Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Government is too large - another example

The National Transportation Safety Board has proposed to ban the use of cellphones in cars to combat something called "distracted driving." In their press release they say this evil caused 3000 deaths last year on our highways. That number sounds small to me, compared to the total number of auto related deaths, but take it as a real issue.(For background the DOT says there are about 30,000 auto deaths a year or about 1.14 deaths per 100 million miles driven.  For another perspective the number of alcohol related deaths is in the range of 10,000 per year.)

The buffoons at the NTSB have cobbled together a classic bureaucratic response.  But even if you buy the premise that there is something called distracted driving that a change in policy can improve, there are several problems with the NTSB assault here.  First, is their evidence - if this were a significant problem one would expect a lot of recent data. In the Press Release the NTSB cited five cases  only one of which involves the allegation of involvement of a hands free device. (Which happened in 2004.).   If the problem is static why the push now?  If it is not why not present some relevant evidence?   Texting is already banned in many states.  The other four examples are all about texting and driving.  There is no mention of accidents caused by other forms of distraction - in the insurance data things like applying make-up and changing a radio station are cited as causes of accidents.

The public scolds who want to ban the use of cellphones continue to cite the statistic that using a cellphone is akin to being legally drunk.  That is nonsensical on its face.  Is that for hands free?  If it is then is a conversation with someone else in the car equally dangerous?  What bunk!

Second, is their sloppy use of definitions. A serious definition of distracted driving would establish some parameters. But the supporters of restricting freedom are not really interested in solving a problem. Were they interested they would attack areas where they are likely to have a significant effect - which in my opinion many states already have - prohibit non-hands free calling, texting and even the application of makeup - any action which disengages the drivers attention from the steering wheel and the road.

In the insurance company board that I serve on, we've had a couple of discussions about whether it would be a good idea to do a simple key combination for phones to prevent texting while driving.  A combination like #25 might issue a statement to a phone users who try to text a driver who has sent the sequence - "I am sorry but I am driving now and cannot receive your text when I arrive I will receive the text and respond."

Ultimately safer driving will happen with the right combinations of incentives and technologies which will allow people to make the right choices.   Restricting a useful tool at the whim of bureaucrats is unlikely to improve the situation.

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