How Safe Is Talking on the Phone While Driving?

We can all agree that texting while driving is a death wish.  We don’t need an educational campaign.  Everyone knows this now.  The question is just whether you are stupid enough to risk your life and mine.

The bigger question engendering more real debate is cell phone use in general. I have always been in the camp that the big issue is distracted driving generally. I don’t use the phone when I’m driving with my kids in the car. (No, I can’t explain why I don’t extend this to your kids who are on the road with me when I drive alone.)

talking phone driving

The real issue is distracted driving

I’m still in that camp. I’ve seen a ton of information that says that handheld phones are not the problem. It is the talking and taking your attention off the road. There is tons of data and studies – literally hundreds – out there about this. But I read this seemly well-done study that goes the other way. I don’t know who funded this research, but I can’t find anyone dismissing the findings based on bias.

So I don’t know exactly what to think. One plausible approach is to error on the side of safety and quit talking on your cellular phone when you drive because there are conflicting theories. This is a fine position to take, but good public policy is a little more complicated. People are just not going to take every precaution. Every billboard that says, “don’t talk and drive” might be better used to remind people that a Maryland resident dies every 40 hours in a drunk driving accident, as Judge Adkins just reminded us (in an instant classic dissent).

No One Wants to Believe This Inconvenient Truth

People are so skeptical anyway. My mom stuffed Vitamin C down our throats like our lives depended on it only to find out later it was probably useless. We all have a million examples of this. It is 1000 times worse in 2013 because we get so many facts and statistics and studies online that they all lose significance. If I sent around a Facebook post saying the FDA has approved a drug that will knock 20 years off your life, most of you would hit like button out of courtesy (thanks for that) and go about your day. (That hypothetical didn’t work. You should assume that the mass media never reported on it to make sense of it. I tried, okay? Actually, I took a 30 second shot at making it grittier by making it about sex but could not come up with something that was not stupid or offensive.)

So my advice is that we should keep sounding the horn on alcohol and texting and really inspect cell phone use and figure out what really matters. Does a hands-free option really make a difference, or it is just the distraction? We need to figure it out or else public safety advocates will be the boy who the cried wolf. Some people say that people died from AIDS because the CDC did not have credibility in the late ’70s and early ’80s because they had sounded the alarm too early and often without enough evidence.

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