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Another view on 'distracted driving'

Insurance industry rep thinks focusing on technology would be more useful than laws banning cell phone use.

By Teresa Mears Sep 23, 2010 2:25PM

Have the dangers of texting while driving been overblown?

As Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood organized a "Distracted Driving" summit this week in Washington to hammer home the dangers of driving while using a cell phone, Justin Hyde of Jalopnik was interviewing Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, who has a different point of view.

 

Not that Lund advocates texting while driving. He wouldn't even let Hyde interview him while Hyde was driving. (We have found that people in general give less interesting interviews while driving because they are, well, distracted by driving.) Post continues after video.

Laws that ban driving while texting or talking on a cell phone haven't cut down on highway crashes, Lund points out, pointing to a study (.pdf file) by his group. He questions whether singling out cell phone use from other distractions, such as putting on makeup, is useful.

 

The reality, he said, is that crashes didn't rise with the introduction of cell phones and they haven't fallen as laws have banned cell phones while driving. Lund told Hyde:

The question is how are these new distractions, cell phones and texting, being integrated into the other things drivers do when they drive. Is this adding to their distractions, or is it merely substituting for other kind of distractions? If it's only the latter, it suggests we shouldn't see too big an increase in crashes, and indeed we haven't.

Transportation Secretary LaHood, an advocate of laws banning cell phone use while driving, has hammered on the dangers of distracted driving, in his blog and elsewhere.

 

He made his point this week in a guest column in the Orlando Sentinel, telling the story of a woman who died on her way to plan a Disney wedding when her car was in a chain-collision crash started by a tractor-trailer driver who was texting. LaHood wrote:

During the past few years, distracted driving has evolved from a dangerous practice to a deadly epidemic and pressing public-safety crisis. According to a new National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report, distracted-driving-related crashes caused at least 5,500 deaths and 450,000 injuries during 2009. This data represents only the tip of the iceberg because police reports in many states and communities do not routinely document whether distraction was a factor in vehicle crashes.

Distracted driving is an important issue, Lund agrees, but he doesn't think laws that ban cell phone use in cars are the answer. He suggests instead that officials look toward crash avoidance technology.

 

Ken Zino at The Detroit Bureau is skeptical that new technology is the answer:

It's clear that technology causes the DD (distracted driver) problem; there is little to no data showing that technology can solve the problem.

What's your take? How big a danger do you see from texting while driving, or other types of distractions? Are laws the answer? New vehicle technology? Raising public awareness, as was done with seat belts and drunken driving?

 

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