Don’t Text and Drive

We accept certain risks for the benefits of modern society. We pump explosive gas into homes, we run wires with potentially fatal electrical currents through our neighborhoods, and we ski at breakneck speeds down mountains for fun.

We also allow people to operate vehicles weighing thousands of pounds at speeds that are potentially deadly if a mishap occurs. In 2011 there were 32,367 motor vehicle deaths in the US (10.4 per 100,000 population). Interestingly, this is down quite a bit from previous years. As a percentage of population the highest motor vehicle death year was 1935, with 34,494 deaths, or 27.1 per 100,000. The highest absolute number of motor vehicle deaths was in 1970, at 52,627.

The number of deaths has been mostly trending down since 1996, which is interesting because over this same period of time cell phone use has risen tremendously. There are various reasons for the decreased in fatalities – helmet laws, seatbelt laws, cracking down on drunk driving, increased car safety, and intermediate drivers licenses for new drivers to name a few. These trends have probably obscured any increase in car accidents from using portable communication devices while driving.

Recent laws have addressed this risk by requiring device users to use only hands-free devices. However, the evidence clearly shows that hands-free device use (talking or texting) is just as dangerous as using a hand-held device.

The problem is not that your hands are occupied, but that your mind is occupied. While talking on a cell phone you are distracted from scanning the road and will have slower reactions to unexpected obstacles. Information processing is the limiting factor.

A recent University of Utah study examined drivers with various levels of distraction. They found:

– Tasks such as listening to the radio ranked as a category “1” level of distraction or a minimal risk.

– Talking on a cell-phone, both handheld and hands-free, resulted in a “2” or a moderate risk.

– Listening and responding to in-vehicle, voice-activated email features increased mental workload and distraction levels of the drivers to a “3” rating or one of extensive risk.

Contributing to this problem is the illusion of multitasking – people believe they can do more than one mental task at the same time, but we can’t. We simply switch back and forth between tasks, further using mental resources to manage this switching. This results in what psychologists call interference -a decrease in performance in any task when distracted by extraneous information or performance of a simultaneous task.

Younger drivers are particularly cavalier about multitasking while driving – something that can be addressed with driver education.  This is important because younger drivers are also less experienced and are already a higher accident risk.

The implications of existing research are clear – to minimize accident risk, do not use mobile devices while driving. Do not be lulled into a false sense of safety by hands-free devices. Minimize distractions while driving – it really does take your full attention, even if it doesn’t feel like it.

Hopefully, technology will get us out of this problem it has gotten us into. Computer-assisted driving technology is advancing rapidly. Google’s driverless car (a bit of a misnomer, as there is always a driver behind the wheel) is now able to drive on city roads, and can go miles between driver interventions. Computers have one extreme advantage over humans – they are not distracted, they do not get tired or lose their attention.

Computer-assisted driving seems like the perfect solution. It will be years before such technology becomes standard, however, so in the meantime – don’t text and drive.

Posted in: Public Health

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48 thoughts on “Don’t Text and Drive

  1. goodnightirene says:

    Your point about it being the head, not the hands, that matter is well-taken and needs to be hammered home, especially to young people, who are growing up taking phone use in cars for granted. Local laws make a difference. I travel between my home in Wisconsin (no laws forbidding phone use) and the Northwest (laws in place and enforced), and the difference is staggering.

    I have hands-free technology in my car, but I only use it for making calls when out of city traffic, such as driving the 60 miles of county roads to my daughter’s house. Even then, I make it brief. In the city, especially at busy times, I do not even have the radio on, or iPod plugged in.

    My retirement plans include a move to a community with a well-run, local bus system. My worst moments on the road are when I’m behind an elderly driver or one on a cell phone–I’m not going to become either of those people. I have a deal with my daughter (who doesn’t drive and often rides with me) that when she tells me I need to stop driving, I will.

  2. windriven says:

    There are innumerable drivers who shouldn’t be on the road with or without mobile devices. They eat, apply makeup, shave, twist around to look at children or interlocutors in the back seat, drive below the speed limit in the passing lane blithely ignorant to the line of cars stacked up behind them. Drive like you mean it. Roads are a shared resource, not your personal 200 mile driveway.

