Driving Under the Influence of a Cell Phone is as Dangerous as DUI Drunk Driving. The Attentional Mechanism Suggests That The Cell Phone Impaired May be Even More Dangerous to Motorcyclists. All Cell Phone Use While Driving Must Be Outlawed. This is a Declaration of War.
By Ray Henke,
Auto Driver Cell Phone Use Results in Driving Impairment as Great as DUI Level Alcohol Intoxication. The “Cell Phone Impaired” Are Even More Likely to Cause Accidents than Drunk Drivers. There Is Good Reason to Believe, from the Literature on the Mechanism of Cell Phone Attentional Impairment and the Mechanism of Inattentional Blindness That Cell Phone Driving Impairment Likely Poses an Even Greater Danger to Motorcyclists. Cell Phone Use Should Be Outlawed While Driving For the Benefit of Everyone, Auto Drivers, Motorcyclists, Bicyclists and Pedestrians Alike. Restricting the Use of Handheld Cell Phones Will Not Solve the Problem Because Cell Phone Associated Driving Impairment Does Not Result From the Manual Tasks Associated With Using a Handheld Cell Phone. To the Contrary, Cell Phone Induced Driving Impairment Results From the Distraction of Driver Attention to Internal Cognitive Tasks Associated with Cell Phone Conversation, Away From the External Visual-Spacial Attention Essential for Driving Tasks. Cell Phone Use Also Increases General Traffic Congestion and Commute Time. The Use of Cell Phones By Drivers is Not Essential nor Beneficial to Our Economy. Any Economic Benefit Associated with Cell Phone Use During Worker Commutes Is Likely Offset by Increased Duration of Commutes for All Workers. War is Declared by Motorcyclists Against Dumb Drivers and the Battleline is Drawn.
The convergence of epidemiological studies and controlled experimental studies demonstrate that "driving under the influence of a cell phone" is as dangerous as DUI drunk driving, resulting in a four fold increased likelihood that the driver will cause an accident.. The number of drivers actively using cell phones while driving is epidemic and continuing to rise rapidly, from 4 percent of all drivers on our American streets at any given daylight moment in time as of the year 2000, to 10 percent as of the end of 2005. The dangers posed the large and growing numbers of cell phone impaired drivers escalates muliplicatively each year as there are fewer unimpaired drivers capable of using evasive action to avoid the hazards created by those driving under the influence of their cell phones.
The mechanism of cell phone driving impairment is demonstrated in the controlled experimental literature, confirmed by neurological studies, and supported by the psycological literature to be a form of "inattentional blindness," a constriction of what cell phone users "see" deriving from the shifting of limited conscious capacity for attention to the internal-cognitive tasks associated with the give and take of the cell phone conversation away from the external-visual tasks essential for safe driving.
We suggest that the dangers posed by auto drivers who drive under the influence of cell phone conversation are even greater for the motorcyclists whom they fail to "see.". One obvious reason is that motorcyclists are more vulnerable to serious injury and death resulting from accidents generally and hence from the increased general incidence of accidents caused by the DUI level cell phone impaired. Additionally, auto drivers have a profound preexisting inattentional blindness specific for motorcyclists, as demonstrated by the pre-cell-phone-age studies demonstrating a disproportionate incidence of motorcycle accidents resulting from auto driver inattention specifically at intersections, after the auto driver enters the intersection or turns left at the intersection into the motorcyclist's right of way. The fact that the auto drivers claim that they don't "see" the motorcyclist derives from visual/visual inattentional blindness deriving from subconscious value judgments, e.g., "expectation" and "relevance" determining which visual stimulae will be permitted conscious attention. The cell phone impaired contribute an additional, different form of auditory-internal-cognitive distraction resulting in external-visual inattentional blindness. We suggest that the combination of the two forms of inattentional blindness leads at least to an additive and possibly a synergistic effect to disproportionately increase the dangers for motorcyclists..
We conclude that all cell phone use while driving should be outlawed. Thus far the states which have considered the issue have either rejected bans on cell phone use or have banned only to use of handheld cell phones while driving. It will become more and more obvious that cell phone use needs to be prohibited while driving as the broken bodies and caskets mount. Legislation banning only handheld cell phone use can be expected only to be completely ineffective in reducing the human carnage. Handheld legislation is indeed detrimental because it misinforms the public that the use of hands-free cell phones while driving is "safe."
Cell phone use while driving must be severely penalized, by lengthy drivers license suspension for first time offenders and jail time for repeat offenders, equivalent to the penalties for DUI drunk driving. Fines have proven ineffective in curtailing even handheld cell phone use where drivers had the option to use hands-free cell phones while driving.
There is no economic risk/benefit analysis which recommends permitting cell phone use while driving. To the extent that employees may accomplish productive or semi-productive work while driving, the work product will not justify the "expense." Employers beware: if your employee causes an accident while engaged in business related cell phone conversation you will be held liable for the resulting injuries; the benefit will not exceed your cost. The " cost benefit" overall economic detriment is demonstrated also by the fact that the use of cell phones by the commuting work force results in an impediment to traffic flow, traffic delays and longer commutes for all workers. Cell phone users take 19 percent more time to regain flow-of-traffic speed after each braking episode. With one in ten drivers on our streets and highways actively involved in cell phone conversation at any given daylight moment, indeed the effect on traffic flow and city congestion is enormous. The societal costs of driver cell phone use is measured by broken bodies, the loss of our loved ones, medical expense, increased length of driver commutes, city congestion, increased fuel consumption, and the consequent environmental impact. No colorable "benefit" deriving from cell phone use while driving can justify the costs.
War is declared, upon the legislators whose cowardice has led them to resist cell phone bans or to promote ineffective bans on handheld cell phones only. They fear the political consequence of removing this dangerous toy from the hands of the 70 percent of their constituency who value their use. Take notice, as cell phone use continues to increase and as comprehensive bans become recognized as essential for public safety, we will count the numbers of those crippled and dead and we will remind the public of your prevarication and voting history. War is declared upon the employers who urge their employees to use cell phones to conduct business while driving: If your employee injures another, you will be held accountable to pay all recoverable damages. War is also declared upon the cell phone companies: either tell the truth and the whole truth in bold warnings attached to your cell phones, or you too will be held liable for the human carnage that results. And war is declared upon the individual driver who uses his cell phone while driving. Whether or not you have been forewarned, but in particular if you have received warnings from your cell company that driving under the influence of your cell phone results in increased danger that you will cause an accident, beware: if you then injure or kill another while driving under the influence of your cell phone, you too will pay the consequence.
1. Cell Phone Impaired Drivers Are a Menace on Our Streets, They are At Least As Impaired and Dangerous As DUI Drunk Drivers, And Significantly More Likely to Cause Accidents.
Epidemiological studies have demonstrated that motorists are 4 times as likely to cause accidents when engaged in cell phone conversation than when not engaged in cell phone conversation. The landmark epidemiological study is Redelmeier and Tibshirani (1997) “Association Between Cellular-Telephone Calls and Motor Vehicle Collisions.” New England Journal of Medicine, 336, 453. The study examined the telephone records of 699 auto drivers who had caused motor vehicle accidents and found that 24 percent were involved in cell phone conversations at the time of the accidents. The established four fold increased incidence of accidents in association with cell phone use is the same incidence associated with DUI drunk driving. These results were replicated in subsequent epidemiological studies, including another large case-crossover study using similar methodology, again finding a four fold increased incidence of auto accidents among drivers who were using cell phones at the time of the accident. McEvoy, Stevenson, McCartt, Woodward, Haworth, Palamara and Cercarelli, "Role of Mobile Phones in Motorvehicle Crashes Resulting in Hospital Attendance; A Case-Crossover Study,” British Medical Journal (July 12, 2005). Additional epidemiological evidence demonstrating driving impairment associated cell phone conversations is "The 100-Car Naturalistic Driving Study, Phase II," DOT HS 810 593 April, 2006. In that NHTSA study it was found that "The use of handheld wireless devices (primarily cell phones) was associated with the highest frequency of secondary task distraction-related events. This was true for both events of lower severity (i.e., incident) and for events of higher severity (i.e., near crashes). Wireless devices were also among the categories associated with the highest frequencies of crashes and minor collisions." Significantly in terms of demonstrating the "attentional" rather than "manual" mechanism of cell phone driving impairment, "All of the crashes and a majority of the near crashes and incidents associated with wireless devices occurred during a cell phone conversation." Driver inattention generally was credited with the greatest contribution to overall accident rates. Significantly, NHTSA found that "Wireless devices, including primarily cell phones ... account for the highest frequency of inattention related occurrences ..."
Studies finding that cell phone driving impairment equates with DUI level alcohol intoxication are important for our present purposes because this is a level of driving impairment which has been previously judged by our state legislatures to be sufficiently dangerous to criminalize. If we accept that cell phone impaired drivers are a danger to society objectively equal to DUI level drunk drivers, then we suggest that it follows that cell phone use while driving should also be outlawed and criminalized.
