Monday, January 12, 2009

A classic example of stupid reporting: A story about a silly proposed cell phone ban reported as if it were to be seriously considered

WBBM Newsradio 780 is reporting this morning that a Chicago-area safety organization, the National Safety Council, is proposing an absolute ban on cell phone use by drivers. (The first link will take you to the story. Read it. You'll see that the unidentified AP reporter has apparently taken the proposal seriously.)

Scientific studies, the organization claims, show that drivers get distracted while on the phone whether the drivers are using speakerphones or holding the phones in their hands. The linked AP story quotes National Safety Council president and chief busybody executive, Janet Froetscher, as saying, "It's not just what you're doing with your hands - it's that your head is in the conversation and so your eyes are not on the road."

I do not doubt the research. I do not doubt that people can get distracted while driving. But whoever reported this "story" didn't ask the obvious question: Don't people get distracted by conversations in their cars as well? You know -- with passengers? Kids? spouses? Mothers-in-law in the back seat? Don't drivers sometimes get distracted by a song on the radio? Or by reaching for change for a toll booth?

(A million years ago, when I took driver's ed, we were warned that turning on the radio was a sure way to fail the driving test. And not because the instructor wouldn't like our music either.)

Just asking these simple, basic questions would have exposed the proposal to ban all use of cell phones in cars as silly.

Perhaps in an age of increasing concern over gasoline scarcity we should also ban carpooling because of the potential for distraction there. Or make all passengers wear gags as well as seat belts. (Insert your own mother-in-law joke here.)

I hardly ever use my cell phone in the car except when I'm running late or need an update on directions. These are short calls. Sometimes, on the highway, over a long stretch, I might chat with someone -- but that's not the kind of driving I usually do. Common sense should be the guide.

You would expect common sense to be in short supply among bluenosed meddlers like the National Safety Council -- but, apparently, it's just as rare in the news reporting business.


Shelby said...

Al Gore must be behind it. Must be that the extra energy saved from voice echoes will somehow save the ozone. Yeah, that must be it... oh and it must be too about how much cancer a cell phone can give you.

'course you could argue the 'how much blood pressure problems could be reduced' by an absolute ban of unemployed people behind the wheel.. oh I could go on and on.

But I won't. Excellent post.

Dave said...

I'm not sure a ban is the answer; but, I find myelf less attentive to driving if I'm talking on the phone than I am talking to a passenger.

Have you ever answered a call, hung up and not remembered driving the last seven or eight miles during which you changed lanes, made turns, stopped at lights, all without noticing? That doesn't happen while talking with a passenger.

I almost never make calls when driving and usually don't answer them while driving.

Going Like Sixty said...

If you are being serious, it's often hard to tell... banning cell phones is a wise move.
Your argument about the other distractions is the old "if we can put a man on the moon, why can't we..." argument. It's irrelevant.

Like Dave said... and people turning corners with a cell phone in one hand, make a reeeeaaaaalllly wide turning radius.

It's a hazard. It should be banned. Just like driving 80 miles an hour is illegal. It will prevent just enough people from doing it that it will be safer.

Shel said...

I'm sure that it IS being seriously considered. And knowing Chicago, it'll probably pass, too. That being said: I will not answer my phone if I am driving. I'll pull over at the first safe place I can do so and call them back, while remaining parked. I WILL make/take a call if I am in a parking lot, but will end said call before I pull out of the parking lot onto a roadway. Chris routinely directs profanity at anyone he sees driving while talking. I do think the headset requirement is enough, though.