    I was saddened to note that neither Dr. Novella nor the Utah and AAA items he linked specifically addressed the very real and in my estimation growing problem of hands-on texting while driving. I have watched cars, driver head bent down, wandering over the lane delimiters or drifting onto the shoulder – on a two lane 55MPH highway I frequent. If listening to the radio is a ‘1’ and hands-free e-mail is a ‘3’, what is hands-on texting about Buffy’s new boyfriend? A ’47’?

    As an aside, driving in much of northern Europe is quite different than it is here. Large stretches of the German autobahn do not have speed limits. Drivers are very good about keeping right unless they are passing. Drivers are attentive. Accidents are rare. Wikipedia cites the fatality rate in Germany* as 4.5/100,000 versus 12.3/100,000 in the US.


    Dr. Novella’s fatality rate of 10.4/100k came from a different Wikipedia entry using more up-to-date figures than available in the entry comparing rates by country.

  3. DugganSC says:

    The common counter-argument is that any conversation would be as distracting, but my understanding is that cell phone conversations are just that much outside of proper audio ranges that it requires additional concentration (on a side note, there have been some studies showing that hearing one side of a conversation is considerably more distracting than hearing both sides, so having another person chatting on a cell phone might be just as distracting as participating in one).

    On the flip side, when Pennsylvania passed anti-texting laws, there were some statistics showing an increase in traffic accidents. The generally accepted wisdom is that the number of people texting on the road has not decreased, but there are more people trying to hold the phone low and out of sight, thus reducing their attention even further than if they were holding the phone at steering wheel height. I’ll be interested to see if the trend continues or improves as people actually start complying.

  4. windriven says:


    A counter-counter-argument might be that a live conversation is less distracting than a cell conversation because in the live conversation there is mutual situational awareness; both participants can see the roadway, traffic conditions, etc. and moderate the conversation in response to changing conditions.

  5. Alia says:

    Well, we don’t even have a radio in our car and my husband never, ever, uses his mobile phone while driving (if anyone calls, I will answer and keep it short). But he claims that actually chatting with me is helpful – it keeps him more awake when driving long miles on non-descript roads with nothing interesting around. I agree with windriven that I am also aware of the situation on the road, so I sometimes say “We’ll get back to it after you pass that crossing”. And we keep our conversation light, no serious topics that would keep his mind too engaged.

  6. What level of distraction does listening to the SGU podcast while driving rank? :)

  7. ConspicuousCarl says:

    Karl Spelledincorrectly:

    Much like cocaine, listening to SGU actually makes you a better driver.

  8. DugganSC says:


    I can just see it now… we’ll get citations on various woo blogs that “Science Based Medicine is recommending cocaine usage when driving!” :-P

  9. mho says:

    Our favorite siting was a man driving with a cell phone in one hand and an ice cream cone in the other.

    We wanted to follow him just to watch the inevitable: when he stuck the ice cream cone in his ear.

  10. @windriven
    The point here is that no matter what you do while driving, it increases the risk. It doesn’t matter; talking, texting, eating ice-cream, arguing with kids, having something troubling you at the time of driving.

    Perhaps the poker player’s philosophy can be applied to driving:
    If you are angry, upset or distracted – don’t sit behind the table. Is driving really that different? Why concentrate on very specific distractions when it’s distractions in general that are important?

  11. DugganSC says:


    It’s probably worth mentioning that the “impaired driving” laws in most states are broad enough that a policeman can cite you for “driving while angry” if they feel it’s really affecting your driving. All that more specific laws against driving while drinking, talking on the cell phone, etc do are make it easier to actually convict you and allow them to cite you even if you’re not driving dangerously at the moment (I imagine that there have been cases in the past where someone has challenged the ticket on grounds of that the policeman has no proof that applying eyeliner while driving was impairing their driving. Having a law against applying the eyeliner, or having video of the car swerving, would be another matter).

  12. @DugganSC

    I agree. My questions (which are somewhat rhetorical) aren’t so much about the legal implications. My point was simply that when dangerous driving behaviours are studied, often the focus on a very specific cause can lead astray from the ultimate goal (of decreasing accidents and fatalities).

    As Dr. Novella points out, the problem isn’t what occupies you, but the fact that you’re occupied with something else while driving. Since we’re concerned more about saving lives than with convicting as many as possible, we should be focusing on the underlying causes.

    Reckless driving is indeed an offence. As you point out, often a good lawyer can get you out of it. But again, I am more concerned about how to prevent this from happening in the first place, rather than punishing people later.

  13. Chris says:

    A few weeks ago I was at an intersection, and noticed someone pull up very quickly into the left hand turn lane. Since he was so fast I glanced over and noticed he was looking down at a phone.