In the most important series of controlled experimental studies performed on cell phone driving impairment to date, it was found again that the driving impairment associated with cell phone use was at least equal to that of DUI level alcohol intoxication. Indeed the incidence of accidents caused by cell phone users during the controlled simulations was found to be significantly greater than the incidence of accidents caused by those whose driving was impaired by DUI level alcohol intoxication. The most recent of the publications is Strayer, Drews and Crouch, “A Comparison of the Cell Phone Driver and the Drunk Driver,” Human Factors, Summer 2006. Strayer first announced his findings demonstrating DUI level impairment associated with cell phone use in 2003. Strayer, D. L. & Drews, F. A. & Crouch, D. J. (2003). “Fatal Distraction? A Comparison of the Cell-Phone Driver and the Drunk Driver.” In D. V. McGehee, J. D. Lee, & M. Rizzo (Eds.) Driving Assessment 2003: International Symposium on Human Factors in Driver Assessment, Training, and Vehicle Design. Published by the Public Policy Center, University of Iowa (pp. 25-30).
The previous cell phone impairment studies by Strayer, et al, most of which are discussed more fully infra, constitute equally important foundation for our understanding of the nature and extent of cell phone driving impairment. They establish the level of cell phone driving impairment experimentally, under controlled conditions, in a variety of simulated driving contexts, measuring, for example, cell phone impairment of driver ability to detect, recognize and act on traffic signals, and to brake and avoid accidents when a car ahead applies its brakes. The previous Strayer work is also very important to demonstrate that cell phone impairment results from an indiscriminate “inattentional blindness” resulting from diversion of attention to the internal-cognitive tasks associated with the give and take of the cell conversation, specifically not deriving from any aspect of handling, holding or dialing the device. The previous Strayer studies also establish that cell phone driving impairment cannot be modified or reduced below DUI level by multi-task “practice” or “experience” driving while talking on a cell phone. Furthermore, the earlier Strayer work is important in establishing that the driving impairment associated with cell phone conversation is much more potent than other common “old standard” driver “distractions” such as listening to the radio or listening to recorded books; indeed, significantly more potent in impairing driving than participating in conversation with vehicle passengers. See, Strayer, D. L., & Johnston, W. A. (2001). “Driven to distraction: Dual-task studies of simulated driving and conversing on a cellular phone. Psychological Science,” 12, 462-466. McCarley, J. S., Vais, M., Pringle, H., Kramer, A. F., Irwin, D. E., & Strayer, D. L. (2001). “Conversation disrupts visual scanning of traffic scenes.” Paper presented at Vision in Vehicles, Australia. Strayer, D. L., Drews, F. A., Albert, R. W., & Johnston, W. A. (2001). “Cell phone induced perceptual impairments during simulated driving.” In D. V. McGehee, J. D. Lee, & M. Rizzo (Eds.) Driving Assessment 2001: International Symposium on Human Factors in Driver Assessment, Training, and Vehicle Design. Strayer, D. L., Drews, F. A. & Johnston, W. A. (2002). “Why do cell phone conversations interfere with driving?” Proceedings of the 81st Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board, Washington, DC. Strayer, D. L., Drews, F. A. & Johnston, W. A. (2003). “Cell phone induced failures of visual attention during simulated driving.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 9, 23-23. Strayer, D. L., Drews, F. A., & Johnston, W. A. (2003). “Are we being driven to distraction? Public Policy Perspectives,” Vol. 16, 1-2. (Published by the Center for Public Policy and Administration, University of Utah) Strayer, D. L. & Drews, F. A. (2003). “Effects of cell phone conversations on younger and older drivers.” In the Proceedings of the 47nd Annual Meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (pp.. 1860-1864). Strayer, D. L. & Drews, F. A. & Crouch, D. J. (2003). “Fatal distraction? A comparison of the cell-phone driver and the drunk driver.” In D. V. McGehee, J. D. Lee, & M. Rizzo (Eds.) Driving Assessment 2003: International Symposium on Human Factors in Driver Assessment, Training, and Vehicle Design. Published by the Public Policy Center, University of Iowa (pp. 25-30). Strayer, D. L., Cooper, J. M., & Drews, F. A. (2004). “What do drivers fail to see when conversing on a cell phone?” In the Proceedings of the 48nd Annual Meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (pp 2213-2217). McCarley, J.S., Vais, M.J., Pringle, H., Kamer, A.F., Irwin, D.E., & Strayer, D.L. (2004) “Conversation disrupts change detection in complex traffic scenes.” Human Factors, 46, 424-436. Strayer, D.L., & Drews, F. A. (2004). “Profiles in driver distraction: Effects of cell phone conversations on younger and older drivers.” Human Factors, 46, 640-649. Strayer, D. L. & Drews, F. A. Crouch, D. J., & Johnston, W. A. (2005). “Why do Cell Phone Conversations Interfere with Driving?” In W. R. Walker and D. Herrmann (Eds.) Cognitive Technology: Essays on the Transformation of Thought and Society (pp. 51-68), McFarland & Company, Inc., Jefferson, NC.)
2. Cell Phone Impaired Drivers May Pose An Even Greater Danger To Motorcyclists Than Has Been Discovered To Be The Risk To Motorists Generally. This is Demonstrated (1) By the “Pre-Cell-Phone-Age” Statistics Which Demonstrated that Motorcyclists Are Disproportionately At Risk Resulting from Inattentive Auto Drivers; (2) By The Evidence That Motorcycle Intersection and Right of Way Violation Accidents In Particular Are the Result of Auto Driver “Inattentional Blindness” to Motorcyclists; and (3) By the Distinct Mechanism of Cell Phone Attentional Impairment Which Combined With Auto Driver “Inattentional Blindness” to Motorcycles Suggests the Likelihood of Additive or Synergistic Auto Driver Attentional Impairment Specific For Motorcyclists.
The evidence presented in the preceding section we consider sufficient to justify legislation to outlaw cell phone use while driving. To quote Professor Strayer:"Just like you put yourself and other people at risk when you drive drunk, you put yourself and others at risk when you use a cell phone and drive.” To quote study co-author, Assistant Professor Frank Drews: “If legislators really want to address driver distraction, then they should consider outlawing cell phone use while driving." Consumer Affairs, June 30, 2006.
There are additional reasons to criminalize the use of cell phones while driving, discussed below, including that the growth in numbers of cell phone users is having the effect to increase traffic congestion and the average lengths of our commutes.
But the question to be answered here is why should motorcyclists in particular want to support or even take the lead in urging our state legislatures to outlaw the use of cell phones while driving.
One answer to that question is that we are more at risk of serious injury and death at the hands of the cell phone impaired than auto drivers who are protected by their thousands of pounds of surrounding metal, interior padding, seat belts, and air bags.
But there is another good reason, and that is that cell phone impaired drivers may pose a much greater risk of causing motorcycle accidents than accidents with other types of vehicles. This has not yet been studied, but we consider that reasonable inferences can be drawn from the existing scientific data. It may be true that scientists at this stage would call it conjecture. But unlike these scientists, we as bikers don’t have the luxury of an indefinite future to determine the precise measurements of the risk, given that our lives will be put at stake perhaps this very afternoon as we ride home from work. In the absence of existing data in point, we suggest that some conclusions can be drawn, evident enough from the statistical information we have already about the most common ways in which auto drivers cause motorcycle accidents, the information yielded by the research on the mechanism of inattentional blindness, and then this most recent research by Strayer, et al., describing the mechanism by which cell phone use impairs driving.
First of all, what we know from the “pre-cell phone age” motorcycle accident studies, that is, studies conducted before cell phones were so commonly in use by the American public, is that fully 2/3 of all multi-vehicle motorcycle accidents were found to result solely from the inattention or negligence of an auto driver, without any fault on the part of the motorcyclist. Two-thirds of that number, or ½ of the total number of multi-vehicle motorcycle accidents were intersection accidents resulting from right of way violations in which an auto driver either entered the intersection or turned left at the intersection into the motorcyclist’s right of way; commonly reporting: “I didn’t see him.” See, e.g., Hurt, H.H., Ouellet, J.V. and Thom, D.R., January, 1981, "Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures," Volume 1: Technical Report, Traffic Safety Center, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California 90007, Contract No. DOT HS-5-01160 (Final Report). These are indeed the tell tale signs and good solid evidence of “pre-cell phone age” auto driver inattentional blindness specific to motorcycles.
As discussed more fully on the other pages of this Motorcyclists-Against-Dumb-Drivers web site, these intersection right of way violation accidents are not the result of the motorcycle’s smaller size, or “lack of conspicuity,” at least as that term has been used in the lay sense to suggest that auto drivers don’t “see” motorcycles because they are smaller or less “visible.” Motorcycles are just as visible as any car at the distance at which a car can pose a threat to a motorcyclist when pulling out into an intersection or turning left at an intersection into the motorcyclist’s right of way. The reason why auto drivers so commonly pull out into intersections into the right of way of motorcyclists is described instead by the somewhat complex phenomenon of “inattentional blindness.” See, “Inattentional Blindness,” Mack & Rock, 1998, and the wealth of good experimental literature which has followed upon this important landmark work.
The scientific literature on inattentional blindness demonstrates through the results of what are truly ingenious study designs, the mechanisms by which the landscape of visual stimuli which enter our “subconscious” through our eyes is extensively processed, only after which a selected subset of the visual information is permitted through to our “conscious attention.” We may think that what we“see” is similar to what a videotape might record, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. What our eyes perceive is received, true enough, meaning received into the subconscious, but then it is processed, indeed processed extensively, and then only in very late subconscious processing is the "bottleneck" selection process accomplished by which our subconscious “decides” what small subset of the totality of visual information will be allowed to reach our conscious attention.
