It’s simply not safe to gab behind wheel

June 25, 2013

A new study by the American Automobile Association provides even more evidence that Pennsylvania lawmakers did a woefully inadequate job of protecting Keystone State motorists last year when they voted to ban texting behind the wheel but allowed drivers to continue blabbering away on their cellphones while driving.

Many of the chatterheads will tell you that the newer hands-free technology that allows them to talk on a cellphone and communicate online without actually holding a phone removes much of the danger of carrying on a telephone conversation or “staying connected” otherwise while driving. Except, it doesn’t, according to AAA.

Its study finds that the hands-free technology, which allows drivers to use voice commands to text and email and dial phone numbers, can be even more distracting.

Here’s an excerpt from an Associated Press story on the new research:

“Talking on a hands-free phone isn’t significantly safer for drivers than talking on a hand-held cell phone, and using hands-free devices that translate speech into text is the most distracting of all, researchers reported. Speech-to-text systems that enable drivers to send, scroll through or delete email and text messages required greater concentration by drivers than other potentially distracting activities examined in the study like talking on the phone, talking to a passenger, listening to a book on tape or listening to the radio.

“The greater the concentration required to perform a task, the more likely a driver is to develop what researchers call ‘tunnel vision’ or ‘inattention blindness.’ Drivers will stop scanning the roadway or ignore their side and rearview mirrors. Instead, they look straight ahead but fail to see what’s in front of them, like red lights and pedestrians.”

Frightening, isn’t it? But not frightening enough for our legislators, who, we can only surmise, are too afraid of a backlash from voters to take appropriate action.

Last year, lawmakers acted as if they had really accomplished something by banning texting while driving. They merely chipped off the tip of the iceberg.

Right now, according to AAA estimates, there are about 9 million vehicles on the roads that have so-called “infotainment systems” that allow hands-free emailing, texting, social media posts and more. Five years from now, AAA believes that number will jump to 62 million.

“We believe there is a public safety crisis looming,” said AAA spokeswoman Yolanda Cade. “We hope this study will change some widely held misconceptions by motorists.”

We wouldn’t count on it. Americans, more than any other people on Earth, seem to blithely disregard facts they find to be inconvenient or counter to their self-serving beliefs.

The evidence in support of a total ban on communication devices by drivers could not be more clear. First we learned that talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving was about as dangerous as operating a vehicle while legally drunk. Then came technological advances that some touted as an answer to the problem, but now that’s been shown to be untrue.

Somehow, in the “olden days,” we all managed to live our lives and even conduct business without being electronically connected to the rest of the world at every waking moment. There are few situations in life that truly compel us to make a phone call or engage in other forms of communication while operating a motor vehicle. There’s a would-be rapist or murderer following you? By all means, dial 911. Otherwise, pull off the road and talk.

Our lawmakers could do their duty, in the face of this clear and present public danger, and make talking-texting-emailing-etc.-while-driving illegal, but we’re not holding our breath. So absent that, might we suggest a little personal responsibility? Again, in this day and age, that’s probably asking too much.



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