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Driving Phone-Toxicated

Posted on Sep 16, 2010

I am, as of this writing, 144 days away from never again being able to sleep soundly. That is when my 15-year-old daughter, as she delights in constantly reminding me, will receive her learner’s permit. And every time she gets behind the wheel, I’ll worry about the dangerous combination of teenage brain and 3,000-pound lethal weapon.

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I’m not sure whether I should blame Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood for adding to my anxiety or hug him for a timely lecture about the particular perils of distracted driving among teens—behaviors such as chatting on cell phones, checking BlackBerry messages, and texting.

I’m leaning toward hug.

LaHood phoned me—no, not in the car, although it is Bluetooth-enabled and I confess to conducting interviews on the road—in advance of the Transportation Department’s second annual Distracted Driving Summit.

His message was chastening, for me as well as my daughter: “You can’t drive safely with a cell phone in your ear or a BlackBerry in your hand. Put it in the glove compartment, because there’s no call so important it can’t wait.”


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The statistics about teens are frightening. The highest proportion of distracted drivers in fatal crashes were under the age of 20. One in four teens say they have texted while driving. Half of 12- to 17-year-olds say they’ve ridden with a texting driver. Half of cell-owning teens ages 16 to 17—are there any without?—say they have talked on the phone while driving.

And here’s why it’s so dangerous: “Drivers who send and receive text messages take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds out of every 6 seconds while texting,” according to the Transportation Department. “At 55 miles per hour, this means that the driver is traveling the length of an entire football field without looking at the road.”

As to old-fashioned calls, “using a cell phone while driving, whether it’s hand-held or hands-free, delays a driver’s reactions as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent.”

We need to do for cell phones and texting what we’ve accomplished for drunk driving and driving while unbuckled: make it unacceptable—and against the law. Currently, 30 states and the District of Columbia ban texting while driving, but only six states and the District prohibit all hand-held devices. The federal government should prod more states to follow suit, whether through carrots (incentive grants) or, if need be, sticks (threatening to withhold some transportation dollars.)

I’d also like to see more research into what really distracts drivers—in part because I do love my Bluetooth, and in part because of the array of diverting new technologies. Tapping a button on my steering wheel to take a call does not seem anywhere near as distracting as, say, glancing at the GPS screen or fiddling with the radio. Indeed, the only accident I’ve ever had happened when I was leaning down to put in a compact disc.

But LaHood did convince me: There is not a stoplight exception to the texting-while-driving rule. “I guarantee you when you’re looking at that message and the light turns green you don’t see it turning green,” he said. “Once the distraction starts, it’s very tough to take your eyes off.”

Point taken. We talked about distracted driving as I was driving my carpool (my daughter and two older teens) Thursday morning. And I managed to make it to the office without checking messages along the way.


Ruth Marcus’ e-mail address is marcusr(at symbol)

© 2010, Washington Post Writers Group

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By Margaret, June 6, 2011 at 10:14 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I really don’t buy this.  When power steering was
introduced it required a much greater vigilance than
before.  It isn’t possible to go that far without
looking at the road or you would be off of it
immediately.  Having worked in a research lab with
statistics, they can be molded to suit any agenda, and
I get the feeling that this is what has happened here.
It isn’t wise to text or even talk on the phone while
driving, but I seriously question whether more
legislation and all the accompanying costs are worth

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By Anne, September 19, 2010 at 1:22 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The entire Europe outlawed these practices a decade ago, so what are we waiting for? Raising consciousness is nice, but useless as well.

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By Josh Finley, September 19, 2010 at 9:45 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It should also be noted that the radiation emitted by cell phones has been demonstrated in numerous experiments to alter various physiological responses in people, animals, and tissue cultures.

Studies such as this, on reaction time, may be particularly relevant here:

The fact that such radiation is bio-active may also help explain the decline in cognitive function and physical health that appears to be occurring across all segments of society.  While it is in principal impossible to prove that this decline is solely caused by wireless radiation–there is, after all, no longer any unexposed control group, and there are other significant factors that are changing rapidly in the environment as well–the fact that wireless technology interferes with basic biological function in numerous ways is not likely to be without consequence for society at large.

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By tropicgirl, September 17, 2010 at 10:45 am Link to this comment

If I believed in cell phones, which I don’t, because
I choose other unhealthy practices that are more
meaningful to me, rather than a cell phone.

But if I did, I would make a point, right now, of
driving with it ON as much as I possibly could.

And Ruth, I could care less what you believe, what
studies you read, what pathetic depraved moron in the
government you believe you have to be co-dependent
with, and anyone else that you feel has a better
right to instruct your life, than yourself.

