Tuesday, September 07, 2010
Time for a rabid new lobbyist org
Kids tend to think it's funny.
MAWRITES.31.1-23. I should also say Time Out from the momentous affairs of the day. I want to come down like a ton of bricks on something we're all in touch with every day and probably not doing nearly enough about. This is the result of a conversation I had with a young lady I care about who's young enough to be my daughter. She called me on my birthday and I wound up hanging up on her because she was on her cellphone, calling from the highway. Mrs. CP thought I was being harsh. Maybe I was. But I'd do it again. When I spoke with her a few days later about the dangers of phoning, and texting, from her car, she laughed at me. I was stern in return.
Why? Here are the facts as they're presently being represented:
Drivers on Cell Phones Kill Thousands, Snarl Traffic
By Robert Roy Britt, LiveScience Senior Writer
Finally, empirical proof you can blame chatty 20-somethings for stop-and-go traffic on the way to work.
A new study confirms that the reaction time of cell phone users slows dramatically, increasing the risk of accidents and tying up traffic in general, and when young adults use cell phones while driving, they're as bad as sleepy septuagenarians.
"If you put a 20-year-old driver behind the wheel with a cell phone, their reaction times are the same as a 70-year-old driver who is not using a cell phone," said University of Utah psychology professor David Strayer. "It's like instantly aging a large number of drivers."
This is called "burying the lede." Why? The real analogy is not to old age, which doesn't compute with anyone under the age of 55 or so, but with alcohol:
Traffic jams and death
Cell phone distraction causes 2,600 deaths and 330,000 injuries in the United States every year, according to the journal's publisher, the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society...
Drivers talking on cell phones were 18 percent slower to react to brake lights, the new study found. In a minor bright note, they also kept a 12 percent greater following distance. But they also took 17 percent longer to regain the speed they lost when they braked. That frustrates everyone.
"Once drivers on cell phones hit the brakes, it takes them longer to get back into the normal flow of traffic," Strayer said. "The net result is they are impeding the overall flow of traffic."
Strayer and his colleagues have been down this road before. In 2001, they found that even hands-free cell phone use distracted drivers. In 2003 they revealed a reason: Drivers look but don't see, because they're distracted by the conversation. The scientists also found previously that chatty motorists are less adept than drunken drivers with blood alcohol levels exceeding 0.08.
Is drunk driving funny? Ask Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). There have always been thousands of fatalities associated with drunk driving and therefore strict laws against it, but it was MADD that forced an end to lax enforcement and aggressive measures to demonize drunk drivers in the popular culture. I haven't always agreed with the sometimes unconstitutional responses by law enforcement to the tears and fears of MADD (sobriety checkpoints, etc), but I have always appreciated the emotional basis of their campaign. MADD members tend to be those who have lost childen to drunk drivers -- or who might. They are to be forgiven if they push back against the Bill of Rights, and it is the law which is charged with protecting motorists against motherly wrath.
Was that an objective assessment of the current state of affairs? Every approaching holiday now brings a blizzard of ads warning of the dangers, nay the evils, of drunk driving, and every prom season disfigures the campuses of American high schools with bloodstained corpses of cars that were involved in drunk driving accidents. But after a couple of high-profile, controversial ads (meaning we don't want to upset people by running them) in the U.K. and U.S. against the dangers of driving while talking or texting on cellphones, nothing much is happening. This Labor Day weekend, I watched the usual flood of drunk driving ads, which featured floods of alcohol pouring from cars and motorcycle helmets... Clever.
But being an old fart with a better than average memory, I was struck by the "NO commercials" about the desireability of driving to Labor Day destinations without keeping constant tabs on progress via cellphone -- "Are you here yet?" And, being an old and increasingly noisome fart, I'm thinking this kind of silence about dangers everyone on the holiday highway is dodging seems awfully reminiscent of the cavalier attitude in the 1950s and 1960s about drunk driving: "Well, we've all had a few too many at one time or another, so wink, wink, it's not a crime, it's just an occasional unfortunate mess."
Well, I've got a bunch of problems with the current situation.
1) The celebrants of youth in the MSM have gone out of their way to promote the myth of superior multi-tasking by kids who pretend to be doing their homework while simultaneously phoning, texting, listening to music, watching MTV, updating their Facebook pages, tweeting, and flipping off their parents. It's not true and hasn't ever been true. Their homework isn't that hard, their conversations aren't that deep, and their attention is not moving from focus to focus; it's every bit as oblique and abbreviated as the diction of their tweets. They're a menace behind the wheel even before they start texting on the interstate. As they always have been. But we used to be more concerned about their propensity for driving themselves to death.
