Friday, September 4, 2009

Bans on texting while driving. Sharon Montgomery speaks out.

Sharon Montgomery was Wednesday's guest on the Eastside News Roundup. She was interviewed by host John Matuszak and Dianne Garrett about legislative proposals to prohibit "Distracted Driving" or "text-messaging while driving." State Representative Nancy Garland called in to join the discussion with Sharon.

Sharon said "There is a lot of concern about distracted driving and a lot of talk about what we should or shouldn't do about it. The first step in solving any problem is identifying it. To understand distracted driving, I like a "traffic signal" approach: stop perpetuating myths, be cautious of opinions, and go with the facts."

Around 42,000 people die in traffic crashes on American roads each year. About 1300 of those deaths are on Ohio roads.

These numbers can also vary some from year to year but recent tabulations calculate that 78% of traffic crashes and 65% of the near-misses are a result of distracted driving.

Sharon said that the crashes are not accidents. She explained her point of view from a law dictionary definition of accident as something that "could not be reasonably anticipated." A driver can "reasonably anticipate" that if he doesn't pay attention, he's likely to miss something. It is also "reasonable" to anticipate that what is missed could be important and that missing it could have a bad result. A driver may choose to ignore that "reasonable anticipation," but that doesn't change the fact that it is reasonable to anticipate a crash if you don't pay attention when you're driving. It is a fact, then, that crashes caused by drivers using phones (for conversation or written messages) are not accidents. They can be anticipated and prevented.

Prevention will need a comprehensive approach that includes education, both as public awareness and driver training, new laws, with consistent and visible enforcement and penalties severe enough to act as a deterrent. Data collection and analysis are also needed to measure the scope of the problem and the effects of preventive measures. Sharon also said that increased availability of public transportation will help, too. When fewer cars are on the road, fewer cars will crash.

Shaaron said that it is a myth that all driver distractions are the same. Some are unavoidable--unexpected things can happen outside the car. Some of the avoidable ones, the ones drivers choose to create, are more distracting than others. They can be more distracting because they last longer, and/or because they engage the brain more. Eating a hamburger takes essentially no thought. Carrying on a conversation involves processing what the other person is saying and formulating your response.

Phone distraction is part of the bigger myth of multi-tasking. Brain studies show us that we are not multi-tasking. We are not doing two cognitive tasks at the same time. Our brains are flitting back and forth between the tasks. This is like using a computer. We can have more than one window open at a time, but we can perform functions in only one of them at a time.

Another popular opinion is that this problem will get better over time, as people get more experienced with driving while phoning or texting. The facts are that brain and behavioral studies show that our "other-tasking" skills decline with age and that the people who do the most media multi-tasking actually do that flitting back and forth less effectively than people who are less frequent multi-taskers. The fact is that the number of mobile phone owners grows dramatically each year. Already about a third of eight-to-twelve year olds and two-thirds of teens own a phone. The children with phones will have the phone anywhere/anytime habit deeply ingrained in them before they ever start to drive. Even the children who don't own phones see their parents and other adults using them anywhere, anytime. We learn by example. The fact is that the number of tasks these phones can perform increases continuously.

There are four kinds of unsafe drivers who phone or text. There are the ones with experience and skill with the phone but not at driving and the ones with experience and skill at driving but not with the phone. There are the ones who have experience with both driving and the phone but who are less successful at dividing their attention between mental tasks. There are the ones who have no experience yet with the new ways to use the phone.

The number of mobile phone owners and the number who admit to using them while driving goes up every year so it's a pretty safe assumption that the number of crashes caused by phoning/texting drivers is also increasing each year.

Will laws against this be hard to enforce because the police can't always see the phone? No harder than drunk driving laws. Police can't see alcohol in a driver's blood.

Will laws against this take away your personal freedom? No; your rights extend only to the point that they infringe on someone else's rights. We each have a right to safety on the public roads. Do you complain that speeding laws take away your personal freedom?

Won't education be enough, without a law? People don't always do what they're taught. People have a natural tendency to think, "It won't happen to me." If education were enough, we wouldn't need any traffic safety laws.

Aren't the general distracted driving laws enough? If they were, this problem wouldn't be escalating. Can we "single out" this one distraction? Yes; we've already "singled out" drunk driving and speeding in a construction zone. Should we "single out" this one distraction? Yes; we have years and years of research showing that it is more distracting than other non-driving behaviors drivers engage in.

The bottom line is that just because we can do something, doesn't mean we need to do it, or should do it in every situation. And, it certainly doesn't mean we must do it. The vast majority of calls and texts done while driving are unnecessary. A momentary convenience for one person can result in a life-time of problems for another person.

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Design is copyright 2009. All rights reserved. Bexley Public Radio Foundation. Text is copyright 2009. All rights reserved. Sharon Montgomery.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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