People like you should be the ones who have the one-
child limitations. Perhaps less.

Well, why not? The government says that population is
the problem, haven’t you read the writings of the
elite’s in the Obama administration? People are BAD
and teenagers are BADDER.

Its better not to have children at all, especially
since yours is obviously sub-par, having a “teen age
brain” and access to a large machine. And if you
doubt the wisdom of the government, then the
Greenpeace kid will blow your ass up. After all, he’s
not going to say it another time. Next time he will
just “act” and you will be sorry. I can almost hear
him say the world could do better without your
daughter. Just sayin’...

If the state thinks she is a menace someday perhaps
you will have no choice but to offer her up to them,
for discipline, for the good of the world. For
reprogramming, or the slammer, perhaps?

So Ruth, take the LARGER advice from LaHood and
others… don’t have kids, people are the enemy of
the environment. Don’t live long and don’t deviate
from the program. Otherwise, for the good of all of
us the state will have to act anyway, so whatever you
think matters not.

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By Ed, September 17, 2010 at 9:48 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I see too many people on the road who drive like idiots with a phone stuck to their ear. Sometimes I want to roll down the window and throw my beer at them.

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By FRTothus, September 17, 2010 at 9:45 am Link to this comment

That’s odd, ITW.  I didn’t see a question in your Straw Man argument anywhere.  But you’ve certainly shown us what the Appeal to Ridicule fallacy looks like.

Here are some links to back up my claim:

“Cell phones while driving: hands free doesn’t mean risk free”

This is from the Philiadelphia Daily Times:

“Studies from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Virginia Tech, Carnegie Mellon and the University of Utah have shown that drivers who talk on their cell phones are three to four times more likely to be involved in a crash. Since 2003, there have been 397 accidents in the state in which hands-free phones were a contributing factor, while 6,877 accidents listed hand-held phones as a contributing factor, PennDOT reported.”
“Using a hands free phone resulted in straying out of their lanes and missing exists more frequently than when they carried on similar conversations with a passenger in the car.”


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By James O. Pinkerton, September 17, 2010 at 9:03 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

There are a number of studies out there that show the connection between the transmitted signal of the cell phone (or blue tooth type device) and a reduction in the effectiveness of brain to body communications.  A study by the British Military showed a fifteen minute residual effect after making a cell call.  For proof to your children, do a simple kinetic test.  Have them raise their arm out from their body without the cell phone and press down on their arm while they resist.  They will be able to resist.  Now do exactly the same thing while they are holding a cell phone to their ear and you (and they) will experience almost a total loss of strength in the arm, demonstrating how much effect the cell phone signal (900mhz 0 1.9 ghz) is having on them.

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By Inherit The Wind, September 17, 2010 at 8:35 am Link to this comment

“I see nothing…I’m in a trance…talking…on the cell in my car…I see nothing…I’m in a trance…”

A valid method of ethical argument is to keep the framework and change the context, usually used to thwart discussions attempting to justify racism or other bigotry. So, if it’s true in situation A, when you change the actors and context, it should be true in situation B.

It’s not a straw man. It’s a legitimate discussion of right and wrong.

FR takes the premise that the “distraction” of a cell phone is somehow dangerous and I change the context and ask why the “distraction” from other things available in the care aren’t dangerous, a valid question.

He responds that it’s a straw man, which I infer means he has NO valid answer to my question.  Therefore, I can further infer that his assertion that driving while using a hands-free phone is more dangerous than other practices, is NOT supported.

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By FRTothus, September 17, 2010 at 8:16 am Link to this comment

ITW presents the logical fallacy known as “The Straw Man”. 

The Straw Man fallacy is committed when a person simply ignores a person’s actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position. This sort of “reasoning” has the following pattern:

  1. Person A has position X.
  2. Person B presents position Y (which is a distorted version of X).
  3. Person B attacks position Y.
  4. Therefore X is false/incorrect/flawed.

This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because attacking a distorted version of a position simply does not constitute an attack on the position itself.

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By Inherit The Wind, September 17, 2010 at 4:14 am Link to this comment

FRTothus, September 17 at 7:02 am Link to this comment

People driving while talking on the phone are in a
trance state, and are a danger to themselves and
others.  Their use should be banned.


Another thing to be a fanatic about…

Yeah, and ban car radios, CD players, MP3 players. In fact, yank the whole sound system out of the cars, make ‘em illegal. 

Next, put up walls between the drivers and other passengers—shouldn’t be talking—you might get distracted by someone saying: “NO, you idiot! I said turn RIGHT! RIGHT! Your OTHER RIGHT!”  Can’t have that. 

