Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Number of people using phones while driving is "horrifying"

Here’s a significant digit from the FiveThirtyEight morning email.

88 percent
Zendrive, a driving analytics company, found that three million drivers, traveling 5.6 billion miles, were using their phones 88 percent of their journeys. As Wired wrote, “The average driver spends 3.5 minutes on the phone per one hour trip, a stat that sounds worse when you realize just a two-second distraction increases your risk of crashing by 20 percent.” [Wired]


The wired.com article says it turns out, a horrifying number of people use their phones while driving. What to do?

The Zendrive study does indicate that anti-distracted driving laws are working, to a degree. Of the six states with the lowest levels of distracted driving, four ban hand-held phone use while driving. Only one of the six states where distraction is most deadly (Vermont) has a similar law.

Howard Fischer reports in the Daily Star that the Arizona bill to ban teen texting while driving resurfaces in House. That’s the good news - the bill passed out of the House rules committee and will now get a vote. That’s the bad news - it faces Republicans who don’t believe in data-based policy. Read on.

PHOENIX — Members of the Arizona House are finally going to get the chance to decide whether the state’s newest drivers should be prohibited from using their cellphones while they drive.

But the future of the newly resurrected measure remains in doubt, with even the House GOP leadership divided.

The measure says that new drivers — those in the first six months of getting a license — cannot operate any hand-held communication devices. That means not just no texting and emailing, but also no chatting on the phone with friends and family.

Members of the House Rules Committee on Monday agreed that SB 1080 is constitutional and in proper form for consideration. That was never really in question, as the bill has already been approved by the Senate.

It was stalled, however, when Rep. Phil Lovas, R-Peoria, who chaired the committee, refused to clear it to go to the full House. Lovas said he feared it might lead to even greater restrictions.

Lovas is now gone, having quit the Legislature last week to take a post in the Trump administration.

That allowed House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, to name himself to the position. And Mesnard, who supports the legislation, got the panel to give its OK, setting the stage for floor debate later this week.

Arizona is one of just a handful of states with absolutely no specific statewide limits on the use of cellphones while driving, although some local municipalities have some restrictions. But significant opposition remains.

“I think it’s a parental authority thing,” said House Majority Leader John Allen, R-Scottsdale.

“I had three sons and they all had phones and cars,” he told Capitol Media Services. “I just told them not to do it; I told them there’d be consequences.”

And Allen said he’s convinced his sons, now grown, always obeyed his admonition.

Sure, Jack. I am sure that your teenaged sons informed their parents of all their misdeeds - just like you and I did.

House Majority Whip Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, also hopes the measure falters.

“I think it’s already against the law,” she said, saying police can cite motorists for distracted driving if they weave in traffic because they’re on the phone.

But Townsend said the bigger concern is that this narrowly crafted measure won’t be the last word. She said once Arizona bans texting while driving for teens, it would just be a small step to expand that to cover all motorists, something Townsend said most lawmakers are now unwilling to do.

Sen. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, who pushed the measure through the Senate, said her legislation really is setting no new precedents. She pointed out there already are special restrictions on new drivers, including limiting the number of unrelated teens who can be in the vehicle as well as prohibiting them from driving after midnight unless it is to go to work or school.

No date has been set for House floor debate.

Given the Zendrive data in the wired.com report, it should be quite clear to any sentient being that SB1080, while well-intentioned, does not go far enough. Minimally, it should prohibit all drivers from using hand-held devices while the vehicle is underway. For more about what can and should be done, see my earlier post on AZ House Rules Chairman dithers while Arizonans die.

Wired.com concludes:

Laws and strong enforcement are part of the solution … but they can’t be the whole thing. With scientists’ help, engineers need to figure out how to obviate the temptation to tweet or ‘gram or email behind the wheel. And barring that, they need to double down on that whole self-driving thing. If humans can’t get their acts together while driving two tons worth of death machine, then maybe let the death machines do it themselves.

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