    Then my light turned green, but the left lane arrow was still red. He sped ahead and almost scraped my front bumper as he pulled in front of me. I wailed on my horn at him. He actually noticed where I turned and followed me, and when he pulled along side of me I yelled that he had ran a red light.

    He sarcastically said “I did not know.” Well, dude, actually look at the light, not your phone!

    A few years earlier some guy hit my rear bumper when I was the second car stopped at a red light. My son in the back thought he saw the guy put down a phone.

    I really hate it when people drive and use phones at the same time.

  14. Andrey Pavlov says:

    I often have phone conversations in the car. I don’t text (anymore – I’m guilty of it in the past) but managing light conversation while on roads I know well is an immense time saver. However, I do not have conversations in unknown areas where I need to focus on navigation, nor in situations where high speed maneuvers are necessary (i.e. lane changes on the highway). I am also not hesitant to simply stop talking and pay attention to the road fully when I need to. Many times I have just had to say “I’ll call you back” and hang up without pause.

    I realize it is a trade off and I am fully cognizant that we cannot multi-task (which is why I had to nod politely when the PA I work with was telling me how much better she works when she is multitasking). But I also have no hesitation in letting the lower priority cognitive tasks fall to the wayside very rapidly when necessary. Granted, the point is that I am less likely to notice that my attention needs to be diverted away from the call should something rapid arise… hence the trade off. I don’t fool myself that I am not increasing my risk, but I try and do so as minimally as possible because otherwise I simply wouldn’t be able to have the time to keep up the social/family interactions in my life which is what I use driving and talking for primarily – light “hey how’s it going” conversation. I have pulled over and/or deferred conversations that proved to be much more “heavy.”

    That said, hands-free is ridiculous. I got ticketed for merely hold the phone in my hand down by my lap while using a hands-free device because technically my hand was touching it. I didn’t want the phone to slide around the car. I’ve also had a patient who tells me she gets around the law by putting her phone inside a clean coffee mug and holding it to her mouth since technically her hands aren’t touching the phone.

  15. windriven says:


    I had a guy rear-end me in Algona at a traffic light. I can’t prove that he was on the phone or texting. But the only other possibilities were that he was having an out of body experience or a grand mal seizure. No traffic. Broad daylight. $10k damage to my vehicle maxed out the Progressive policy of the other driver.

  16. goodnightirene says:

    The difference between talking on the phone in a car, and talking to the person next to you is that the person next to you is also watching and the conversation ebbs and flows based on what is being observed by driver and passenger. However, I have been known to miss my exit by miles when I get very involved in conversation with a passenger.

    When I use my phone in my car it is totally hands free (as long as I get everything set up before driving). I press a button on the steering wheel to answer. If there’s traffic I just say “driving, can’t talk” and hang up (another press of button). In unfamiliar settings, I turn it off (hit radio button), because I find even the signal of an incoming call to be distracting.

    I think my limited use of this technology is far less distracting than a car full of young people with music blasting away or than someone who talks on and on (chatting rather than quickly dealing with a situation). I don’t think you can ban every distraction and some of the worst (eating something with a spoon?) aren’t illegal (unless officer discretion is that broad, as someone mentioned above).

    Perhaps these “driverless” cars will be the answer. I’ll probably just be dragging my little wheeled cart to the bus stop by the time they are common. Sigh.

  17. Narad says:

    I had a guy rear-end me in Algona at a traffic light. I can’t prove that he was on the phone or texting.

    I’ve had a woman strike me (a pedestrian) with her vehicle at a crosswalk, and she most certainly was talking on the phone. Just happened to start creeping after a full stop.

  18. BrewandFerment says:

    Unfortunately there’s not always a way to omit screeching, squabbling, food-throwing toddlers from the car–gagging or drugging them is frowned upon…

    My driving ability while hands-free phone conversing when they weren’t in the car was positively focused by comparison!

    I did find that in bumper-to-bumper, slow speed traffic, at the end of a long day, a phone call aided my attentiveness to my surroundings, whereas when I didn’t, boredom and tiredness had my mind wandering much farther afield from the cars around me.

  19. norrisL says:

    In 1991 I was driving through the Scottish highlands when I noticed an elderly man driving with a video recorder on his right shoulder. That must rate highly on the don’t do it scale.