And you sure don’t want to be distracted by your kids.  I mean if Sally says “Daddy, Johnny’s bleeding” you could be so distracted you hit something…can’t have that.  Better to let the kid bleed.

Oh, and let’s out-law GPS units as well.  Those damn things are SO distracting.  You are better off lost.

Now there’s convertibles. Now I like fresh air as much as the next guy but the wind blowing and the sun shining down on, not to mention the looks of the opposite sex, well that’s VERY distracting.  In fact, it should be illegal to even open a car window for anything but to pay a toll.  Keep your A/C working and you won’t need to open that window.

Oh, and billboards.  They are SO distracting.  Make ‘em illegal, too.


Common sense is not that common.  There’s no difference between talking on a hands free phone to talking to a passenger.

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By FRTothus, September 17, 2010 at 3:02 am Link to this comment

People driving while talking on the phone are in a
trance state, and are a danger to themselves and
others.  Their use should be banned.

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By SteveL, September 16, 2010 at 7:53 pm Link to this comment

Some how some way we managed to drive and do a lot of other things for a long
time with out cell phones and text messaging.

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By cyrena, September 16, 2010 at 7:06 pm Link to this comment

I think, at least in terms of the level of
distraction involved in driving and talking, that a
great deal of it is relative to the individual doing
the talking and driving and listening, and the
content of the conversation. I’ve watched over the
decades as some of this technology -which I’ve ALWAYS
adored and actually had fantasies of as a kid - has
changed the entire way we live our lives, which isn’t
always good.

I said ‘content” because I know people who should NOT
be driving and talking, (even hands free with the
blue tooth) for a whole host of reasons having to do
with them, rather than the generically described
activity of driving and texting. Mostly it’s because
they’re already on the edge anyway, and that seat
behind the wheel of a powerful vehicle and the
ability to track/run people down - both literally and
figuratively, is like giving an alcoholic a fifth of
whiskey and letting ‘em roll if they want. Some of
‘em might just drink the thing and pass out. Other’s
would get revved up and to raise some hell.

There are a whole BUNCH of those driver’s in my neck
of the woods/coastal inlet. They are totally
distracted, and I can SEE that they are totally
distracted, because I’m WALKING, (and obeying all
pedestrian rules) and it’s a job just trying to keep
from being run down, because they might appear to be
“ookin’”, but they aren’t ‘seeing’ or it’s not
‘registering’ because they are generally only looking
in one direction or at the phone.

So the content of a conversation, (particularly when
people don’t exercise discretion) can be enough to
set people off, but maybe I’m overly sensitive
myself. I prefer NOT to do anything other than drive
when I’m driving, and the radio usually is a help
rather than a distraction, because it doesn’t require
that the driver respond. When you’re trying to talk
to someone else and hear what they are saying so that
you can make an appropriate response, it DOES take
some additional mental gymnastics, that we probably
aren’t even aware of.

So, it depends on the conversation, and the
environment, and the people. But there’s a whole lot
of walking wounded and unevaluated victims of mental
illness, which I can see increasing, (from a
scholastic research view/screen) as the continuing
paradigm of the inequitable distribution of wealth
creates a swath of destruction through the social
fiber of the infrastructure.

The kind you see in Road Rage Episodes. Without that
blue tooth in the chariot for them to keep tabs on
the most minute details of anything and everything
that comes to their obsessive minds, they would no
doubt lose it even sooner….more follow-thru on the
road rage episodes.

That’s what I’m seeing out there….to the extent
that I never have before, in this very same part of
my hometown of Los Angeles. It’s scary.. But then,
I’ve had the misfortune to be in the car with them on
far too many occasions.

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By Inherit The Wind, September 16, 2010 at 3:02 pm Link to this comment

All the evidence of using a hand-held phone or texting while driving being dangerous is as plain as the nose on your face.  Your hands are off the wheel, and your eyes are off the road for long periods of time.

But I have yet to see evidence that using an integrated phone with hands-free is any more dangerous that tuning the radio or talking to a passenger or playing a CD.  Most blue-tooth setups include voice-activated commands that allow you to dial a stored number or even speak a number, without ever taking your eyes off the road.

Yet I can tell you that when I have been tired and driving, talking on the phone has kept me alert. I know, pull over and take a nap, right?

Where?  On the interstates you’ll be subjected to harassment, either by the crooks who see you as prey or by cops?  There was a rest stop I would stop at and snooze for 5 minutes, but the state closed it to all but semis.  One option out.

I always love how the fanatics, NOW toss in “Hands-free” along with hand-helds and texting.  Notice that the states have ignored them and only outlawed hand-held usage.

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