Many of the criteria utilized by the subconscious to select visual stimuli for conscious attention have been identified, including most important, we believe, in this context, “expectation,” the selection of those stimuli which we “expect” to see (such as cars rather than motorcycles), and “relevance,” those objects which we consider more pertinent to our immediate task objective (in this context, the preferential selection drawing attention to the multi-thousand pound car, truck or bus, which might severely injure or kill the auto driver, in contrast to the lesser “relevance” of a motorcycle, which is likely to pose a much smaller threat to the auto driver).
“Inattentional blindness” describes the phenomenon by which we fail to “see” that which is right in front of us. It is the phenomenon that results from the selection process by which that which is fully apparent, right in front of us, square at the center of our visual field, will be so processed and selected "out" by our subconscious so that it will not reach our conscious attention. And if it is processed but selected not to reach our conscious attention, our conscious experience is indeed that we don’t “see” it. It is the equivalent of the old question, “If a tree falls in a forest with no one there to hear it, does it make a sound.” Well, the answer in this context is “No.” If a visual stimulus is not permitted forward from our subconscious through the bottleneck to our conscious attention, then we don’t “see” it. In the words of Mack and Rock: “Only those objects to which attention is either voluntarily directed or that capture attention at a late stage of processing are perceived. It is as if attention provides the key that unlocks the door dividing unconscious from conscious perception. Without this key, there is no awareness of the stimulus.” Mack and Rock, supra. And this is indeed why, even prior to the advent of cell phones, the auto driver who pulled out in front of a motorcyclist at an intersection into his right of way and crippled or killed him would commonly turn to the police officer wide eyed and say “Uhh, Sorry, Man, I just didn’t see him.”
Now, what we should all be very concerned about as motorcyclists is that the most recent cell phone studies have determined that the mechanism by which cell phones result in driving impairment is by an attentional impairment, a different kind of inattentional blindness, this one resulting from the motorist's shifting attention to the "auditory" stimuli and higher level internal cognitive functions involved in the give and take of cell phone conversation, reducing our capacity to attend to the distinct external visual-spacial stimuli as is essential for safe driving.
To fully appreciate the contribution of cell phone driving impairment to degrade motorcyclist safety, either as separate source of danger or as potential synergistic factor in combination with preexisting auto driver inattentional blindness for motorcyclists, it is essential to understand the nature of cell phone driving impairment as illustrated by the available scientific literature.
We consider these Strayer, et al. studies particularly important in terms of motorcyclist safety. This is because of the earlier observations of Harry Hurt, 1981, and others that the greatest "pre-cell-phone-age" contributor to the incidence of multi-vehicle motorcycle accidents was auto driver inattention to motorcyclists; and because this preexisting auto driver inattentional blindness specific to motorcyclists is at least exacerbated linearly and possibly synergistically when the auto driver is on the phone, involved in separate pathway auditory and higher level cognitive tasks different from the pathway responsible for processing visual stimuli.
On the one hand we have the preexisting auto driver inattentional blindness which the IB literature suggests most likely results from such factors as failure to “expect” a motorcycle and internal values of reduced “relevance” attached to oncoming motorcycles, evident prior to the age of common use of cell phones, and now an entirely different mechanism of attentional impairment resulting from the use of cell phones while driving, in which conscious attention is diverted from the visual-spacial-manual tasks essential for driving to the internal cognitive give and take of the cell phone conversation. Each interfere with the auto driver's ability to "see" what is directly in front of his eyes. Referring to driving under the influence of cell phones, Strayer pointed out: “Even when participants direct their gaze at objects in the driving environment, they often fail to ‘see’ them when they are talking on a cell phone because attention has been directed away from the external environment and toward an internal, cognitive context associated with the phone conversation.” Strayer, 2006, supra.
The “multi-tasking” use of the cell phone while driving is considered by Strayer, et al. likely to be substantially more distracting because it is “cognitively engaging.” “Drivers [while using cell phones] are more likely to miss critical traffic signals (traffic lights, a vehicle breaking in front of the driver, etc.), slower to respond to signals that they do detect, and more likely to be involved in ... collisions when they are conversing on a cell phone [than baseline or drunk drivers.] ... In the case of the cell phone driver, the impairments appear to be attributable, in large part, to the diversion of attention from the processing of information necessary for the safe operation of a motor vehicle.” Strayer, et al., 2006, supra. (Please note that the above list of traffic signal and braking scenarios is not meant to be exclusive in terms of driving activities impaired by cell phone use; it just represents the driving scenarios which Strayer has chosen thus far to test. He has not yet tested, for example, auto driver impairment of recognition of visual stimuli essential to respect rights of way at intersections. Our concern indeed is that cell phone driver impairment may be even more pronounced as the emotional charge of the conversation and the difficulty of the driving tasks increase.)
In another set of experiments, Strayer et al. examined the effect of hands-free cell phone conversation to assess whether impairment of drivers reactions to traffic signals and vehicles braking in front of them might properly be attributed to withdrawal of attention from the scene “yielding a form of inattention blindness" similar but distinct from the intattentional blindness identified by Mack & Rock, given that cell phone induced inattentional blindness results from auditory-cognitive interference with visual-spacial perception rather than the selective processing of competing visual stimuli evident in Mack and Rock's research. See, e.g., Strayer, D. L., Drews, F. A. & Johnston, W. A. (2003). “Cell Phone Induced Failures of Visual Attention During Simulated Driving.” Journal of Experimental Psychology, Vol 9, pp. 23-23. The authors concluded: “These data extend our earlier observations of impaired detection and reaction to traffic signals [citations omitted] and sluggish reaction to brake lights when participants are engaged in cell phone conversations. We suggest that even when participants are directing their gaze at objects in the driving environment that they may fail to 'see' them because attention is directed elsewhere. The indication of cell phone-induced inattention blindness extends laboratory-based demonstrations of apparent failures of visual attention to the driving domain. (Mack & Rock, ['Inattentional Blindness'], 1998).”
Strayer, et al. distinguished his own findings of "dual pathway" cell phone conversation inattentional blindness from the distinct single pathway inattentional blindness described by Mack & Rock resulting from the subconscious competition for attention for multiple visual stimuli. “One important difference between these earlier studies and our present work is that the former involved presentation of simultaneous (and often overlapping) visual images, whereas our research involved the combination of visual (i.e., the driving environment) and auditory (i.e., the cell phone conversation) information. This suggests that the locus of the effect is at a central attentional level and not due to structural interference or overload of a perceptual or response channel.” We consider this important to our thesis that the combination of the two distinct pathway attentional impairments likely combine to result in even more profound driving impairment of the auto driver's ability to "see" the oncoming motorcycle, indeed, possibly much more profound impairment as the interaction may produce a synergistic effect.
There is converging neurological evidence from investigators at Johns Hopkins providing additional support for Stayer’s conclusions with regard to the "attentional" interference of auditory cell phone conversation on capacity to detect visual stimuli in the driving environment. Shomstein, S., Yantis, S. “Control of Attention Shifts Between Vision and Audition in Human Cortex.” The Journal of Neuroscience, November 24, 2004, 24(47):10702-10706. Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) Stromstein and Yantis recorded their experimental subjects’ brain activity while involved in shifts back and forth between visual and auditory activity. Significantly, they noted that when attention was shifted to one, either visual or auditory stimuli, the parts of the brain associated with the other demonstrated reduced activity. This would imply a zero sum trade off between auditory and visual attention. Suggesting that there is an additional attentional cost to "switching" between the auditory and visual, Shomstein and Yantis observed that there was an additional, separate, "transitional" brain function evident in bursts of activity in certain aspects of the brain as attention was redirected. The Shomstien and Yantis research provides neurological support now to the experimental evidence of Strayer et al. that the mechanism of cell phone driving impairment is a form of “inattentional blindness” (supporting also Strayer's persuasive anticipatory rebuttal to theoretical models of diverted attention that might be argued to suggest that cell phone conversation, “an auditory-verbal-vocal task,” can be successfully “timeshared” with driving, “a visual-spacial-manual task.”)
”Selective attention contributes to perceptual efficiency by modulating cortical activity according to task demands. Visual attention is controlled by activity in posterior parietal and superior frontal cortices, but little is known about the neural basis of attentional control within and between other sensory modalities. We examined human brain activity during attention shifts between vision and audition. Attention shifts from vision to audition caused increased activity in auditory cortex and decreased activity in visual cortex and vice versa, reflecting the effects of attention on sensory representations. Posterior parietal and superior prefrontal cortices exhibited transient increases in activity that were time locked to the initiation of voluntary attention shifts between vision and audition. These findings reveal that the attentional control functions of posterior parietal and superior prefrontal cortices are not limited to the visual domain but also include the control of crossmodal shifts of attention.” Id.
In an interview, professor Yantis made plain the significance of his findings on the specific issue of cell phone driving impairment:“Our research helps explain why talking on a cell phone can impair driving performance, even when the driver is using a hands-free device ... Directing attention to listening effectively 'turns down the volume' on input to the visual parts of the brain. The evidence we have right now strongly suggests that attention is strictly limited -- a zero-sum game. When attention is deployed to one modality -- say, in this case, talking on a cell phone -- it necessarily extracts a cost on another modality -- in this case, the visual task of driving." Consumer Affairs, June 22, 2005.
