Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Driving While Impaired

Drivers on Cells More Likely to Crash, cnn.com. In the past driving while drunk was not seen as a big deal. Eventually the society learned having people kill other people when they chose to put others in danger due to their risky chooses should be something that the government prevents. Eventually we will learn to put those in jail that insist on driving while impaired by talking on cell phones. The data is obvious, it is just a matter of how many deaths and serious injuries it will take before society decides to act.

The Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association, a Washington-based trade group, downplayed the findings, saying the distractions associated with mobile phones are no different from those encountered by drivers who eat or talk with passengers as they drive.

I don't know about you, but this statement leads me to believe the association doesn't care what the consequences for the public is, they just care about their members (why they think it is in the interest of their members to have their product be responsible for so many deaths is beyond me. Some companies seem to understand their products have appropriate and inappropriate uses. Many marketers seem to believe acknowledging any inappropriate uses is bad. This is pretty sad if you ask me, which you didn't, but I get to say what I want here, so I have. Without a public that can understand simple data it is pretty easy for spokespeople to just make unsupported claims and get away with it.

I can understand those who say a company should not be liable (say one that manufactures cell phones or provides cell phone service) if someone using their product kills your child. It isn't the cell phone providers fault that someone drove while talking on their cell phone. But if the cell phone provider gave large sums of money to lobbyists who gave the money to legislators (or the phone company gave it directly to a lawmaker) who decided not to make it illegal to drive while impaired, don't they have some responsibility?

If the cell phone provider said you were not to use their product or service in this dangerous way I wouldn't believe they should be liable. But if they create the product/service and then shape the laws of the society so that it can be used in a dangerous way why are they not responsible for the resulting inevitable deaths caused by their actions? Espeically when on top of shaping the laws they try to make the public believe it is safe basically and just like a whole bunch of other minor distractions... I understand they are not the only responsible party, the person that chose to risk the lives of others for their own selfish reasons should be held accountable for their actions. It just seems the people in the companies making the statements and making the decisions to make the payments to influence laws have moral responsibility. But I guess the legal question will be answered over the next 20 years and the moral implications are for each of us to determine for ourselves.

Yes it is true some cell phone use increase risk only slightly. It is also true someone can have a blood alcohol level that is above the legal limit and they don't endanger people more than another driver who is less capable of driving in general. But we have to set certain limits. If we figure out a way to know when someone's capability to drive at any moment in time drops below the level society wants (due to drug use, lack of sleep, cell phone use, failing physical reflexes...) then we can have a system that more directly ties to what we are trying to legislate which is: drivers do not retain the right to drive if they endanger others too much. I don't see how we can ever do that, but if we can great. Until then, we set laws such as: it is unlawful to drive while intoxicated.

Have you ever noticed that the strategy of delay by asking for more data collection is almost always followed by, boy that data has such and such problem collect more data (actually I think it might be always, not often, it is just that a critical mass of those who no longer accept that delaying tactic final is reached and the request for more delays is finally denied)? I certainly believe data should be collected but you should not let special interests claim some minor issue is not yet 100% clear so allow many more deaths for several more years so we can get data that is a bit more clear on some detail. The delaying strategy is one that can go on for decades if people don't have a basic understanding of the scientific method, statistics and the consequences of inaction as well as action.

You know you are in a pretty weak position when you are not denying the risk but instead claiming but you don't outlaw these other things that endanger people's lives. It is true driving will have risks for the foreseeable future, no matter how many risk we try and reduce. That doesn't mean we hold off banning drunk driving because other risky things have not been banned yet.

Study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1997 - Association between Cellular-Telephone Calls and Motor Vehicle Collisions
Cell Phones Are Found to Pose Riskiest Distractions for Drivers - link to article on Yahoo because NHTSA web site doesn't seem to bother to post their own study that the article is based on.
"Acknowledging that cellphone use in a car can be a potential distraction ... we've been very clear on that," said a spokesman for the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, the industry's main trade group. "At the same time, cellphone use is one of what appears to be a number of behaviors in there." He added: "It's certainly not in line with what a number of other studies have found. The fact it is so way out of line would give me some pause."

Cell Phone Use By Drivers -- A Threat To Public Safety?

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