consequences and your life is ruined too.

anonymous

December 20th, 2011
8:32 am

People have forgotten, or never even knew, fundamental driving principles like PAYING ATTENTION TO THE ROAD! I encounter yackity, cell-phone gawking (mostly female), zooming up to my bumper on the busy highway almost every day. They zoom up and around, in and out of lanes in reckess ways. I say yes, BAN cell phone usage while driving, at least when the cell is held up to one’s ear.

And don’t jump on Deborah with her kids. If she’s a good parent, which I trust she is, all it takes is a command for the kids to shut up and sit still. If not, she can always pull over or when the car is stopped turn around and slap somebody. You know what I mean.

And honestly, some driving fools have no idea about any laws of physics. Crashes at high speeds cause death you irresponsible FOOLS out there!

commoncents

December 20th, 2011
8:37 am

gimme x3:

As not “cool” as they may be, loud pipes save lives. Drivers are often too distracted to notice small vehicles such as motorcycles. That’s why many motorcycle owners do what they can to be seen and heard, including loud exhausts, reflective vests, flickering headlights, flashing brake lights etc. I’d rather hear the annoying exhaust than merge into one and be responsible for manslaughter.

I’ve already been hit once on my bike by someone turning across my lane in broad daylight because he “didn’t see me” and I saw another rider get merged into on 285 in rush hour traffic. Luckily that rider knows how to ride and was able to stay on his bike.

Aquagirl

December 20th, 2011
8:40 am

would like to see exactly how it was determined that the 995 were using a cell at the time of the crash

THIS. Unlike blood alcohol levels, is cellphone use automatically checked when someone is in a wreck? Who’s going to tell the cops “oh, I was yakking on my phone and ran right into that car.”

Look, Kyle, the stat I’m interested in is how people perform while driving on cellphones. Road tests, simulator tests, and real life all bear out that it’s dangerous, on the level of driving drunk. I’m not sure why so-called conservatives are so enthused about protecting the right to drive while impaired.

Honestly, this is what gives Republicans/Libertarians a bad name—-loudly proclaiming the “nanny state” wants to take away their right to endanger others, or that making/enforcing such a rule is just like living in Nazi Germany!!1111!!!!

Your rights end when you infringe on other people’s rights. This is not a tough concept, unless you are a complete MEMEMEME self-centered brat.

Wutehvah

December 20th, 2011
8:40 am

Texting (reading and responding) while driving causes many more problems and the current laws don’t deter anyone. It’s easy to spot these idiots on the road and they are everywhere.

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

December 20th, 2011
8:41 am

Lil’ Barry Blowhard (Unemployment Revised Upward): being that guy not letting people in, because that piece of road right-of-way is “his”, and then laughing at other’s misery. I NEVER would have guessed it……
——————————

Hey, it was self-inflicted “misery”, a low-speed, high-dollar fender bender. And it involved a couple of 1%-ers, so you and the rest of the greedy, hate-filled left should be applauding!

GT

December 20th, 2011
8:42 am

What I have come to not appreciate are cars passing me at speeds exceeding the speed limit on my right hand lane. Patience is a talent few process now days and that causes many more deaths than cell phones. What I love is seeing one of these VIPs cutting through traffic and later on up the road passing them being pulled over by a cop.

commoncents

December 20th, 2011
8:45 am

Aquagirl: THIS. Unlike blood alcohol levels, is cellphone use automatically checked when someone is in a wreck? Who’s going to tell the cops “oh, I was yakking on my phone and ran right into that car.”

Not sure if you were just complaining or recommending this, but I would support police checking call logs/text messages in a serious accident. Of course, with a smart phone that contained emails/calendars a warrant or permission from owner would be needed but it would be easy to confiscate the phone at the scene until the warrant arrived.

Call it like it is

December 20th, 2011
8:47 am

One sided view Kyle. There have been less deaths because our cars are getting safer each year. More crush zones, more air bags, better braking, seat belt use and so on. There is an increase in pissy little accidents because of drivers doing everything else but drive. No I do not want govt telling what I can do in my car, but driving is not a right. Its the same old same if everyone cant act like an adult and just drive then big brother steps in. Speaking from the insurance part of it. I inspect 8 to 10 cars a day and 75% of these accidents could have been avoided.

My phone rang, I was reaching down for my drink, I was yelling at the kids in the back seat, he was in my blind spot, I was changing the radio, I was adjusting the sun visor, I was reaching for my Big Mac.

And your premiums reflect that Atlanta driving behavior.

commoncents

December 20th, 2011
8:48 am

GT 8:42

Every road I pass people on says “slower traffic keep right”. If you are being passed, it’s time to move over. Just remember that “slower trafffic” doesn’t refer to your speed relative to the speed limit but to the speed of other drivers. GA now has laws allowing cops to pull over the “slower traffic,” regardless of their speed (speed limit and less!)

