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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cell phones

Maryland just enacted a ban on using a hand-held cell phone while driving. An online poll accompanying the Baltimore Sun article asks, "Will you stop using your hand-held phone while driving?" As of now, 25% of people have chosen the response "There's no way I can ever live without using my hand-held phone while driving."

On most other issues, a newspaper wouldn't dare pose the question, "Are you going to obey this law?"

Here in DC, where we already have such a ban, a guy pulled out in front of me the other day while talking on his cell phone. He was in a convertible, so when I passed him a moment later, I yelled "Hang up and drive!" This naturally earned a string of expletives from him.

We obviously have a cultural issue to overcome before we can get proper recognition of the danger (to you and others) of talking on the phone while driving.

5 comments:

lj said...

Talking while driving is bad, but *texting* while driving truly blows my mind: you're not even *looking* at the road. I think if you text while driving you should lose your license, permanently.

seeligd said...

I agree with John, and am equally horrified. I've seen people do it. People I know personally.

There was a cool tweet I came across recently that talked about smartphones and how compelling they make alternative (mass) forms of transit for exactly this type of reason.

I fear, though, that people will continue to imagine they have multitasking abilities that allow them to behave this way long before we're all texting on buses and trains.

Steve O said...

I disagree on your point about the newspaper asking the question. I have seen polls in the past asking people how fast they drive, and many people respond that they exceed the speed limit. So, although it's not specifically, "Do you intend to speed?" it's a similar question.

Also, I remember an article a few years ago in the Post about jaywalking, which is also a crime (I suppose), and the Post interviewed people about their behavior in that regard. I don't think it's that uncommon that the media discusses behavior that is illegal.

lj said...

People texting while doing anything at all seem to have problems. I know I've seen people walking while staring at a phone, almost getting hit by a car in a crosswalk or running into me in a store. The news recently has had stories about studies showing that not only are we humans generally bad at multitasking, but those who think they're good at it and/or do it often are even worse.

Steve O, I agree that people are also generally nonchalant about speeding and jaywalking. Can we think of other areas in which people and the media openly discuss illegal activities, or is there something distinctly different about the realm of driving/traffic/streets? I feel that in no other arena are people not only open about not following the letter of the law, they actually have a strong sense of entitlement to their right to break the law (have you tried driving at or below the posted speed limit on a metropolitan freeway? and I must confess to feeling entitled to speed myself, although I'm trying to be better). The only other thing that comes to my mind is underage drinking and smoking pot, and that's not as universal.

I wonder if this is connected to a difference in how we perceive obvious causal connection versus increased probabilities. Or perhaps the difference is intent. What I'm thinking about is this: no normal person would freely admit to attempted murder, and they'd be horrified by blatantly dangerous behavior (waving a running chainsaw around in the vicinity of children, say). But it's much easier to justify things that aren't so directly connected to deaths but definitely do significantly raise the probability that you'll cause the death of yourself or someone around you: smoking, texting while driving, drunk driving, etc.

Teague said...

LJ: Texting while driving is totally crazy. But I do think there's some danger from a political/cultural standpoint of people focusing on that as a way to conveniently avoid addressing the dangers of talking on the phone while driving. Significant portions of the population can get behind preventing other people (irresponsible teenagers!) from texting while driving, but a wide swath of the public talks on the phone while driving, and thinks they're pretty good at it, thankyouverymuch.

D: Not only do smartphones make the time you spend on public transit more enjoyable/useful, but in some cases they make said transit much easier to use. Here in DC, there have been several times when NextBus allowed me to take a bus home late at night instead of getting a cab, because I knew when the bus was going to come.

Steve O: I also thought of jaywalking as I was writing that post. But I think the point I was trying to make still holds -- generally, the media only take that approach to illegal behavior when there are strong social norms condoning the activity. I'm saying that the assumptions in the Sun's poll question demonstrate the strong cultural bias in favor of using a cell phone while driving, which is notable given that the negative impact is higher than for other condoned behaviors like jaywalking (IMHO).