Significantly, evidence that the attentional impairment associated with cell phone use can act as an on-off switch, competent to block out even the most crucial of visual stimuli essential for safe driving, Strayer found that cell phone inattentional blindness extended even to stimuli which would otherwise be considered preferentially or automatically sufficient to elicit attention. In one study, Strayer, et al. found that “cell phone conversations interfere with the automatic attention-capturing properties of sudden onset stimuli occurring in the driving environment.” Strayer, supra, 2003. The significance of the finding is that stimuli that appear as sudden onsets are "thought to capture attention automatically,” Id., and so the fact that the cell phone impaired do not "see" sudden onset events illustrates the indiscriminate blindness of the cell phone impaired while attention is directed to internal-cognitive stimuli and away from external-visual stimuli.
Strayer et al. preemptively rebutted any potential argument that when drivers engage in cell phone conversation they may attempt to strategically reallocate attention from the processing of less relevant information in the driving scene (e.g., billboards) to the cell phone conversation while continuing to give highest priority to the processing of task-relevant information in the driving scene (e.g., the car in front of them). These experiments included eye tracking devices and, as observed by Strayer, that data “did not provide support for this [prioritization] interpretation because participants looked at billboards equally often in single and dual task conditions.” Id. Attention essential to the detection of all visual stimuli was impaired when the driver was involved in cell phone conversation, that is, stimuli meaningful to the driving task and stimuli not meaningful to the driving task alike.
Strayer et al., bolstered this conclusion by their observation that “Any reasonable account of task relevance would have to include attending to the vehicle immediately in front of the driver. Nevertheless, the car following paradigm ... found significant impairments in driving performance when participants were conversing on a hands-free cell phone. If participants were attempting to focus on more task-relevant information in the driving scene, then this strategy proved to be inadequate because dual-task interference was observed even with task-relevant information in the driving scene. We suggest that the most straightforward interpretation of the dual task deficits in explicit memory .. is that attention was diverted from the visual scene immediately associated with driving (of both higher and lower relevance) to the cell phone conversation.”
The capacity for “change detection” as applied to complex traffic scenes, and in particular the ability to notice significant changes, is extremely important for safe driving. This also was the subject of one Strayer experiment to test whether it was possible that the mind was capable of prioritizing so that it could attend to the telephone conversation and still attend to the meaningful changes in the complex visual landscape while driving. The answer was no, that there was no apparent prioritizing of attention to significant changes in the driving environment while participants were engaged in conversation on the cell phone. The drivers whose attention was impaired by cell phone conversation consistently failed to see both meaningful and less meaningful changes in the traffic scenes essentially indiscriminately. McCarley, J.S., Vais, M.J., Pringle, H., Kamer, A.F., Irwin, D.E., & Strayer, D.L. (2004) “Conversation Disrupts Change Detection in Complex Traffic Scenes.” Human Factors, 46, 424-436.
In subsequent study results Strayer, et al. found that even those objects to which the drivers affixed their eyes they often failed to “see” while conversing on the telephone. Strayer again explicitly attributed the phenomenon to cell phone induced inattentional blindness. Strayer, D. L., Cooper, J. M., & Drews, F. A. (2004). “What do Drivers Fail to See When Conversing on a Cell Phone?" In the Proceedings of the 48nd Annual Meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (pp 2213-2217).
Significantly, Strayer, et al. noted: “We found that even when participants looked directly at objects in the driving environment, they were less likely to create a durable memory of those objects if they were conversing on a cell phone. Moreover, this pattern was obtained for objects of both high and low relevance, suggesting that very little semantic analysis of the objects occurs outside the restricted focus of attention. These data support the inattention-blindness interpretation in which disruptive effects of cell phone conversations on driving are due in large part to the diversion of attention from driving to the phone conversation. We suggest that even when participants are directing their gaze at objects in the driving environment they may fail to ‘see’ them when they are on the phone because attention is directed elsewhere.” Id. See also, Strayer, D. L., Drews, F. A., & Johnston, W. A. (2003). “Are We Being Driven to Distraction?” Public Policy Perspectives, Vol. 16, 1-2. (Published by the Center for Public Policy and Administration, University of Utah) [“We found that even when drivers were directing their gaze at objects in the driving environment that they often failed to see them because attention was directed elsewhere. Thus, talking on a cell phone creates a form of inattention blindness, making drivers less aware of important information in the driving scene.”]
Applying these lessons here in attempting to sort out the effect of the convergence of preexisting auto driver inattentional blindness for motorcyclists, deriving from factors such as "expectation" and "relevance," and the attention impairment resulting from back and forth shifting from the "auditory-internal-cognitive" to "visual-spacial" and back while driving under the influence of a cell phone, these studies make clear that each exacts its own toll upon the driver's capacity to "see" the motorcyclists. It is as if before the advent of cell phones a substantial percentage of auto drivers were essentially unable to distinguish motorcycles from the visual background, while now we face the same percentage of motorists with the same general attention deficit for motorcyclists, except that now, another 10 percent of all the auto drivers are involved in cell phone driving, attention shifting, putting on and taking off and putting on again their inattentional blindfolds while they drive.
These factors combined suggest that cell phone use while driving may have an even larger, and perhaps a much larger effect on driver inattention to motorcyclists due to the additive or synergistic convergence of the preexisting auto driver attention deficit for auto drivers, now complicated by this epidemic of DUI level cell phone inattentional blindness currently affecting 10 percent of drivers on the road at any given moment. It may be worse. The experimental studies so far have focused only on relatively simple driving tasks such as recognizing traffic signals, responding to a forward braking car, recognizing sudden events and significant changes in the driving landscape. We suggest that the level of cell phone impairment, particularly when combined with the preexisting auto driver attention deficit specific for motorcyclists, may be much more potent in more complex traffic scenarios, such as when the motorist must assess whether to enter an intersection or turn left at an intersection, potentially into the right of way of another. What appears certain is that the impairment will not be less as the difficulty level rises, even if the driver subjectively considers that the visual stimuli at intersections are more "important" or "meaningful" since as Strayer made plain, cell phone induced inattentional blandness is indiscriminate and specifically not selective for the less meaningful. Instead, we suggest that the likelihood is that the impairment will be greater, given that the more complex driving task requires significantly more visual information at a time when the driver's zero-sum attention is divided. Given the preexisting auto driver attention deficit for motorcyclists, the concern is that drivers under the influence of cell phones may be selectively much more dangerous for motorcyclists than for drivers of other vehicles. Both the preexisting deficit and call phone driving impairment derive from inattentional blindness, and while moderated differently each have the same effect to lead the driver to fail to "see" the motorcycle right in front of him. If cell phone conversation results in DUI level impairment as measured for the recognition of traffic signals and braking cars, what level of impairment pertains when the auto driver is already burdened with an attention deficit for motorcycles? This is a question which can only be answered definitively by further research; but in the meantime we suggest that the attentional effect is likely either additive or synergistic. Particularly given that the numbers of those driving under the influence of cell phones are growing at epidemic rates motorcyclists must appreciate the serious and growing danger we face and consider what we can do to avert it.
3. The Use of Cell Phones While Driving Should Be Outlawed. And No Distinction Should be Made Between Handheld and Hands-Free Cell Phone Use.
As a matter of general public health and specifically here, motorcyclist safety, cell phone use while driving needs to be outlawed. Indeed, Motorcyclists Against Dumb Drivers urges that stiff penalties, such as mandatory lengthy suspensions of driving privileges, followed by jail sentences for repeat offenders should be legislated, and a strict zero tolerance enforcement policy adopted similar to the penalties and enforcement policies for DUI drunk driving. It is essential that cell phone use be banned outright, without exception, or with the sole exception being true emergency, verifiable 911 telephone calls.
Motorists who use hands-free devices are equally impaired and equally as dangerous as those who use handheld cell phones. Cell phone impairment is an attentional impairment, not an impairment associated with holding or dialing, or any other manual aspect of cell phone use. To be effective, all cell phone use while driving must be banned and criminalized.
Outlawing cell phone use while driving should not come as such a leap if we consider the implications of this converging body of epidemiological and controlled experimental research. It is established now that drivers who use cell phones are at least as driving impaired as those who the law considers criminally culpable for driving under the influence of alcohol, and indeed, according to this latest, 2006 Strayer article, supra, more likely than DUI level drunk drivers to cause accidents.
Cell phone driving impairment is indeed without question a greater public health issue than DUI drunk driving, simply because there are so many more drivers using cell phones than drunk drivers on our streets and highways. Let this not be misconstrued. Without any doubt, alcohol induced driving impairment is responsible for a horrifying incidence of death and broken lives each year, and fully deserves to be criminalized and severely punished. But the numbers of the alcohol impaired driving on our streets at any given moment in time simply pales in comparison to the numbers of equally dangerous cell phone impaired drivers. Fully ten percent of drivers on the roadway at any given daylight moment are using their cell phones, that is, actively engaged in the give and take of cell phone conversation. National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS) (a probability based observed data study on cell phone use performed by NHTSA.) And as we’ve seen, these auto drivers, currently one in every ten at any given daylight moment, are all at least as driving impaired as DUI drunk drivers, and more likely to cause accidents.