DW

December 20th, 2011
8:49 am

@LIL BARRY

So this is Obamas fault too? Moron..

Dan William

December 20th, 2011
8:49 am

We already have laws in GA banning texting, but our so called law enforcement officers choose not to enforce it. In fact, I saw a GSP officer texting on I-75 last week, WTF?

markie mark

December 20th, 2011
8:51 am

re: seat belt laws…..I use to agree with most of you, that if you wanted to not use them and got killed as a result, tough luck. But then I talked to a GA ST patrol officer who told me innocent bystanders are killed all the time by this. It seems that when the idiot not wearing a seat belt is involved in a traffic accident, more often than not they are knocked out from under the wheel, so they no longer can control their car. This then gets you and me killed. From then on, I have been for seat belt laws.

commoncents

December 20th, 2011
8:52 am

GT “What I love is seeing one of these VIPs cutting through traffic and later on up the road passing them being pulled over by a cop.”

I enjoy seeing that as well. But I hate going 60 in a 55 and seeing that one idiot in the far left lane going 50 or riding the same speed as the car next to it. I’m that guy behind you flashing the lights and making hand gestures indicating that you need to get your slow butt over a lane!

Cutty

December 20th, 2011
8:56 am

Maybe there were so few deaths caused ny cell phone use because some forward thinking municipalities and states have already banned hand-held phone use. Kyle’s argument is similar to saying that drunk driving ONLY causes X number if deaths, and thus it should not be curtailed in any way by the nanny state. Tell that to the parents who’ve lost a child because some driver was talking on the phone and caused a deadly accident. You repubs cease to amaze me as to the hypocrisy for the love of country/hate for government.

Mark T

December 20th, 2011
8:56 am

Road Scholar

December 20th, 2011
6:45 am
Isn’t it interesting that we are apalled by 4500 soldiers being killed in Iraq in 8 years (approx 560/yr) but 33,000/yr driving deaths a year are “ok”? Oh, and children, the people that died were Repubs, Libs, and independants; death doesn’t pick by political parties

Who said anyone was ok with it?

JF McNamara

December 20th, 2011
8:59 am

People are saying that you need to ban everything like talking in the car or eating. That’s ignorant nonsense. You need to ban things that have been scientifically shown to increase accidents.

We have that information for cell phone use, and it shows that cell phone use is as dangerous as drunk driving. We do not have that data for eating or talking to someone else in the car. Having scientific information is a lot more important than you making up some stupid psuedo information to make you feel better about your decision.

When you have scientific proof of those “other” things affect driving, then maybe you have a point. Right now, its just noise.

Search “Cell Phone Impairment”

http://www2.potsdam.edu/hansondj/DrivingIssues/20060830105036.html

Aquagirl

December 20th, 2011
9:00 am

Not sure if you were just complaining or recommending this, but I would support police checking call logs/text messages in a serious accident.

Actually yes, I’ve posted that here before. Right now I don’t think it’s an easy thing to do, but I admittedly have no experience with trying to pull someone’s cell phone records if they don’t want them seen. I suspect if you were injured by a cellphone yakker and had a good ambulance chaser they’d check. But the police don’t seem to check like they do for alcohol. Even in a minor fender-bender, police regularly look for signs you’ve been drinking. They don’t do the same for cellphones because it’s too much work.

We’ve all seen cellphone drivers weaving around, I can somewhat understand the argument that enforcement of a ban is difficult. What I don’t understand is the argument that it’s not a problem. What reality do these people inhabit?

And people whining about being passed on the right, MOVE OVER. Quit your passive-aggressive wannabe cop game.

carlosgvv

December 20th, 2011
9:01 am

This is what we know:

1. Distracted driving is dangerous driving.
2. Texting while driving is dangerous.
3. If you text and drive you endanger not only your own life but the lives of others.
4. I do NOT want us to meet by accident.

GT

December 20th, 2011
9:04 am

Speeding may be the last frontier for America. It is the only law allowed to be openingly broken and citizens are proud of doing. To hell with cellphone lets do away with speeding laws. It is a little like illegal immigration, the same argument. I do find some humor in the thought that the state wants immigration to be handled at a local level because the feds are doing such a poor job, while in a very confined area such as a highway these “superior” lawmen cannot handle the laws they are in charge of now.

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

December 20th, 2011
9:07 am

DW: So this is Ob[ozo's] fault too?
———————

Yes, it is. It is his administration, his “leadership”, his worldview that puts forth garbage and propaganda like this. Obozo is a menace to freedom-loving Americans (and Democrats too, though they can’t admit it as that would be blasphemy).