    A few years back, my wife pulled up at a red light. As she did so, her mobile phone rang. She reached down and turned it off. The window to her left wound down and the man in the car, who turned out to be a police officer, pointed to the side of the street. She received a $230 fine. Despite that, and to my intense annoyance, she still talks on the mobile phone while driving.

    While I was working in England in 1990, the UK government brought in what was popularly known as the “yuppy tax”, a tax on mobile phones. So the average UK resident (or “Pom” as we Australians refer to them), felt that people who owned a mobile phone were “Yuppies”. ie: they only bought a mobile phone to be SEEN having a mobile phone. I suspect that attitude has changed ever so slightly since then.

  20. DavidRLogan says:

    “Hopefully, technology will get us out of this problem it has gotten us into.”

    This hope seems pervasive, these days. I, at least, prefer the solution you offer so much more (just avoid using the technology for this tiny, tiny period of the day.) As you say, wisely:

    “Computer-assisted driving seems like the perfect solution. It will be years before such technology becomes standard, however, so in the meantime – don’t text and drive.”

    Does it strike anyone else as monumentally depressing that, during our use of (insert technology), we would think an advanced computer module our best hope against death or pollution or (insert favorite industrial problem)? Even when the solution is SO simple (above)?

    Do we really have such little faith in others, and in ourselves, that we consider being away from a tiny screen for a few minutes (!!!) a more intractable problem than designing a technology (in this case, robot cars) that will take the coordination of the brightest engineers and computer scientists who ever lived?

  21. windriven says:


    “Do we really have such little faith in others, and in ourselves, that we consider being away from a tiny screen for a few minutes (!!!) a more intractable problem than designing a technology (in this case, robot cars) that will take the coordination of the brightest engineers and computer scientists who ever lived?”


    It took me a long time to understand that my fellows aren’t all wired the same as I am. The average American adult spends, depending on the source you trust*, between 28 and 34 hours per week watching television. That is almost certainly more time than they spend reading, indulging in their hobbies and engaging in lovemaking combined. Hmmm … they’d rather watch Seinfeld reruns than …

    I’m sure that all of us here could relate stories of people in all sorts of situations who opted for diddling with their cell phones (I’ve dated myself – mobile devices) than engaging in some stimulating pastime or entertainment.


    * reporting AC Neilson numbers says 28

    NYT even reports: “In fact, adults are exposed to screens — TVs, cellphones, even G.P.S. devices — for about 8.5 hours on any given day, according to a study released by the Council for Research Excellence on Thursday.”

  22. Chris says:


    Unfortunately there’s not always a way to omit screeching, squabbling, food-throwing toddlers from the car–gagging or drugging them is frowned upon…

    I’ve been known to park the car when we were on our way to a fun location (pool, playground, playdate) and wait until they quieted down. One time I had to actually get out of the car and stand by it while the kids stopped fighting. I got a few stares, but I had the windows open and I did not leave them.

    Unfortunately, it was not a method that helped when going to the dentist or doctor.

  23. When I was younger and less careful who I give the mobile phone number to, it often ended up in hands of very chatty females who suffer from what I diagnosed as “SMS diarrhea”, these young women who typically commute to their destination and spend the free time on an “unlimited sms” phone plan forwarding every stupid joke and wiseass quote to every contact on their phonebook. Very annoying when you are expecting important messages and a flood of crap buzzes in instead. It got so bad I had to change phone number a few times.

  24. BrewandFerment says:


    yah, it’s never when they want to go somewhere fun, only when there’s a time constraint that can’t be helped or there’s no safe place to stop (sides of freeways, the sketchy neighborhood at the end of the offramp…) and there was one (normally) 3 hr trip to grandma’s house that if I had stopped for every tantrum I could have gotten there faster by covered wagon…thank goodness they are now old enough to be plugged into their own electronic sedation drips (er, gameboy ipod etc)

  25. LynnDewees says:

    “These trends have probably obscured any increase in car accidents from using portable communication devices while driving.” “Probably” sounds more like intuition then science. Also, the data you site is for DEATHS, not ACCIDENTS, so there really is no comparison.

    The statistic cited – deaths per 100,000 population – seems irrelevant to cell phone usage. The better statistic would be deaths per vehicle mile traveled. That statistic has shrunk since 1990 as well. (

    If cell phone usage has increased significantly since 1990 AND cell phone usage significantly increases the risk of accident, there should be a clear bump in the number of accidents that have occurred. The referenced table shows that the sheer NUMBER of accidents has also decreased. Note that ACCIDENTS are not affected by helmet laws or other things that might “obscure” any increases in the DEATH statistic. I’d like to find ACCIDENTS per VEHICLE MILE TRAVELED, but so far have come up blank on my google searches.

