Phones and car crashes II

I’ve written about this before.  As the material I linked to in my previous post seemed to show, while there are a bunch of good reasons – both experimental and observational for assuming that mobile phone use will be associated with higher accident rates, it’s still hard to find the links in the data.  In particular when one goes looking for the efficacy of bans of mobile phone use in cars, you can’t find much.  Still the research justifying a ban continues to roll off the presses.  This report which claims that mobile phone use quadrouples one’s chances of an accident seems to be based on some quite persuasive research involving checking the actual mobile phone use times of individual drivers against the times of their accidents.  Still the paper doesn’t quote the econometric work I mentioned in the previous post which is a bit of a surprise.

Even if the orthodox research expertise is correct, I’ve not had a car accident in 30 odd years of driving, so I’m happy to have my chances of an accident quadrupled for a few moments every now and again.

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Amanda
14 years ago

Im happy to have my chances of an accident quadrupled for a few moments every now and again.

As a pedestrian who might be in your vicinity at the time, I’m not.

Liam
Liam
14 years ago

I’m with Amanda on this one, as a pedestrian and motorcyclist. We’ve got two arguments from anecdote to your one, which makes you outvoted.
Nick, there’s nobody who could possibly call you who’s more important than keeping your car in your lane and on the road.

Joshua Gans
Joshua Gans(@joshua-gans)
14 years ago

You only to observe drivers talking on mobile phones whilst driving to see that many of them are not totally in control of their vehicles.

I watched a semi-trailer driver trying to turn a corner this morning one hand on the steering wheel, the other holding his phone. It was scary stuff.

harry clarke
14 years ago

The feeling is that mobile phone use probably has to be dangerous because it is distracting. You’d be included to look hard at data suggesting the reverse would you not?

Isn’t part of the message just ‘concentrate while you are driving’ ireespective of the specific point about phones?

Paul Martin
14 years ago

I came across an idiot pulling into traffic with a mobile phone to his ear, right in front of me as I was about to pass him on my motorbike. His dumb-ass response when I yelled at him, was am indignant “I didn’t see ya” (as if that makes it OK). Well of course you didn’t see me, you fuck-head, you’re on your fucking phone. Never mind you just about killed someone.

Sorry, but the roads are made for use that includes cars, trucks, bicycles, motorbikes, but not mobile phones. Handsfree kits are cheap as chips, and while not ideal, are a whole lot better than holding that thing to your ear while driving.

Niall
14 years ago

Despite your glib attempt to brush off the fact that you’re breaking the law, you’re breaking the law, Nicholas.

Angharad
Angharad
14 years ago

And it’s not just car drivers – I nearly accidentally ran over a pedestrian today who was on his phone, outside the pub, wandering around on the road without looking whilst talking animatedly. He was avoidable whilst stationery – I was planning to drive around him, but then he started doing the walking around whilst making great point thing that some people do.

Caroline
14 years ago

Have you ever tried to dial a number, change gear and hold onto the steering wheel at the same time? Very difficult if not impossible, and definitely potentially hazardous.

I had a dream that I ran off the road, while talking on a mobile phone which was strange, because at the time I hadn’t yet bought a mobile phone. I took it as a warning that it is at the least a dangerous activity. I would hazard a guess that there’s some different circuitry going on in the brain, maybe two opposing areas trying to function simultaneously that interfere and possibly cancel each other out–one’s ability to judge spatial relations versus trying to pay attention to someone somewhat disembodied on the end of a phone.

Caroline
14 years ago

I too have seen someone nearly cleaned up on the edge of the highway while talking excitedly on their phone.

Patrick
Patrick
14 years ago

Still, I suspect my occasional car phone use is a very small threat to the pedestrians of the world compared with younger (particularly male) drivers, much older drivers, drivers under the influence and speeders.

Since your position and arguements on this thread display all the characteristics of a younger (particularly male) driver, I’d be tempted to doubt your judgment in this area, and give you the same advice I (all too often) give myself: think how you would feel if you ever did hit someone, and started to ask yourself if there was anything you could have done to avoid it…

The Worst of Perth
14 years ago

Re:

Still, I suspect my occasional car phone use is a very small threat to the pedestrians of the world compared with younger (particularly male) drivers, much older drivers, drivers under the influence and speeders.

They are also using their phones. This is the classic response of speeders who also think their speeding is OK.

You will need have this classic response ready when pulled over,

“Why aren’t you concentrating on the real criminals?”, he, he.

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Francis Xavier Holden
14 years ago

Canterbury Road Canterbury Saturday morning about 10 am. Medium traffic speed around 40ks-60ks. Lycra clad “guys with thighs” type $2,000+ road bike rider, keeping pace with most traffic, leans back, no hands, pulls mobile from back pouch and proceeds to dial.