So how in the world can our legislatures countenance driving under the influence of cell phones when they criminalize drunk driving. Those who use cell phones while driving are a threat to their fellow auto drivers just as surely and to an extent fully equal to DUI level drunk drivers. This appears now an inescapable scientific fact as these epidemiological studies demonstrating a four fold increased incidence of accidents resulting from driving under the influence of a cell phone continue to be replicated. And now it is the convergence of the controlled experimental work of Strayer and others, confirming that cell phone conversations result in impairment equal to DUI drunk driving, explaining the attentional mechanism of the impairment, and scientifically rebutting every potential argument that might be made to obscure the necessity for banning all cell phone use while driving. We suggest here that cell phone impaired auto drivers are preferentially even more dangerous, and perhaps substantially more dangerous to motorcyclists, a fact that may interest our legislators little, but which should motivate all motorcyclists to want to take the lead or at least strongly support the efforts of others to criminalize cell phone use while driving.
In those few states which have restricted cell phone use, the legislatures have unfathomably banned only the use of handheld cell phones while driving, permitting drivers to use hands-free cell phones without limitation. This despite that all the scientific data demonstrate that the source of cell phone driving impairment is "attentional," associated with the conversation itself, having nothing to do with holding or otherwise manually fiddling around with the cell phone.
Laws restricting only handheld cell phone use while driving can reflect only the abject ignorance of the legislators about the “attentional” mechanism by which conversing on cell phones impairs driving, or, it demonstrates a political unwillingness to impose the “burden” even of restrictions essential to public health on the majority of their voting constituency.
This “political” approach, favoring only the banning of handheld cell phone use while driving can only be characterized as calculated to have no effect at all to ameliorate the public health consequence of now rampant cell phone use while driving. The legislation must be seen for what it is, merely a political ploy by politicians who would for appearances sake pretend to do something for the health of the citizenry while refraining from actually doing anything productive which would necessitate imposing on a majority of their constituancy.
It has been well known, at least since 1998, that cell phone use results in driving impairment equal to DUI drunk driving. It has been known, at least from 2001, that this cell phone impairment is an "attentional" impairment and that those who used handheld phones and those who used hands-free cell phones are equally driving impaired. But as recently as July 2006 the California Senate passed the same type of handheld cell phone prohibition; the State Assembly is anticipated to pass it unaltered in August, 2006; and our biker Governor Arnold Schwarzeneger is poised to sign the bill, according the Los Angeles Times, July 13, 2006. This is, unfortunately, bad politics, as usual.
These laws restricting only the use of handheld phones while driving are utterly indefensible from a scientific standpoint and indeed they can be understood only as political capitulation in the face of what these politicians apparently consider a likely public backlash if anything stronger than bills with loopholes as large as the laws themselves were to be passed.
The Strayer studies demonstrated time and time again that the driving impairment associated with cell phone use is an “attentional” impairment, not one associated with the manual operation of the cell phone, handheld or hands-free. Indeed, as Professor Strayer has pointed out, there is absolutely no legitimate scientific basis upon which to justify regulations restricting the use of handheld cell phones while permitting the use of hands-free cell phones.
“These data call into question driving regulations that prohibit handheld cell phones and permit hands-free cell phones because no significant differences were found in the impairments to driving caused by these two modes of cellular communication." Strayer, D. L., Drews, F. A., & Johnston, W. A. (2003). “Are We Being Driven to Distraction?” Public Policy Perspectives, Vol. 16, 1-2. (Published by the Center for Public Policy and Administration, University of Utah).
Strayer has indeed made this clear at least since 2001:
“Our data imply that legislative initiatives that restrict handheld devices but permit hands-free devices are not likely to reduce interference from the phone conversation, because the interference is, in this case, due to central attentional processes.” Strayer, D. L., & Johnston, W. A. (2001). “Driven to Distraction: Dual-task Studies of Simulated Driving and Conversing on a Cellular Phone.” Psychological Science, 12, 462-466. See also, Strayer, D. L., Drews, F. A. & Johnston, W. A. (2002). “Why Do Cell Phone Conversations Interfere With Driving?” Proceedings of the 81st Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board, Washington, DC.
This sentiment was echoed by Johns Hopkins Professor Yantis, based on his above described neurological studies, “Our research helps explain why talking on a cell phone can impair driving performance, even when the driver is using a hands-free device.” Stromstein & Yantis, supra.
Anything short of banning cell phone use altogether while driving can be calculated only to be completely ineffective. Drivers who previously used handheld cell phones will simply switch over to hands-free cell phones while driving. Their driving impairment will be identical, no better than a DUI drunk driver. And they will continue to be responsible for a four fold greater incidence of accidents.
Indeed, these laws restricting only the use of handheld cell phones we would characterize as detrimental to public health. This is in part because they are ill designed to effectively restrict the use of cell phones while driving, but in part also because they may contribute to the motorist’s false sense that his driving while conversing by hands-free phone is unimpaired. There exists already, even without this kind of government reinforcement, a highly detrimental “disconnect” in the cell phone driver’s mind which results in his inability to appreciate that his driving is impaired. At least some drunk drivers recognized that their driving is impaired; however, one aspect of this particular attentional impairment is that cell phone users do not. To quote Strayer: “An interesting product of this inattention blindness is that cell phone drivers are often unaware of their own impaired driving, even though this impairment is obvious to those observing their behavior from afar. In fact our data indicate that drivers are not processing the detailed information that would provide feedback that their own driving performance is impaired while using a cell phone.” Strayer, D. L., Drews, F. A., & Johnston, W. A. (2003). “Are We Being Driven to Distraction?” Public Policy Perspectives, Vol. 16, 1-2. (Published by the Center for Public Policy and Administration, University of Utah) To rephrase Strayer's observation, since auto drivers don't "see" what they don't "see," they don't realize that they don't "see" it. What handheld cell phone bans contribute is additional false assurance to the those who drive under the influence of hands-free cell phones that their conscious attentional "sight" is 20/20.
Taking us full circle, in the "The 100-Car Naturalistic Driving Study, Phase II," DOT HS 810 593 April, 2006, recall that NHTSA found that “Wireless devices [primarily cell phones] were among the categories associated with the highest frequencies of crashes and minor collisions." Significantly for the purposes of this discussion, in terms of the mechanism of cell phone driving impairment, the authors stated: "All of the crashes and a majority of the near crashes and incidents associated with wireless devices occurred during a cell phone conversation, although the dialing task was also relatively high in terms of total conflicts." Please note first that all crashes and the majority of near crashes were while the drivers were actually engaged in cell conversation. The only other contributory factor noted was that “dialing” the cell phone, not holding it, was associated with some increased incidence of “conflicts.” (not crashes.) So, first, no association was reported that would suggest that the act of "holding" a handheld cell phone is associated with an increased incidence of any adverse consequence. There is the increased incidence of "conflicts" associated with "dialing," true enough, but you have to dial both handheld and hands-free cell phones.
The wonderful thing about this observation that there was an increase incidence of driving “conflicts” associated with “the dialing task” is that in a separate study NHTSA actually counted the average number of times that handheld cell phone users had to redial their cell phones compared to users of hands-free devices and found that drivers using hands-free cell phones had to redial calls 40 percent of the time, compared with 18 percent for drivers using handheld sets! Under no circumstances do we suggest that these studies recommend the banning of only hands-free cell phones. All of the science, including the above referenced 100-Car Naturalistic Driving Study is in agreement that the danger of causing an accident associated with cell phone use is equivalent whether the device is handheld or hands-free. There simply is no significant manual aspect to cell phone driving impairment; the impairment is attentional. The degree of impairment associated with handheld and hands-free cell phone conversations is identical. It is equivalent to the impairment of a DUI level drunk driver. So clearly both hands-free and handheld cell phone use while driving must be outlawed.
The dangers associated with driving under the influence of cell phones is not going to abate absent strict prohibition; the dangers will only get worse over time. The dangers posed by cell phone impaired motorists will persist indeed for so long as auto drivers are permitted to use any type of cell phone device while driving.
Cell phone driving impairment will not be mitigated by “practice,” or “experience,” even as auto drivers become more and more accustomed to using cell phones while driving. In the 2006 Strayer study, practice was found not to decrease cell phone induced driving impairment. Indeed, according to Strayer, "given the attentional requirements of these two activities, it is not surprising that practice failed to moderate the dual-task interference. Because both naturalistic conversation and driving ... have task components that are variably mapped, there are likely to be few benefits from practicing these two tasks in combination.” Id.
Drivers who use cell phones are not going to get “better” at it. There is no solution to cell phone driving impairment short of outlawing the practice. The dangers, however, could very well get worse. The reason is that cell phone use while driving is increasing at an alarming rate. In the year 2000 four percent of auto drivers were using their cell phones at any given daylight moment in the United States, in 2002, the numbers grew to 6 percent, in 2004, the numbers grew to 8 percent, and as of December 2005, to 10 percent. NHTSA, National Occupant Protection Use Survey.
Worse, the numbers of accidents resulting from the increasing numbers of the cell phone impaired on our streets may not be linear. Indeed, many hazards created by the 10 percent of those currently driving cell phone impaired may be avoided by the astute maneuvering of the 90 percent who at the same moment in time are not impaired. As the percentages continue to shift so that more drivers are impaired and fewer are unimpaired, the numbers of accidents and resulting injuries and deaths are likely to grow exponentially.
