Ban the drivers—not the cellphones

About a decade ago, Robert W. Hahn of the American Enterprise Institute made waves when he touted the advantages of talking while driving (TWD)—that's right, advantages. Banning cellphone use while driving, he said, would cost $25 billion annually (presumably in revenue not collected by carriers) while affording considerably less in savings though the avoidance of death and destruction. That contention earned him the ire of Clack and Clack of Car Talk.

It turns out the argument may be moot. As reported in Science, a new study concludes that “…people who talk on their phones while driving may already be unsafe drivers who are nearly as prone to crash with or without the device. The findings may explain why laws banning cellphone use in motor vehicles have had little impact on accident rates.”

Study leader Bryan Reimer, associate director of MIT’s New England University Transportation Center, told the Boston Globe, “The people who are more willing to frequently engage in cellphone use are higher-risk drivers, independent of the phone. It’s not just a subtle difference with those willing to pick up the phone. This is a big difference.”

The study involved 108 people who took a 40-minute cell-phone-free test drive up I 93 north of Boston. Those who, in a questionnaire administered before the test indicated frequent cellphone use while driving, on average drove 4.4 kilometers per hour faster than and changed lanes twice as often as drivers who reported infrequent TWD.

“It's clear [from the scientific literature] that cell phones in and of themselves impair the ability to manage the demands of driving,” Science quotes Reimer as saying. “But the fundamental problem may be the behavior of the individuals willing to pick up the technology.” As quoted in the Globe, Reimer said, “Legislating the technology alone is not going to solve our problem. We need to look more at the behavior of the individual.”

The study's findings back up the experience of the insurance industry. The Globe reports, “Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Va., said his organization has seen little benefit from restrictions on cellphone use. Lund said that so far, 'we have not seen that those bans have reduced crashes.'”

Update: View related article, “Cars talk safety in Ann Arbor.”

Note: I originally commented on the issue of talking while driving in March 2002 here. The original AEI page I commented on is no longer active, but this May 2002 paper by Hahn and a colleague address the issues, and Steven E. Landsburg concisely outlines the controversy in Slate here.

Sponsored Recommendations


To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Electronic Design, create an account today!