Andrew Leigh
14 years ago

I expect a quadrupling of accident risk is probably in line with the impact of driving drunk, isn’t it? Still, I’d like to see a study that separates the effect of driving one-handed from the effect of driving while carrying on a phone conversation.

Liam
Liam
14 years ago

Heh, FXH. I can beat that.
Parramatta Road/Broadway near the corner of Glebe Point Road, Friday afternoon a couple of months ago around 5.30pm (ie. me looking out the bus window).
Young bloke, riding down the centre line of Glebe Point Road on a well-beaten mountain bike, talking on a mobile with one hand, in the other hand holding *both* a cigarette and a can of Bundy rum ‘n’ coke.
I was in awe.

Tony Healy
Tony Healy
14 years ago

Andrew, the issue has always been the distraction effect, not the lack of control of having one arm diverted to a non-driving task. This has been well understood by experts in the field.

The proposal that hands-free kits address the problem was part of a very successful lobbying campaign by the cell phone industry in America, copied here in Australia by Telstra.

Nicholas, I would encourage you to turn your phone off while driving. Nothing would be worth running over a toddler on a pedestrian crossing, surely.

As the “study” by the economists, I might prepare a rebuttal later. They haven’t proven anything. In particular, if they want to challenge conventional research, they need to establish where it’s wrong, rather than just playing with statistics.

Joshua Gans
Joshua Gans(@joshua-gans)
14 years ago

On thing that’s worth mentioning is that using a mobile phone is bound to add more to some people’s accident risk than to others. For someone like Nicholas, who uses the mobile dozens of times a day, the gadget almost part of his body, and it’s as easy for him to combine phoning with driving as singing is to combine withn showering for most people. For someone like me, who hardly ever uses a mobile, it takes the utmost mental concentration, as well as two or three hands, to make a call even when not driving. If there was rich data on this, I bet it would show that the probability of an accident increases by ten when using a mobile if you’re a novice, and hardly at all if you’re a Gruen — the quoted four factor being a weighted average. But it’s impossible to legislate on the basis of this distinction, unless we want to introduce a special phoner’s driving licence. So Nicholas might just have to tolerate being an unintended victim of my incompetence.

Gummo Trotsky
14 years ago

For someone like Nicholas, who uses the mobile dozens of times a day, the gadget almost part of his body, and its as easy for him to combine phoning with driving as singing is to combine withn showering for most people.

Pretty much the same logic that’s applied by people who get behind the wheel and drive while intoxicated with alcohol and other psycho-active drugs. “It’s OK for me” (and me mates), “I/we can handle it ’cause we drink all the time.”

Doesn’t wash.

Francis Xavier Holden
14 years ago

Liam- my bloke observed was an idiot – yours – clearly a bloody legend.

Francis Xavier Holden
14 years ago

It’s pretty clear to me that distractions whilst driving will tend to be, er, um, distractions from the main task and lessen concentration on that main task.

What’s not clear to me is if (or how) talking on a hands free phone is worse than, as bad as, or less than, say a squawking kid in back seat, wandering dog in front seat, smoking a ciggie, drinking a bottle of “health water”, thinking about interest rates, changing a CD, suspecting a spider behind sun visor, squabbling with passenger, gawking at inappropriate muffin tops, cleavage, bum cracks, pot bellies, or putting on lipstick, eating a sushi roll or driving in thongs.

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[…] unknown wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptIts pretty clear to me that distractions whilst driving will tend to be, er, um, distractions from the main task and lessen concentration on that […]

Tony Healy
Tony Healy
14 years ago

James, the distraction is the conversation on the phone, rather than using the phone as such. Although the effects of that distraction vary, they apply to everyone, including Nicholas. Distraction slows reaction times and hinders detection of important driving queues, such as red lights or children running onto the road.

FXH, as to the question of why phone conversations are more risky than other car activities, the answer is that the other party to the conversation is not aware of the driving environment, and thus can’t adjust their conversation to the driving task the way a passenger does. For example, a passenger will detect that the driver is concentrating on something and wait. Or the passenger will themselves detect dangerous situations and ease off while the driver handles the situation. Phone conversations, on the other hand, demand sustained attention from the driver.

There are also issues with texting, where using the keyboard and diverting eyes from the road degrades driver performance.

Unfortunately crashes are rare events, so drivers don’t get feedback about their behaviour until a catastrophic single event. Because of this, most dangerous drivers don’t see themselves as dangerous. Many even perceive themselves as possessing special skills at driving fast. For example, Congressman Bill Jankow in America used to be an ardent speeding advocate and critic of safety measures, until he killed a motorcyclist.

And the 4WD driver who raced into Bethany Holder’s school in Sydney certainly didn’t mean to run over the innocent 5 year old in front of her mother.

The point of safe driving is always having time to respond to unexpected situations.