All use of cell phones while driving must be outlawed, and outlawed now.
4. Additional Important Reasons to Ban Cell Phone Use While Driving Include Their Substantial Contribution to Traffic Congestion, and Effect to Increase the Length of Driver Commutes for All Drivers. These Facts Also Undermine The Argument that the Use of Cell Phones While Driving is Essential or Contributes to our Economy.
There are very important reasons to want to outlaw cell phone use while driving, entirely separate from the obscene danger the cell phone impaired pose to other motorists. Indeed, cell phone use may need to be outlawed soon as our cities become more congested and as our policy makers come to recognize that cell phone use is a profound and growing contributor to traffic congestion.
“One factor overlooked when considering the overall impact of cell phone driving is the effect these drivers have on traffic flow. In our study we found that drivers using a cell phone took 19 percent longer (than baseline) to recover the speed that was lost following a braking episode. In situations where traffic density is high, this pattern of driving behavior is likely to decrease the overall traffic flow, and as the proportion of cell phone drivers increases, these effects are likely to be multiplicative. That is, the impaired reactions of a cell phone driver make them less likely to travel with the flow of traffic, potentially increasing overall traffic congestion.” Strayer, Drews and Crouch, “A Comparison of the Cell Phone Driver and the Drunk Driver," Human Factors, Summer 2006. Strayer first announced his findings demonstrating DUI level impairment associated with cell phone use in 2003. See also, Strayer, supra, 2003
One of the arguments which is put forth by the cell phone industry, and through some “think tanks” such as the HCRA, supra (who Public Citizen, at least, considers was originally bought off by AT&T Wireless), is that unlike drunk driving, cell phone use while driving supposedly contributes to our economy.
In a revised analysis of the “cost-benefit ratio," which Harvard's HCRA took great pains to assert was, this time, not funded by AT&T Wireless but “independently funded by HCRA,” “compared the benefits of such a ban [on cell phone use while driving], measured by reduced medical costs, reduced property damage, and estimates of what people would be willing to pay to avoid pain, suffering, and death, against the benefits of cell phone use by drivers, measured by estimates of what subscribers pay to use their phones while driving. The benefits of a ban would be worth approximately $43 billion (range $9 billion to $193 billion). Those savings would be roughly offset by the economic value of the banned calls, also around $43 billion annually (range - $17 billion to $151 billion), or $340 per cell phone user per year (range - $130-$1,200.)." Cohen, J. 2002, “Updated Study Shows Higher Risk of Fatality From Cell Phones While Driving. Costs and Benefits of Ban are Roughly Equal.” News Release, HCRA.
The “benefit of the ban,” HCRA measures in terms of the dollar value it placed on the adverse consequences of cell phone use while driving, meaning the lives lost, the broken bodies and physical disability sustained, and the pain and suffering deriving from the use of cell phones while driving. If we accept just for the purpose of this discussion, HCRA’s calculations, first with regard to the numbers of deaths and injuries resulting from cell phone use, and then, their estimates with regard “what people would be willing to pay to avoid pain, suffering and death” associated with the accidents caused by the cell phone impaired, the number is still certainly staggering, $43 Billion dollars/year. The accurate number is probably 10 or 100 times that number, given HRCA's method of calculation relying on certainly grossly under-reported anecdotal NHTSA fatality and injury numbers, supplemented by some number of HRAC identified unreported accidents. But again, for the moment, lets accept, just for the purpose of this argument, that the measure of the “cost” we suffer by our lost lives, injuries, pain and suffering and medical expense is only $43 billion/year. Well then Yes, if the measure of the "cost" of cell phone ban is equal to the benefit, the we can see how, for these bean counters, the cost and benefit would be a wash. But consider how HCRA measures the offsetting “cost” associated with permitting drivers to use their cell phones while driving, because this is the rub. HRCA calculates the “cost” of a ban by running up the numbers on how many minutes American cell phone users spend driving while using their cell phones, and then estimates the charges these cell phone users pay to their wireless companies for these minutes of cell phone use while driving, and the product is what HRCA contends is the “offsetting cost.”
That is again the most blatant of cell phone industry pandering! Again what HCRA has done is compare the "benefit" of a ban, in terms of the lives, injuries, pain, suffering, and medical expense which would be saved, against the "cost" measured in the gross revenues that would be lost by the wireless industry for the minutes these drivers spend on the phone while driving! Shame on HCRA, again.
But lets not satisfy ourselves with shooting clay pigeons. Probably the “strongest” economic argument for those opposing a ban on cell phones is that as the time required for our daily commutes to work increases more and more each year as the function of traffic delays and city congestion. Americans are being encouraged to use this driving time in productive endeavor, many conducting business over the cell phone during their commutes. The argument that the "benefit" of increased worker productivity justifies the "costs" in human lives and broken bodies might also appear at first glance superficially persuasive, from the bean counting perspective, but again we would urge that this analysis is overrated as an argument against banning cell phone use while driving. First, our commutes are becoming longer in large part because 10 percent of drivers are on their cell phones taking 19 percent more time to get back to the flow of traffic following each braking episode, Strayer, 2006, supra. Furthermore, even to the extent that some percentage of this 10 percent of commuting drivers on the phone is involved in productive or semi-productive work, the increases in commute times for all workers resulting from their disruption to the flow of traffic certainly offsets the productivity of the few. As the numbers of drivers using cell phones increases, indeed the traffic flow will slow even further, and if Strayer’s predictions are correct the effect to slow traffic will increase “multiplicatively,” ever further increasing the commute time for all workers.
Unaccounted for in this cost-benefit analysis, furthermore, is the effect upon city congestion, and the expensive remedies that may be required for cities and states to deal with the increased congestion. The forgoing also doesn’t account for the increased expense for fuel, nor the impact on the environment. As will be discussed more fully infra, the “benefit” to private industry by encouraging its employee base to engage in business calls while driving, that is by encouraging their employees to drive under the influence of their cell phones, will certainly come home to roost economically for these same employers. We will suggest below that indeed, encouraging employees to use their cell phones for business purposes while driving will cost the employers more in the long run, to pay the compensatory and possibly punitive damage awards, as it becomes more common that the employers will be held vicariously liable for the cell phone induced inattention of their employees in the course and scope of their employment. Indeed, we suggest that any smart employer should immediately adopt and distribute written polices instructing their employees not to use their cell phones for business purposes while driving.
There is no economic “cost” associated with banning cell phone use which can be properly or persuasively weighed against the"benefit" of lives saved, catastrophic injuries avoided, and the other accident associated economic benefits to society which will result from the elimination of the effects of cell phone induced driving impairment.
5. Are Laws Outlawing All Cell Phone Use While Driving Practically Achievable?
During the last several years laws have been proposed in most states to ban outright the use of cell phones while driving. Debate has raged, and yet no state has met the challenge. Some states ban the use of cell phones by bus drivers, others ban cell phone use by minors, but the only general laws enacted applicable to adults so far have been laws prohibiting only the use of handheld cell phones.
Laws banning only handheld cell phones while driving are at best useless, calculated to have no impact whatsoever on this spreading epidemic of cell phone use while driving, and certainly can have no impact upon the severity of driver impairment. All that cell phone users need to do to continue to use their cell phones while driving is purchase a hands-free cell phone; and, as we've learned, hands free cell phone users are just as dangerous as those who use handheld cell phones. They are all DUI level impaired, and four times more likely to cause an accident than those who refrain from conversing over the cell phone while driving. Indeed we suggest that laws banning only handheld cell phone use while driving are worse than no law at all because they have the detrimental effect to reinforce the auto driver's "disconnected" perception that his driving while engaged in cell phone conversation is unimpaired.
Success in this war can only be measured by the achievement of complete bans on cell phone use while driving; anything short of that is defeat. Furthermore, it is essential that the legislated penalties be severe, meaning lengthy drivers license suspensions and then jail time for repeat offenders, similar to penalties for DUI drunk driving. In other states where handheld cell phone bans have been adopted with $20 fines for the first offense and $40 fines for the second offense, the measured incidence of handheld cell phone use while driving went down only for the first several months following enactment of the ban and then returned to pre-ban levels.
The legislative proponents of complete cell phone driving bans continue to fall short of the votes necessary to overcome those proposing the "alternative" of useless handheld cell phone bans. As recently as this July, 2006, the California Senate passed a handheld cell phone ban which appears likely soon to pass the Assembly and unfortunately, likely also to be signed into law by our biker Governor. Yet here at Motorcyclists-Against-Dumb Drivers we feel encouraged that we are approaching the moment when advocacy can turn the tide, when we will overcome the cell phone industry lobbying, and the failures of courage exhibited by our lawmakers, afraid to impose meaningful restrictions on the cell phone toting majority.
We are encouraged because we feel we have a powerful simple message now which we can carry to the public to effectively sway public opinion. We also have overwhelming scientific evidence now, reviewed in the preceding sections of this article, which we consider fully competent to overwhelm the sophistry which has heretofore characterized the pitch for restricting only the use of handheld cell phones while driving. In addition we perceive that there is a rapidly changing driving environment resulting from the epidemic increase in cell phone use while driving which we believe is rapidly producing a political imperative for a complete ban on cell phone use.
