Thursday, June 24, 2010

Distracted Driving is not Hilarious

From Extraordinary Observations
Straight Outta Suburbia has a great post about how backward the thinking has gotten toward parking and traffic violations in America:
Remember applying for jobs? There's often a question about criminal history that will read something like "have you ever been convicted of a crime except for a minor traffic violation?" I've decided I really hate the premise of this question. What is a "minor" traffic violation? I've got a new premise. If you're in traffic, there are no minor violations. Motor vehicles have the power to maim and kill. Accordingly, we should have a humorless attitude about the safety laws that apply to them.
On the topic of safety and humor. It's been an interesting week regarding traffic safety. First we got this Pew report which shows that adults text while driving at a rate higher than you'd expect. Then on Monday the front page of USA Today published a chart (no permalink available) that shows 'activities people have done while driving' - with the results as:
  • 72% - eaten sandwiches, burgers
  • 29% - kissed
  • 28% - sent texts
  • 23% - taken off clothes
And it's worth bearing in mind that these numbers are conservative, because people actually had to admit to doing them.

(from Flickr user poka0059)

What's worse is how many people describe these statistics as 'fun' or 'funny'. It's really not. People are effectively admitting that they are bad/dangerous drivers. And the worst part is that they probably think of themselves as good or excellent drivers,because thusfar they have multitasked in this way without negative consequences. As Tom Vanderbilt notes in his book Traffic, every time a person drives someplace and doesn't get into a wreck, it bolsters their confidence in their driving skill, even if they had close-calls that could have potentially ended much differently.

This suggests something important about traffic safety. Whenever there is a wreck, whether between cars, bicyclists, pedestrians, or whoever, it's immediately labeled and almost always later described as an 'accident'. But that's not always accurate, because an accident is something that happens ' without an apparent cause'. If someone is texting or changing clothes or eating food and then they smash into something or someone, that's not an accident; that's a wreck caused by the fact that the driver is not operating the vehicle appropriately.

Consider this: if a first-time driver went to the state BMV and in the middle of the final 'road test' started chomping on a sandwich or shooting off text messages, would the state officer deem this person competent enough to possess a drivers license?