Okay, so maybe the title is a little melodramatic, but then so is the news story that appeared on the WFAA newscast yesterday and again this morning. It's also on their website under the title: Data Withheld on Dangers of Using Cell Phones While Driving. The story basically says that the federal government vis-a-vie the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) (we do have a government agency for everything) withheld a report consisting of hundreds of pages was withheld from public and congressional scrutiny due to politics. Whoa, shocker! First, the report makes it sound like a government report with hundreds of pages is something new... have they ever seen a congressional bill? Wait, the bigger and more tantalizing shocker was that the report was "squelched" for "politics." Amazing! A political organization reporting to another political organization decided not to share the details of a really long government report due to of all things - politics! I just don't get it.
No, not why the report was withheld, but why anyone is terribly shocked? WFAA went so far as to have a news reporter standing by a Dallas highway "live" this morning to report on the situation. I wanted to throw something at the TV; if only I had that HUGE REPORT! In truth though, they will do a live remote for just about any story. Standing next to the highway is a regular vantage point.
What really shocks me is why this is shocking to anyone, including the NHTSA. I remember reading about similar reports that had been done stating the exact same thing this report apparently says. Oh, but what is that you ask? Well, simply put that the use of a cell phone while driving whether with your hands or handsfree is just as dangerous. I managed cell phones for years at Fujitsu and read all kinds of reports regularly, and more than one of them said just that. I even passed it around to the managers and staff.
The report as I read it stated that quite simply the concentration required to listen to a conversation where you can't see the person and their body language was so intense that it really distracts you from what you are doing; in a car that would be driving. Apparently our body language makes communication easier. You can tell if someone is happy, sad or angry by just looking in their eyes, at their face or their overall body language. When you are on the phone all you have to go by is their vocal inflection. So, even if you have that new fancy bluetooth kit in your car, your brain still has to work extra hard when you are talking to your significant other about what groceries you need to pick-up on the way home.
Here is my issues with these reports. Um, THERE ARE LOTS OF DESTRACTIONS IN CARS! One of them could be listening to a report about how driving while talking on your handsfree car kit is just as dangerous as holding the phone. Yes, the radio. I'm sure we have all been listening to music or news and lost our train of thought. Basically your brain goes into auto pilot and drives you home. Only problem is that your reaction time is going to take a dive because of it. I like to listen to books and I know with a particularly good book I can lose track of space and time. Have any kids? Well, I've heard your typical 4 year old can be one hell of a detraction in a car.
Here's my solution - ALL CARS SHOULD HAVE ONE SEAT, NO RADIO, NO BUTTONS AND YOUR HANDS SHOULD BE LOCKED TO THE STEERING WHELE WHEN THE CAR IS IN MOTION. Too much?
Look, I don't discount that mobile phones (no one calls them cell phones anymore WFAA) cause accidents. I've come close to getting hit by the idiot talking on the phone not paying a lick of attention to anything but the conversation they were on. I've also almost been hit by the person talking to the passenger in the car and not paying a lick of attention to anything but that conversation.
I'm sure that if others are talking as much about this report as WFAA, then there may be a push to out law the use of mobile phones while driving in a car; even with hands free. Earlier this decade Brazil passed a law just like that due to their high accident rate. If we are going to do that though, then we should outlaw eating while driving, listening to books while driving, listening to the radio while driving and any kids that like to ask "are we there yet," every 5 seconds.
I'm all for the government helping to keep us safe. I'm also for people not being stupid while they are driving a quarter ton of glass and metal at 75 miles per hour. You can't regulate stupidity out of people nor the desire for them to stay connected with humanity. Again, if you are going to outlaw mobile phones you might as well go for broke and just outlaw all forms of "distraction from cars." Come to think of it, go ahead, then when my girls want to play music I don't like I can tell them that Uncle Sam says they can't do that while I am driving. There's always a silver lining, even when Death Comes Ringing. - P.S. I should have written this while talking on the phone and driving to work. Oh well, maybe next time.