In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Seattle Squeeze: New Urban Living
  2. Checking In
  3. Ben Aronson's Representational Abstractions
  4. Rock is ... Forever?
  5. We Need the Arts: A Sob Story
  6. Form Following (Commercial) Function
  7. Two Humorous Items from the Financial Crisis
  8. Ken Auster of the Kute Kaptions
  9. What Might Representational Painters Paint?
  10. In The Times ...

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

« The Mona Lisa Algorithm | Main | More Scruton »

December 16, 2005

Auto Yak

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study has found that, at any given moment, 10% of drivers on the road are talking on a cellphone. One British study suggests that a driver using a cellphone is four times more likely than usual to get involved in a serious accident.

Interesting to learn too that female drivers are almost twice as likely as male drivers to be using a cellphone; that kids 24 and under are the cellphone-usingest group of drivers; and that, in safety terms, it makes no difference at all whether you clamp a cellphone to your ear or use a hands-free device.



posted by Michael at December 16, 2005


As you know, I'm pretty libertarian, but I've always questioned if cellphone use in a moving vehicle should be legal. In almost every truly egregious case of bad, dangerous driving I see, the driver is on the cellphone.

Of course, speaking scientifically, one has to think that if cellphone use is as dangerous as the British study suggests, we should be seeing an increasing accident/fatality rate. If we're not, then perhaps the issue is overblown by worry-warts like me. (Not for the first time.)

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on December 16, 2005 12:19 PM

If you know where you are going, and you receive a call, I'm unsure if it is so bad. But dialing a call is just a reckless thing to do while driving, and it freaks me out so much that I can't make myself do it---you all of a sudden realize you haven't watched the road for awhile because you are searching for the '9'. One of the scariest things I've seen was a coworker who was on the cellphone, and writing on the steering wheel (no hands on the wheel) going over 70 on the highway in the rain. His answer? "I could have dropped the phone and taken the wheel at any moment."

Posted by: annette on December 16, 2005 12:34 PM

Living in Manhattan, I don't see much from the inside of a car. But I do notice how talking-on-a-cellphone affects people who are walking with 'em. And it's interesting. They weave around a lot more than everyone else, and they wave their hands around a lot. (Well, this is NYC.) Participating in a cellphone conversation seems to absorb a lot of concentration and focus. A person on a cellphone is only half-here, because he's also half-there. Which is scary in its implications for driving, that's for sure.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 16, 2005 12:40 PM

No kidding. I was almost nailed last Sunday, while bicycling, by a driver who was on the phone, obviously not paying attention to the road, and drifted close to the curb. This kind of thing happens a lot now and I have changed my behavior (biking, driving and walking) because of it. I am much more cautious at intersections and when I am near traffic than I used to be, and I generally keep an eye out for oblivious drivers who might jump a curb, ignore a traffic signal or not see me. It's made me more careful about my own phoning behavior too, and I try to avoid using the phone when I am out and about.

Posted by: Jonathan on December 16, 2005 1:14 PM

A couple of additional points:

FvB: It's difficult to know if (or how much) phone use contributes to accidents because many drivers who have accidents aren't going to admit that they were using the phone at the time.

Annette: IMO receiving a call is just as bad as initiating one. It's not the dialing per se that distracts, it's the necessity to pay attention to the conversation, no matter who initiated it.

Posted by: Jonathan on December 16, 2005 1:19 PM

Keep in mind that, unless you're crossing the Alps in a blizzard, you aren't giving 100% of your attention to driving. So the surplus attention is gonna go someplace else -- the radio, planning how you're going to bust up with your girlfriend, wondering why that pedestrian over there had his entire freakin' arm tatooed, etc., etc.

Agreed that drivers with cellphones are probably prone to worse driving. But for some reason I'm not quite as upset about this ... since I got my own cell-phone.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on December 16, 2005 1:49 PM

I would be just as happy if we went back to long-playing records and electric typewriters. If I had my druthers, I wouldn't even own an answering machine.
I would only use a cell phone in a dire emergency. Never have owned one, never will own one. They're a health hazard to begin with, and damned irritating into the bargain.
The only gadget I WOULD invest in if I could is a cell-phone zapper which knocks out all conversations within a certain-foot radius.

Posted by: winifer skattebol on December 16, 2005 4:08 PM

To clarify: I think cell phones are great. I rely on mine to stay in touch with family, which is a very valuable function for me. I just wish that more people avoided using them while operating vehicles.

Posted by: Jonathan on December 16, 2005 5:20 PM


I doubt very much that the cognitive demands of conversation are reasonably comparable to the other thought processes you mention. A conversation is making real-time demands, comstantly, and a remote partner has no ability to appropriately adjust when your driving context becomes more demanding.

I'm all for controlled empirical studies on the matter, but, honestly, should I need them to be convinced? I already know damn well that I can't play fairly simple video games while fully engaged in a conversation. I know that phone conversations somewhat impair my cooking. Being slightly over the legal alcohol limit doesn't come anywhere near that level of impairment. Moreover, I've seen ample evidence of cell-using drivers looking pretty much like I look when inappropriately multitasking. By common-sense, the default view should be that they are substantially endangering lives and property until and unless a group of valid studies can show differently.

Posted by: J. Goard on December 17, 2005 5:04 AM

'Tis a pity that cellphone-using drivers endanger the more attentive folks on the road and not just themselves. Otherwise I'd be delighted to learn that people addicted to inane chatter at every waking moment, inflicting their gratingly loud, screechingly banal "conversations" on their suffering fellows in every public venue, might be winnowing themselves from the population.

Posted by: Moira Breen on December 17, 2005 1:17 PM

FvB raises a good point I always think of when this comes up: if this is such a hazard, why do I keep reading stories like this?

Posted by: jimbo on December 17, 2005 10:56 PM


It's conceivable the accident stats would look even better if drivers didn't use cellphones. Unfortunately there's no way to know since, as I suggested above, drivers who got into accidents because they were distracted by phone conversations are unlikely to admit it. Maybe the proportion of such cases is insignificant, but I think it's unwise to assume that's the case, as the number of clearly cellphone-impaired drivers is noticeable.

IMO a better question might be: how many accidents are caused by driver distractions of all types? My guess is that it's a large percentage of all non-alcohol-related accidents. Rather than look for ways to absolve cellphones it might be wise for the powers that be to encourage drivers to pay attention to driving.

Posted by: Jonathan on December 18, 2005 6:50 AM

Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember your info?