[UPDATE 3/31] LaHood continues the his theme on distracted driving here and here. Man I love this guy.

On Friday Governor Gregoire  signed stronger legislation which bans text messaging as well as talking on a cell phone without a hands free device. I previously wrote about this here, here and here. From the HeraldNet;

“In the end, this is a public safety bill for me,” Gregoire said, surrounded by a small crowd of people including the chief of the Washington State Patrol.

“To those who have said to me that it’s no different than having a cup of coffee, the coffee doesn’t talk back to me. Coffee doesn’t have anything to say to me. A cell phone does,” she said.

“What if I am a young person and my boyfriend or girlfriend is breaking up with me. Am I really concentrating on what I am doing?” she continued. “While I wish we all could be able to talk on a cell phone in a car, I really do, the fact of the matter is, it’s without question a public safety issue.”

The article goes on to say,

In signing the bill, Gregoire said the law will help troopers who have found themselves driving in a marked car on a freeway and seen drivers on their cell phone “looking directly at them, flaunting it.”

When that happens, she said, “There is something wrong with the enforcement capacity of Washington State Patrol. I find that troubling.”

Secretary Ray LaHood, which has been an unassuming champion of this cause since he was appointed, has been holding up Washington State as a model of what the rest of the country needs to do. AT&T has kicked off a public education campaign and the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission which has been active on this issue will as well. As someone who has been rear-ended by someone distracted by their phone as well as a bicyclist whose safety relies on the attentiveness of drivers, this legislation is a huge step in the right direction. It certainly isn’t the end all but it will undoubtedly increase the safety of all road users in Washington State. A big thanks to Senator Eide for being such a strong champion of this safety legislation over the past few years.

23 Replies to “A Word That Killed, “Yeah””

  1. I’m not an expert on the studies regarding cell phone distraction, but do the studies justify this part of the law? “A person does not send, read, or write a text message when he or she reads, selects, or enters a phone number or name in a wireless communications device for the purpose of making a phone call.”

    Scrolling through a contact list or punching in a 10-digit phone number seems to my untrained intuition to be just as dangerous as sending or reading a text message, which I think is much more dangerous than simply speaking on the phone.

    I think the only way a caller should be able to dial a phone while driving is through voice command. I never do even that myself. If I have to place a call I dial while stopped.

    1. It’s a matter of thinking about content. When you’re looking for a person, you’re not thinking about what to say – and that’s the part that’s really distracting. A study earlier this year/late last year showed that talking to another person in the car was nearly as bad, but that’s tough to ban.

      1. At least if you are talking to another person in your car, if something starts to happen, they are likely to notice and warn you. Plus, both of your hands will (or should) be on the wheel, not one holding a cell phone, making it easier to react.

      2. When looking up a phone number, you may not be distracted by “content”, but neither can you see that the car in front of you is braking, because you’re looking at your phone.

        Does the research say anything about taking ones eyes off the road, or just about having one’s concentration being distracted by something other than driving?

        That’s why I think that text messaging is worse than talking on the phone: not only are you distracted by the “content”, you’re also taking your eyes off the road.

      3. I agree that it is distracting. However this is a compromise. I highly doubt that a law that completely bans the use of cell phone while driving would pass. So in that way while this isn’t a perfect bill it *certainly* is a step in the right direction. Because it doesn’t cover all distraction is not an arguement against it.

  2. Another interesting exception, and one more germane to the title of this blog :-), is “Relay information that is time sensitive between a transit or for-hire operator and that operator’s dispatcher, in which the device is permanently affixed to the vehicle.”

    This exception is attached to both the section forbidding use of a handheld phone and the section forbidding text messaging. Do transit operators in Washington today use both these methods for relaying time-sensitive information?

    I happen to think that text messaging is much more dangerous than use of a handheld cell phone, although both are risky. This law seems to treat them both the same by applying the same exceptions to each behavior. How many people really use text messaging to summon paramedics, while driving?

    1. Cabs generally have a device that communicates where they are and where pickups have been requested. I assume this is what they’re talking about.

    2. Metro will be using a wireless communication system that has text message like interfaces for bus drives.

  3. Cell phone ownership:
    Auto injuries and fatalities:

    If cell phones were causing accidents should not we see an increase in the number of them or at least some correlation between the two. We don’t.

    I am sure this will raise some monies for the state, which is certainly not a bad thing, but there is little to suggest it will have any affect on accident rates or deaths.

    1. I’ve been eating one more cheeseburger per week that I did last year, and yet I weigh 5 pounds less than I did last year. Does that mean cheeseburgers make you lose weight? Or does it suggest some other factor (e.g. increased gym attendance) is at play?

      Cell phone ownership does not equate to cell phone use while driving. Moreover, even if ownership did equate to use while driving, the only way chart #2 would support your argument is if all other accident-causing factors remained steady, which you don’t show and which any reasonable person can see is not the case.