First, in terms of educating the public. The positive fact is that we have a simple, straightforward and powerful message, notwithstanding the breadth and complexity the converging multi-disciplinary scientific support. The message is "Driving under the influence of any cell phone is as dangerous as DUI drunk driving." We suggest that this message is "powerful" because DUI level driving impairment has already been recognized and accepted as a benchmark sufficient to require prohibition, stiff penalization and criminalization. "DUI level impairment" also has an emotional charge, a now generally accepted connotation of contemptibility upon which to build public sentiment against all cell phone use while driving. The most powerful lead message to the public must be that cell phone conversation while driving is as dangerous as DUI drunk driving. Next, as interest is captured with the initial message the public will be willing to consider additional information, including that describing the magnitude of this public health issue, to wit, that 1 in 10 motorists on the highways at any daylight moment are driving under the influence of cell phones, actively engaged in cell conversation, and that literally thousands upon thousands are being maimed and killed by the DUI cell phone impaired every year in every state in the Union. Next, or just as soon as the handheld law proponents begin interfering, the public needs to be informed that it is not "holding" the handheld phone which results in the DUI level driving impairment; rather, it is the powerful distraction of limited available driver attention to the cell phone conversation, away from the visual driving environment.
Getting through to sufficient numbers of our legislators to achieve complete bans on cell phone use while driving has been complicated heretofore both by cell phone industry lobbying and by the cowardice of legislators more concerned about a public backlash if they actually "take away" their cell phones while driving. Interestingly, the cell phone industry appears to be backing off its lobbying efforts, with only one cell phone company, Nextel, actively involved in lobbying against banning cell phone use in the California. Encouraging also is that public opinion appears to be shifting; large, some legitimate polls beginning to show that the majority of the public would favor a ban on all cell phone use while driving.
With the still increasing use of cell phones while driving, it appears now certain that laws effectively outlawing all cell phone use while driving will ultimately be essential, at least in metropolitan areas, if only to relieve city congestions, ease traffic flow and shorten worker commutes. Most cities will not have the choice. Already they have used every technology available, from subsidized mass transit to time-of-day computer fine-tuned traffic light sequencing, but with 10 percent of drivers on the road at any given daylight moment taking 19 percent more time to get back to flow of traffic speed after each braking episode, all the good work of traffic planners and engineers is quickly being overcome. As cell phone use while driving continues to increase from 10 percent driving under the influence of their cell phones this year to 11 or 12 percent next year, and with fewer and fewer unimpaired drivers on the streets capable of avoiding the increasing hazards created by the epidemic numbers of the DUI cell phone impaired, our streets will become more and more dangerous, an impending war zone. The cell phone associated injury and death are predicted to climb multiplititively, and policy-makers will find it increasingly difficult to ignore the caskets and broken bodies filling our cemeteries and nursing homes along the highways in the trail of the DUI cell phone impaired.
In terms of the present majority of the politicians who have successfully resisted effective cell phone bans in every state of the United States, expect from them nothing but continued prevarication in the short term. Advocates of effective cell phone bans will need to be prepared to call them on their dishonesty in the service of their cowardice. One concern is that the states are now in the process of "creating facts," actually non-scientific "falacies," to undermine future efforts to obtain cell phone bans, very similar to what NHTSA is doing now with its post helmet law repeal raw data comparisons. Indeed NHTSA has urged the states to instruct their law enforcement agencies collect the same kind of raw anecdotal data it has used commonly in recent years to defend its failed, paternalistic motorcycle safety policies, all without regard to the scientific method, apparently now for the purpose of rebutting the abundant, quality, epidemiological and controlled experimental cell phone study results obtained according proper scientific methodology.
Experience has demonstrated that in future efforts to obtain effective cell phone bans it will be important for us to be prepared to demonstrate persuasively the scientific invalidity of politically motivated data misrepresentation. It is utterly absurd that anecdotal data collected without regard to the scientific method should form any part of the debate given the abundance of epidemiological and controlled experimental studies both conducted according to the scientific method and published in peer reviewed scientific journals. But faced with lopsided scientific evidence contrary to their political positions these politicians will rally behind even the most patently lousy of haphazard collections of meaningless raw "data." We are all too familiar with the practice psudoscientific misrepresentation from our experience with NHTSA's strident efforts to justify its longstanding failed "motorcycle safety" agenda, historically focused so myopically on "what bikers wear." For illustrative purposes here we will take just the latest example from the most recent "cell phone ban debate" in California.
As in each of these legislative debates, there are legislators who don't want any ban on cell phone use while driving, those who want a complete ban, and those who want only to ban handheld cell phones. As has occurred in every other state, it is those who seek the "compromise" of banning only handheld cell phones who are now poised to succeed in California, possibly in the next few days, and it will be, according to the Los Angeles Times, specifically because of the "boost" to handheld law proponents delivered on eve of voting by an absurd collection of haphazardly obtained anecdotal data compiled from CHP accident reports and then blatantly misrepresented by the lead handheld cell ban proponent. We will discuss this data, and demonstrate why it is meaningless and how it was misrepresented. But first, it is indeed ironic that handheld cell phone proponents should have succeeded in every state in which legislation has been enacted. Certainly, to be fair, a legislator can arrive an honest position that we should not ban cell phones at all, e.g., based on some shortsighted economic bean counting cost-benefit analysis, and, obviously an honest position can be taken that all cell phone use while driving should be banned, as we have urged here based upon the science, but there is no honest scientific or policy rational for banning the use of only handheld cell phones. There is no difference between handheld and hands-free cell phone use in the consequent DUI level driving impairment or 4 fold likelihood of causing an accident. Yet proponents of handheld cell phone bans prevail.
And one reason is that there is a majority of dishonest politicians who want desperately to "appear" to be doing "something" about the carnage resulting from epidemic driving under the influence of cell phones, but, who don't want to do anything that poses the risk of imposing on the majority of their constituency. Now, turning to this most recent prevarication use to turn the tide in California to a ban on handheld cell phones only, as reported by the Los Angeles Times, California State Senator "Simitian's efforts to focus on the hand-held cell phone received a boost from statistics that the California Highway Patrol began compiling in 2004. That year, police reported 775 accidents — including five fatalities — in which a driver at fault was using a hand-held cell phone. There were only 28 reports of accidents caused by drivers with hands-free phones." Los Angeles Times, July 13, 2006.
These "statistics" are utterly meaningless, as Mr. Simitian must surely know, unless he's a complete idiot; and shame on the Los Angeles Times for failing to point it out. Motorcyclists Against Dumb Drivers has come to the conclusion generally, in the motorcycle safety debate, in the freedom debate, and in our current effort to obtain effective bans on all cell phone use while driving, that some politicians will only stop misrepresenting the facts in the service of the politically expedient when they are confronted with anger, contempt, and persuasive rebuttal. This type of raw, anecdotal data, "775 accidents attributed to handheld cell phones, 28 to hands-free cell phones," is indeed meaningless, but unfortunately, for no good reason, it can be particularly effective in misleading the public, which is why politicians seize upon it. These anecdotal data compilations insult the intelligence of Mr. Simitian's intended audience, his fellow legislators, the public and the news media; but he gets away with it.
The data are meaningless for way too many reasons to list. First of all, to neutralize all similar data, please understand that in science anecdotal reports are useful only to raise hypotheses, never as proof. Furthermore, rather obviously, these data were neither collected nor interpreted according to the scientific method. They are misleading principally for two gross and obvious reasons. First, the data, given the method of their collection, surely grossly under-represent the number of accidents and deaths resulting from both handheld and hands-free cell phones, probably by a factor of 20 or 50 or more, which has consequences both in terms of its potential to mislead as to the magnitude of the problem and as a breading ground for spurious blips or spurious "correlations" resulting from the hapahazard method by which only this small percentage of the total data points are identified. Second, by this data Simitian makes it appear to his lay audience that the use of a handheld cell phone use is "more dangerous" than use of a hands-free cell phone, which is an utterly absurd conclusion. Indeed these data which the Los Angeles Times cited as providing a "boost" to Simitian's limited handheld cell phone ban provide absolutely no meaningful information at all to support that position.
First, and only because it is the most annoying, it is utter sophistry to suggest that a relative risk can be derived, or that somehow comparing the 775 accidents attributed to handheld cell phones with 28 accidents resulting from the use of hands-free cell phones is somehow evidence that the use handheld cell phone use while driving is any more dangerous than hands-free cell phone use while driving. At best, these are numerators without denominators! Apples and oranges. They cannot be compared. The two denominators are (1) the numbers of drivers using handheld devices at any given moment in time during 2004, and (2) the number using hands-free devices at any given moment in time during 2004. Pretending only for sake of this explanation that these raw accident data were reliably collected according to some appropriate scientific methodology, which is clearly not true, the only formula to obtain a meaningful relative risk would be to compare the 775 accidents over the total number of drivers using handheld devices controlled for time/use with the 28 accidents over the total number of drivers using hands-free cell phones controlled for time/use. Then we would at least have numerators and denominators! We can back into this gross "relative risk" again here just for the futile exercise, only to illustrate how a relative risk might be calculated, if we can all first recognize that the product yielded will still not be in the least bit scientifically valid given the lack of quality of the underlying raw data. (Just to point out perhaps the most obvious "methodological failure" in this entirely haphazard CHP "data collection process," consider how the CHP officer must have come to his conclusion that an accident was caused by cell phone distraction, when he wasn't present to observe the incident. It is highly unlikely that many of these data points resulted from a driver's admission that he was distracted by his phone, so the bulk of the data would derive presumably from reports of victims and witnesses that the driver was using his cell phone immediately prior to the accident. There is absolutely no reason to believe that victims and accident witnesses, looking in from outside the car, should be equally able or equally likely to recognize a driver using a handheld cell phone as opposed to a hands-free cell phone; indeed, we would suspect that drivers using handheld cell phones might well be significantly more obvious to potential witnesses, leading to the numbers of police reports of handheld cell phone contribution to accidents being significantly over-reported in comparison to hands-free call phone contribution to accidents).