    For those with anecdotal evidence (@Chris, @windriven), remember that anecdotal evidence is not proof. (This is a science based blog after all.) People were doing stupid things behind the wheel and getting into accidents long before we had cell phones.

  26. Chris says:

    BrewandFerment, all of my kids are in college, so it was before individual entertainment systems. Though I when I had the kids in the car I had the radio tuned to “Radio Disney.” This was mostly to avoid them hearing news stories about Monica Lewinsky. Plus I really like Weird Al Yankovic.

    So one time they were acting up, and I threatened (promised) to switch the station to the classical station. Well when it came time to that Disney Radio was playing a Britney Spears song (way before she shaved her head), and I switched the radio to Classical KING FM. They immediately said: “Oooh, we like this!”. Which made me feel very happy to have paid for music lessons.

    As college students they still hate Britney Spears. One likes Scandinavian metal rock, and I recently caught the younger one listening to Queen. They have weird music tastes, but it is interesting.

    By the way, dear hubby and I went to a nice restaurant this past weekend. The table next to us was a couple celebrating a wedding anniversary, with their three young children. The oldest had her own game player, and the youngest (two to three years old) was being entertained by phonics games/songs on mom’s smartphone. The middle child also had a smartphone in front of him, but I could not see what he was watching. At least he was not trying to hide under the table cloth like the youngest. Truthfully, it was adorable.

    I am not condemning them, because I understand them. On one trip to visit relatives I bribed young kids with a new small toy at every stop. I managed to get a set of Power Ranger toys very cheaply, so that helped make them happy on plane trips and long car ride to grandparents.

  27. scienceofpossibility says:

    Add speeding to the other distractions–not that it’s an added physically distracting item or person but that it is done with the objective being to get from A to B as quickly as possible rather than as safely as possible, and usually done absentmindedly or with the juvenile mentality of getting away with something or “making up for” lack of time management or so as not to get bored (poor thing). The only good driver is one who takes driving seriously, knows it’s a life and death risk, and thinks and watches 360 degrees 100 percent of the time. Anyone with minimal mentality can push a gas pedal and steer, or barrel down a highway over the speed limit with half a brain cell and one eye on just the lane in front of them.

  28. scienceofpossibility says:

    Before all the current technology that allows people to avoid interacting with their kids, we regularly traveled 520 miles one way to grandma’s house–having a great time together as a family of five. We taught how to pack light, and the kids were allowed to take one book and one “thing to do” for in the car or at our destination, usually a game, craft, or toy. Things weren’t always perfectly quiet or happy, but the disagreeable times were easily managed with appropriate attention. It also wasn’t always stress-free or idyllic, but the bad times were few and far between as I think back at the whole picture. We actually had to use parenting and communication skills instead of shelling out money and handing over a material object that demands more interaction with that object than with the family (and in some cases so the parents can interact with their object without interruption from the kids). Now our children are raising the grandchildren the way they were raised, and it sure is a beautiful thing to see eye contact being made and to hear them talk about the world.

  29. kathy says:

    mho wrote, “Our favorite siting was a man driving with a cell phone in one hand and an ice cream cone in the other. We wanted to follow him just to watch the inevitable: when he stuck the ice cream cone in his ear.”

    Mmhmm, I saw something like this once. Except it wasn’t an ice-cream, it was a cigarette.

    I’ve been in only a few accidents in my 30 years of driving, and two of them were distraction-related. One happened when a guy, talking on his phone, decided to do a U-turn just as I pulled out to pass him (he was driving very slowly and erratically). As my lovely shiny red car was all of three weeks old, I was fed-up to say the least.

    The other time was when my car broke down and I pulled over onto the shoulder. It was a long straight road and I would be visible from about 500m (500 yards for those born in the USA) back. I watched in disbelief as two ladies in a car came sailing down the shoulder, chatting to each other, and drove straight into the back of me without so much as slackening their speed. They were both utterly oblivious of anything other than their conversation.