      Seat belt usage increases every year. The percentage of vehicles on the road with airbags (driver, passenger, side-curtain, etc) increases every year. Between ’07 and ’08, the number of miles driven in America dropped for the first time since 1980. All these factors (to name a few) would drive the accident rate down. Which means that even if accidents due to phone distraction were on the rise, the total number of accidents could stay steady or even drop.

      1. If you are doing the two at the same time then you have a point e.g. I am going to Red Mill every Saturday for lunch, but I am going to go on a 15 mile bike ride after. On the other hand if you changed nothing else in your life, but your choice of lunch on Saturday and your weight stayed the same or decreased then you could rather safely say that the addition of the cheeseburger had a negligible effect on your waist line.

        With cell phones we should be seeing some effect, especially if they are the huge safety threat people suggest. Sure there are other things at work, but they would have to be perfectly aligned to cancel out any effect by phones or at least timed to the same interval. The things you mention, like seat belts and air bags, have been increasing for some time. If a new variable, phones, caused an effect then it should be somewhat noticeable in the data.

        And ownership data should track usage data while driving. Perhaps not perfectly, but we can pretty safely say that prior to 1990 very few were using a phone in the car compared to today and that usage rates have increased in roughly the same proportion.

      2. Giffy, you’re confusing correlation with causation. There are other factors driving down accident rates in general. You can’t draw a conclusion by looking at two lines.

      3. Ben, when you add in the fact that bans have so far had no effect on accident rates you get a picture of either a series of incredible coincidences (damn just when this would have had an effect something else jumped in), or some rather useless laws.

      4. Cell phone use has been shown to be a contributing factor in some accidents. I really don’t expect this law it to cause a ripple in the accident rate but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It adds a tool that police can use to pull over drivers that are obviously guilty of distracted driving. While a few individual accidents don’t make a dent in the statistics they do make a big difference to individual lives that are saved. Second (although making it a primary offense isn’t much different than existing law), it adds teeth to criminal and civil prosecution of those involved in an accident and using a cell phone. Note, the person using the cell phone may not be primarily responsible for the accident but if they were giving their full attention to the road they may have been able to prevent the accident. It’s all to easy to feel that it’s safe to use the phone assuming that everyone else on the road is going to be smart. You tend to have a short life span if you make that assumption as either a motorcyclist or a bicyclist. Third, and it’s not young people that benefit from this but just having the law makes it more apparent to people that pay attention is an important responsibility incumbent on the privilege to drive a vehicle.

  4. I support this law because I think it will improve safety.

    However, I cringe at the Governor’s signing statement. Is she really saying that she wants this law just because law enforcement feels frustrated? Would it be OK if people used phones, as long as they acted properly ashamed of their evil ways?

    1. If people felt “properly ashamed” of their evil deadly ways, the wouldn’t be using phones while driving. Law enforcement were frustrated because they were powerless to stop people who were doing something which puts lives at risk. Now, hopefully, they can do something about it.

  5. My impression is that the research that’s been done suggests that talking on a no-hands device is more or less as distracting as talking on a hand-held phone. That suggests that the conversation is what’s distracting, more than whether you have one or both hands on the wheel…

    1. Exactly.

      But we have the political will to do *this*, which helps. Next year, expand it to talking on the phone at all while driving.

    2. Does any of the research suggest that the distraction presented by the phone, and the concentration required to deal with traffic varies at all?

      Intuitively it seems that there are times when the concentration required to drive (e.g. straight rural highway with little traffic) and the concentration required to talk (e.g. chat with a loved one who will understand if you have to stop listening periodically) don’t exceed many people’s capacity.

      Naturally there are also times when the concentration required to drive (e.g. merging on a busy urban interchange) and the concentration required to talk (e.g. technical job interview) are both too great to handle at the same time.

      But what I’m wondering if these studies show that it’s always a big risk to talk on a hands-free device while driving, under all circumstances.

      I do think it’s a big risk to text-message under virtually all circumstances, which is why it bothers me that text-messaging gets the same exemptions that talking does.

      Sometimes I think that the reason Washington and Oregon have such low maximum speed limits is because both these states contain dense metro areas, and lawmakers from those areas don’t comprehend that 65 mph is too low for rural highways. I wonder if a similar lack of scalability is going on with this law.

  6. ““What if I am a young person and my boyfriend or girlfriend is breaking up with me. Am I really concentrating on what I am doing?” she continued. “While I wish we all could be able to talk on a cell phone in a car, I really do, the fact of the matter is, it’s without question a public safety issue.””

    How is talking on a bluetooth any different? It’s not. You’re still distracted from the road.

  7. And yet it’s ok to drive with a stupid F’n DOG ON YOUR LAP! As if that’s not a distraction. *rolls eyes*

  8. There are many things we can and should do to make drivers better drivers and to make driving safer. The biggest single thing we can do, however, is to provide other means of convenient, comfortable transport so that people don’t feel forced to drive around in cars. It is amazing how liberating shakling an addiction can be.

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