Department of Unintended Consequences?

Researchers at the Highway Loss Data Institute compared rates of collision insurance claims in four states – California, Louisiana, Minnesota and Washington – before and after they enacted texting bans. Crash rates rose in three of the states after bans were enacted. The Highway Loss group theorizes that drivers try to evade police by lowering their phones when texting, increasing the risk by taking their eyes even further from the road and for a longer time.

The link is here and no I don't know what the controls are and how they adjusted for a possible time trend.


I live in California and I see people texting all the time. I do not think that most people try to hide it. In fact, I don't think that anyone pays attention to the texting ban at all because the ticket is only $20 if you get caught. Because the fee is so low, police officers don't even bother to stop people (waste of time and money from the officer's standpoint - I totally agree with the ban and think the fee should be raised significantly.)

What's more likely is that we're still seeing an increase in the number of drivers who use texting as a major means of communications... i.e. most teenagers use text messaging today, and when they start driving they're adding one more person to the road who tends to text while driving. Until the number of people-getting-their-driver's-license-who-text-while-driving equals the number of driving-retirees-(mostly-old-people)-who-texted-while-driving, the number of people on the road texting will continue to increase, as will the fatality rate.

What's more of a public safety threat? This or terrorism?

I've found the worst cell phone drivers are those who try to pretend they aren't doing it, both to other drivers and to the person on the other end of the phone.

This might be a weird conscientiousness signalling -- since talking on the phone while driving is socially discouraged, a driver will spend extra attention to make sure that the person on the other end of the phone is unaware. But a driver willing to stop talking or admit that he wasn't listening to the last 10 seconds because something on the road drew his attention is a much better driver.

That being said, without fail, every single time I see someone weaving on the road, they've got a cell phone pressed up to their ear.

In my state (KY) the legislators who were retired local and state policemen repeatedly pointed out the reckless driving option as they objected to the texting ban. The counterpoint seemed to be that other lawmakers wanted a way to give people a meaningless slap on the wrist so that they could look like they were trying to cut down on texting without really angering any constituents by making them or their children subject to the steep fines that a reckless driving ticket would cause.

UK, I know has never paid back its WWI debt. As far as I know they still owe the United States more than $2 billion, I believe that is just the principle. I also have always been under the impression that this was gold denominated debt, so it has to be a huge number now.

They stopped payment in 1934.

These debts were contracted voluntarily, they were not reparations, so there is really no justification for not repaying them. In the 1930s there was considerable resentment about this. My (Swedish) grandfather always pointed out that only Finland ever paid its Great War debt, and everything I have learned since seems to suggest this is still the case. Though I do remember reading that back in the early nineties Czarist bonds were paid off, of course that was in worthless 90s rubles.

Interestingly enough Napoleonic debts are still honored, but then those are usually owed domestically.

I don't like the word "ban". That is near impossible.

The easy punishment should simply be reporting incidents to your insurance company. They are the ones who would really benefit (punish you) from the knowledge of number of times an officer pulled you over for anything. Maybe the driver would even have to text it to the insurance company personally.

Imagine the buzz at the soccer game when you hear about Little Jimmy's mom and brother becoming uninsurable because they they were texting each other in rush hour school zones.

I think shame is the way to go here, as well as many other cases.

Law often doesn't deter, so whether there is a law or not may not matter if there is no adherence. It may increase damage awards to injured persons, and make it less likely an offender could offer a defense in a civil lawsuit, meaning that given you would have this behaviour anyway, at least compensation would be more certain.

But, the existence of a law doesn't necessarily change behaviour. Fornication and adultery laws were on the books and that didn't stop anything; it only signalled what society disapproved of.

We need a technological solution that consumers cannot override--a cell black out zone in the car that can be overriden if the car is stopped.

Libert, Actually, you could subpoena her cell records if there were a lawsuit. Happens all the time.

A quick and dirty chart suggests DWT (and cell phones for that matter) are little more than noise in the signal.

I no longer drive during rush hour, but when I did there were multiple places where a cop would only need a pair of walking shoes to issue a citation every few minutes to a driver doing something obviously dangerous, like blocking intersections or passing on the shoulder.

Absolute prohibition is counterproductive. Creative workarounds are better.

I hate the "Don't drink and drive campaigns". A better goal is "Know when you've had too much not to drive" or "Drink in moderation if you are going to drive".

After all there's nothing that has shown that one glass of wine makes you suddenly a hazard on the road. No more than someone driving who's had a bad day at work.

It's the same with DUI laws. A graduated penalty tied to the actual alcohol content might be a better solution than a sharp cutoff.

cranky: Why would that happen?

I see no reason to believe the real danger is that great; the entire "problem" reeks of moral-panic overreaction.

(Rahul has tagged it, really - the most dangerous behaviors are readily visible but require judgment.

"Texting while driving" while stopped at a light is not a danger to others; at very worst it simply slows down starting up when the light changes. But it's still banned "for our own good".

Nobody seems to suggest "banning conversations with passengers", but they seem, by observation, to be nearly as distracting as a phone call [which is banned in many states, unless you have a handsfree device*], and far more common.

Plainly mere "danger to others" is not the heuristic.

* Asterisked because the panic of "putting on the headset and turning it on to catch that call" is likely to be far more distracting and dangerous than simply picking up the phone. The "use a handsfree!" laws all seem to be focused on people who, like legislators (!) are constantly making calls rather than rarely receiving them.

The lesson there is also plain.)

A market solution for this would be differentiated car insurance rates for cars which had cell/text blocking features or features which minimized distractions such as described in anon 4:31 am comment.

Comments for this post are closed