  30. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    About the statistics: I live in the Netherlands. Traffic mortality now is about 3.8 deaths/100.000 pop. The table on
    3.9 deaths /100.000 pop … 5.6 deaths/vehicle Tm

    comparable to the UK

    3.6 … 5.7

    The corresponding figures for the USA are:

    12.3 deaths/100.000 pop … 8.5 deaths/vehicle Tm

    (1 Tm = 1 terameter = 10^12 meter = 10^9 km = 1 billion km)

    Mortality in the Netherlands has one component that is probably almost absent in the US, namely accidents in which bicycles or light motorbikes get hit. I don’t know what makes Dutch traffic safer. There are many automated speed controls. For Belgium (a different country!) the figures are

    10.1 … 10.8

    The difference between Belgium and the Netherlands is that in Belgium the controls are laxer, or used to be; what also counts (maybe) is tough driving exams. Traffic deaths used to be quite large; in 1972 the Dutch figures were

    24.3 … 66.6

    Better roads and cars are a factor; nowadays our highways are so crowded that there’s always a car in front of you and one behind you and one or two to the left or the right. So you have no choice but driving at a more or less constant speed. But an important factor is ubiquitous control and stiff fines. The fines for not hands free phoning while driving start at 220 euro (about 300 US dollar) and in serious cases can go op to 2000 euro. But more important than the fine is how much effort the police puts into maintaining the rules. A young acquaintance of mine got fined for just checking whether his phone was off.

    1. windriven says:

      “tough driv exams”

      I’m all for that. Many years ago I moved to New Orleans and for reasons I’ve forgotten, had to take the driving exam. We did the driving test and at the end the trooper told me to pull into a parking space. I asked her if we weren’t going to do parallel parking (as was required in Ohio where I first got a license). The trooper looked at me as if I were joking. Realizing that I wasn’t she said: if we gave a parallel parking test there would only be 37 licensed drivers in Louisiana.

      In the US we give licenses to nearly anyone with a pulse. In Washington where I live now, I renew my license on line and they mail me a new license. This means that my eyesight isn’t tested and it also means that if I’m a nutter of his meds or happened to have had bilateral amputation of my arms, no one has to look me over before giving me free rein to drive for the next 4 years.

  31. BrewandFerment says:

    @ Chris,

    Love Weird Al, too–remember Dr. Demento radio (not for kids though!) Eldest kid, 19, is before the personal electronics for young kids, too. That one was a pretty good traveler. Second kid, 12, was NOT–even as a small, supposed-to-sleep-all-the-time-especially-in-the-car-infant (hah!!), and third kid, 9, was somewhere in between the other two.


    We took long family driving trips between California and Ohio, 5 kids over a 6 year age range, and parents. My recollection to this day was of much unmitigated misery during long stretches of dullness. Mom tried her best with games and small toys, and discussions as we got older, but there was only so much we could stand of that even still. My siblings pretty much have the same impression. I don’t fare well without a book to read but got viciously carsick so couldn’t retreat to a book. Dad hated freeways so our routes took longer. I remember the stops to see stuff with fondness but the interim on the road was dreadful and to this day I detest the thought of long drives if I am not the driver. So I would not subject my kids to such unpleasantness. Of course we vary the activities, and books on tape/CD have been a well enjoyed diversion on driving trips–now that they are old enough to enjoy and discuss.

    But when one is the sole adult in the car, and the then-11 yr old has gotten completely (and understandably) fed up trying to calm the antics of 1 and 4 year old siblings and is now surly as well, and we are all trying to get back home at a somewhat civilized hour, I would have given much for some sort of magic device or fairy dust to make them all be quiet so I could better concentrate on driving…

  32. Chris says:

    We’ve done one large road trip, and then dear hubby has refused to do that again. It was a loop down to Disneyland, over to Arizona to visit relatives, up to Denver for more relatives and a scenic way home.

    We survived by buying Harry Potter books on tape along the way. We had the first, and it ran out. It mostly worked.

  33. egstra says:

    A year or so ago, I woman in Minneapolis was convicted of vehicular homicide (I believe) for having killed a pedestrian. She apparently had been on the phone, and then looked down to put it in her lap. When she looked up, the pedestrian was “just right there.”

    After the trial, she was asked how her driving habits would change as a result of the conviction. She said, “Well, I’ll try not to use the phone while driving any more.”

    Try!? That left me speechless.

    1. Lynn Dewees says:

      More anecdotal evidence. What if she’d looked off to the side of the road to read a billboard and hit someone. At the trial she said “I’ll try not to read billboards anymore”. Would that have left you speechless??