2) The problem is hardly confined to young people. The last half dozen close calls I've had on the road have been caused by adults -- including "moms" in minivans with cellphones at their ears -- as they merge obliviously from highway entrance ramps, distractedly drive through start-and-stop town and city streets yakking about God knows what, and navigate the most accident-prone zone of all in American driving -- zipping through parking lots, usually diagonally, in defiance of the arrows while they chat, chat, chat on the phone. As far as I'm concerned, "moms" have lost all their moral authority about driving. It was bad enough that they stopped looking in their rearview mirrors and assumed the automatic right of way when they posted the "Baby on Board" stickers in their rear minivan windows. Now that they're driving through the most congested shopping, urban, and residential areas with the phone glued to their ears, probably texting their beloved kids, I'm getting MADD as hell at them. No. It's not a sexist snit. They're endangering my life. And everyone else's. Including their own children. But I can easily imagine them raising a stink if their darlings should ever be exposed to this:
Wouldn't want to traumatize the kids, don't you know. They don't need to see that to learn to be sensible. Right? Their parents will set them straight. Right?
3) I'm not buying the casualty figures cited by the supposedly scientific study. I think they're much much higher than what's being reported. Why? Resentment? Anecdotal evidence of epidemic? No. Common sense. Unless a cop sees a driver on a cellphone and pulls him or her over, which I don't think is happening at anywhere near the rate I see drivers on the phone, there's no way other than confession to link a cellphone call to an accident. The phone itself probably goes flying when an accident occurs or is inescapably imminent. There's no way to test a driver for "driving while calling" after the fact. In short, if driving while talking on a cellphone is the equivalent of driving at 0.08 blood alcohol level, and texting while driving is even worse, maybe 0.15 blood alcohol level, then it's a nationwide crisis that a bunch of us think this circumstance is just funny or relevant only to those other people who don't know how to drive like a multi-tasking modern.
How many fatalities involve cellphones when cellphones aren't even suspected? ("It all happened so quickly, officer.") Given the low level of enforcement and the incredibly high and escalating use of cellphones, I'm thinking the numbers quoted above are pure crap. We're killing each other at a record rate, and it's sorta kinda okay, or forgivable, because we're all doing it. The way we used to have a few martinis and then wend our way homeward like characters in a Cheever story.
That's why I hung up on a girl I'm very fond of. I don't want to see her dead in her coffin, fixed up by the mortician to look like herself, or endure the far worse situation of attending her funeral knowing that others are attending other funerals of her making. This is one of those quiet crises that will never strike home until you become one of the victims.
Why am I so sure it's a crisis?
Here's my personal proof. It's anecdotal, to be sure, but I'm betting your own experience confirms it, which should make it authoritative to you as well. I can't remember the last time I saw some good old redneck in a pickup truck swilling from a beercan or pint of liquor as he drove down the highway. But I see at least two people yakking on a cellphone every time I venture out in my car. (What scares me more is that I can't see the people who are texting below the steering wheel...)
Now. Consider this. The guy with the beer or the pint is breaking the law ipso facto, but he might not even be drunk. Alcohol mixed with driving is a cumulative offense. It takes a few drinks to make you a danger. Cellphone usage is not cumulative. It's a 0.08 blood-alcohol-level impairment every time you see it. At least. Seeing a driver with a cellphone at his or her ear is prima facie evidence equivalent to seeing the blood-alcohol level of a drunk driver flashed at you in neon letters from a chemical processing machine. Guilty.
What do you do? Nothing. Why do you wink at it? Because it is epidemic. Your children do it. Your wives do it. You do it. Well, maybe your wives more than you. Which is why I'm calling for the establishment of a new lobbying organization. We're calling ourselves Fathers Unhinged by Cellphone-Caused Crashes. (Haven't worked out the right acronym yet. Suggestions?) MADD may get mad at us. But guess what?
I couldn't possibly be any MADDer at all the moms I see every fucccing day, putting everyone, including their own children, at risk with their compulsion to blab their lives away with meaningless jabber. On the phone.
UPDATE. Deerhounder is trying to obscure the issue. Nobody said men aren't equally guilty, just less hypocritical about the damage they do by sheer bullshitting. Interesting, though, that Hollywood prefers men as the villains:
What's MOST interesting is that women suddenly go silent on this subject when as a rule they're more than happy to be the ones who talk, talk, talk their way through every situation while men are criminally, uh, silent.
I'm presuming even Hollywood would allow that this kind of tragedy happens to women as well. Show me the clip where the woman is at fault. Doesn't exist? She never admitted it. Men lie badly. Women lie well.