      1. egstra says:

        Yes, if she had killed someone because of not paying attention for whatever reason and said that she would “try” to pay more attention, I would have been speechless.

        There are many distractions we have to deal with while driving. I would hope that all drivers, especially one who has just killed someone, would eliminate as many of them as possible.

  34. Postulator says:

    I for one look forward to driver-less cars. I am well aware of my failings as a driver, and would like to use my daily commute as productive time rather than just listening to the latest podcasts (which in some ways is productive, I suppose).

    So, give me a driver-less car, or a teleporter in my back room.

  35. Minion of Draconis says:

    How about, give me my damned knobs and buttons back, car manufacturers? I drive rental cars about once a month and while I love that American cars have gotten so very much better in terms of quality and performance, could they stop with the damned touch screen crap? I hate taking my eyes off the road, even for a second, and you know the second I’m talking about, the one where you drift into oncoming traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge while looking to see if you turned down the AC, hung up the phone, or ejected the CD. I love Teslas and technology, but I think I’d bend the damn thing in the first fifteen minutes of driving having to look down to do virtually anything besides use the turn signal. Don’t even get me started on iDrive . . .

  36. LynnDewees says:

    Does anyone have any actual statistics that show cell phone usage increases accidents? Otherwise, this is all anecdotal and presuppositions. Approximately the same evidence for homeopathy and ghosts.

    1. egstra says:

      Yes, it is anecdotal… I certainly wouldn’t claim anything else. Driving is full of distractions; why voluntarily add yet another? I think driving while texting is even more stupid than driving while putting on make-up or playing the trumpet (yes, I’ve seen this) or changing clothes as it requires even more attention than those other activities.

      My bias is that it’s probably pointless to make it illegal, although there might well be increased penalties if it could be proven that one were texting/talking on the phone at the time of a fatal accident. OTOH, I think there should be LOTS of publicity about how stupid this is. And I think driver’s exams should be more rigorous, too.

      I have trouble believing that you’re actually defending the behavior… are you simply holding out for good stats or what?

      1. LynnDewees says:

        I’m not necessarily defending anything. (I have trouble texting while sitting still so I would never try it while driving. And I’m enough of an old fogey to wonder why anyone would want to text anyway.)

        This blog is science-based. It says so right there in the title. So I want to know where the science is.

        My personal opinion (no science involved) is that this whole “idiot with a cell-phone” meme is simply a carry-over from the days when everyone hated yuppies and yuppies were the only ones with cell phones.

        1. Chris says:

          This sentence in the article should help: “A recent University of Utah study examined drivers with various levels of distraction. They found:”

          Also, there are studies in the embedded links. Though it is a bit hard to see the slightly different font color with the new blog format. One link about teenagers is

          As an anecdote, I used to go to the evening science talks at my kids’ high school. One talk was from an engineer from the local university that worked with human/machine interaction. Her research was on how car design helped or hindered safe driving. This included placement of radio controls, mirrors, etc. She had videos of tests done on people either driving in a simulator (like that used for the Univ. of Utah study), to some very scary real videos of people driving in cars (from cameras installed on the rear view mirror facing into the car).

  37. Chris says:


  38. DavidDavid says:

    Everyone’ kinda forgetting that the laws are largely based on evidence demonstrating that telephones are a major distraction whilst driving. Whilst we all have many anecdotes relating to the subject, they are just that, anecdotes.

    Like them or not, the laws are mostly our current best method of attempting to control a percieved hazard.

  39. jeff cox says:

    I don’t know if you’re even paying attention to this thread anymore Steve, but this just bugs me.

    What you’re saying people are actually doing when they are “Multitasking”, i.e task switching, is the computer science definition of multitasking. A multitasking operating system slices its processing time up and distributes it amongst all the running threads, switching rapidly between them. There is an overhead cost incurred because the OS has to copy around a bunch of thread state when switching, but the convenience of being able to run more than one thing a time makes up for the performance loss.

    If you mean to say that people think they are running tasks at the same time, you’re taking about “Parallel Processing”. Sorry for the pedantry.

  40. jeff cox says:

    sorry, that should be “If you mean to say that people think they are *actually* running tasks…”

  41. Chris says:

    Just posting this because it is kind of cool. There is a “Nerdy Job” series on YouTube, and this one shows cool stuff at a car manufacturer from 3-D printers to the end with a full motion car simulator, where they purposely distract the driver:

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