But now turning to the reanalysis, ignoring the lousy quality of the underlying "data," just adding the denominators to the equation, lets see how far off Mr. Simitian's "statistical" misrepresentation was. According to NHTSA/NOPUS, as of 2004, the year that the CHP data Simitian cited was collected, 8 percent of auto drivers on our American streets and highways were under the influence of cell phones, but only 0.4 percent were using hands-free cell phones. The number using handheld cell phones while driving in 2004 obviously far exceeded the number of hands-free cell phone users, these being the "demominators," which as we will show, eliminates the bulk of the disparity in the gross numbers identified as having been haphazardly collected by the CHP and then serving as the apples and oranges compaired by Simitian. Specifically, 7.6 percent of drivers at any given daylight moment in 2004 were using handheld cell phones and 0.4 percent were using hands-free cell phones. Those are the denominators! (Again, not good scientific denominators, but certainly better than no denominators!) That is roughly 20 handheld cell phone users for every one hands-free cell phone user on the streets actively involved in cell phone conversation at any given moment in time, as of 2004, nationally. Inserting the denominators below the numerators to arrive at the relative risk, yields (775/20) or 38 handheld cell phone associated accidents compared to 28 hands-free cell phone related accidents, 38/28, yielding a relative risk of 1.3. This is very different from the 27.7 fold increased risk suggested by the 775/28 handheld/hands-free cell phone accident comparison. Again, while instructive on the magnitude of this legislator's prevarication and his disdain for the critical capacity of his target audiences, please understand that given the lack of quality which characterizes the underlying CHP data, the fact is that there is no meaningful information that can be derived either from the raw CHP numbers or from the comparison. This 1.3 relative risk, if one were to give it any credence at all, we might speculate reflects the greater likelihood that victims and witnesses of accidents will have observed, from outside the car, the perpetrator's use of hendheld cell phone more commonly than handsfree cell phone use; or, it might be for any of a hundred other confounding factors associated with this haphazard collection of anecdotal reports. Clearly this kind of utterly unreliable accumulation of anecdotal data should not be permitted to "boost" the prospects of handheld ban proponants, particularly when we now have the far superior results of the abundance well controlled epidemiolgical and experimental studies conducted according to the scientific method, indeed published in peer review scientific jounals, demonstrating that handheld and hands free cell phone use while driving results in identical driving impairment and the same four fold increased likelihood of causing an accident.
We have the high road and we have the quality, published, scientific evidence on our side, but politicians opposing cell phone bans and those favoring banning only handheld phone use have the initial political advantage just because it is only our most courageous and foresightful legislators who will be willing to risk the short term anger of the large number of their constituents who obviously value their ability to use their phones while driving. A good majority, seventy percent of all auto drivers use their phones while driving, at least some portion of the time, and many do so frequently, indeed so much so that the incidence of driver cell phone use on our streets and highways has risen to 10 percent. Many of those who use cell phones at least recognize that "others" who use cell phones are driving dangerously impaired. Unfortunately, because of the psychological "disconnect," they don't realize that their own driving is impaired. But perhaps fear of the dangers created by the "others" is slowly resulting in the evolving majority who will favor an effective ban. Shortsighted legislators, like Mr. Simitian, who have taken the cowardly political low road advocating what they may certainly see as currently the politically safer non-"solution," may find that soon enough their prevarication and strident efforts to sidetrack the only effective solutions will come home to roost. And they should be informed now that we are taking their names, recording their misrepresentations, and when the time comes to count the death toll resulting from their cowardice and lies, we intend to kick their cowardly political ass'es.
We also have another potentially potent public relations card to play, indeed one which might well ultimately prove the most powerful in appealing to auto driver self-interest. In most states, particularly those with crowded metropolitan areas, there is strong and growing public annoyance with increasing traffic, slowed traffic flow and city congestion. The public education message must be to inform the public accurately that the cell phone impaired are 19 percent slower to regain flow-of-traffic speed following each braking episode, and with 1 in 10 drivers currently actively engaged in cell phone conversation at any given daylight moment this is a major contributor to slowing traffic flow, increasing commute time, and contributing also to city congestion. How do we get this across? Maybe bumper stickers for use in bumper to bumper commutes: “Stuck In Traffic? Don’t Look At Me. Look At the Jerk With the Cell Phone.”
It is very important to all Americans, but motorcyclists in particular, to obtain state bans on all cell phone use while driving. The fact is that motorists who use cell phones while driving are as dangerous as DUI drunk drivers and driving under the influence of cell phones has become epidemic. We are hopeful that comprehensive cell phone bans are achievable, and will be achieved soon, notwithstanding that every state which has considered the issue thus far has opted either not to restrict cell phone use or to ban only handheld cell phone use while driving. We have a simple, clear and powerful message. We have all the quality scientific literature on our side. Political cowardice can be modified by advising the politicians that comprehensive cell phone bans will soon be essential, both to stem the growing tide of resulting human carnage and to avoid the breakdown of city and state transportation systems; informing them also that it is they who will be held accountable when the broken bodies and caskets are counted, accountable both for their prevarication and for their voting history. Please help Motorcyclists-Against-Dumb-Drivers seek a ban on all cell phone use while driving. On another page of this Motorcyclists-Against-Dumb-Drivers web site we will provide a form letter which you may use or adapt to send to your Governor and legislators. As motorcyclists, those most vulnerable to the inattention of the cell phone impaired, lets do our part to advise our state representatives that we want an end to the carnage resulting from motorists driving under the influence of cell phones, and we want it Now.
6. Additional Strategies to Curtail the Use Cell Phones While Driving. Lawsuits to Hold Cell Phone Impaired Drivers Liable For the Injuries and Deaths Resulting From Their “Driving Under the Influence of Their Cell Phones”; Lawsuits to Hold Employers Liable For Injuries/Death Resulting from Employee Business Use of Phones While Driving; And, Lawsuits to Hold the Cell Phone Industry Liable For the Injuries and Death Resulting From Their Public Misinformation Campaigns, For Their Promotion of Cell Phone Use While Riding, and For Their Failure to Warn Accurately of the Dangers of Driving Under the Influence of Cell Phone Conversation.
Outside the political arena there are a number of additional ways to influence the behavior of those responsible for the ongoing carnage resulting from this epidemic of DUI level driving under the influence of cell phones. For however-long our legislators remain unwilling to step up courageously to effectively address this public health issue, litigation is only available stop-gap tool to reign in this growing epidemic of driver cell phone attentional impairment. Litigation is appropriate generally to fairly apportion liability, and to compensate those who have been injured and the families of those who have been killed. Second, litigation can effect change, a change in public attitude as individual drivers are brought to justice for their reckless cell phone impaired driving, or a change in the behavior of employers who have heretofore considered it reasonable to benefit from employee productivity at the expense of those killed by their employees conducting their business while driving. Litigation might well also change the behavior of the cell phone companies, even if just in eliciting honesty, including honesty in the form of accurate consumer warnings of the DUI dangers of driving under the influence of their cell phones.
Where the political system fails the public, it has traditionally been through litigation that the vacuum of accountability is filled and behavioral change motivated. The efficacy of litigation to provide for consumer safety is evident in the entire body of successful mass tort litigation from pharmaceutical product liability litigation through the individual and state prosecuted tobacco litigation. Litigation is often a healthy tool for social change. So lets make it explicit:
Employers, take notice, if you encourage your employees to use the phone for business purposes while driving, and one of your employees injures or kills a motorcyclist, bicyclist, pedestrian or other motorist, while in cell phone business conversation, we will hold you liable. Indeed, if you fail to adopt and enforce written policies prohibiting employee cell phone use while driving in the course and scope of their employment, we will hold you liable. Beware: You may also be held liable for punitive damages if your conduct was malicious under state law, e.g., in reckless or conscious disregard of the lives or safety of others.
Cell phone companies, take notice, if you engage in public relations campaigns to mislead the public that cell phone use or hands-free cell phone use while driving is safe, you will be held liable for resulting consumer and third party injury and death. If you fail to warn your consumers, or fail to do so by means calculated to bring to the attention of your consumers that handheld and hands-free cell phone use while driving results in DUI level driving impairment and a 4 fold increased likelihood that the driver will cause an accident, you will be held liable. And, beware: If your conduct is determined to be malicious, in reckless or conscious disregard of the lives and safety of others, then again you may be held liable for exemplary damages.
Motorists, take notice, if you drive your vehicle while under the influence of a cell phone, and you maim or kill a motorcyclist, bicyclist, pedestrian or another auto driver, you will be held liable. If you received notice from your cell phone company of the dangers of driving under the influence of your cell phone, in the warnings accompanying your phone when you originally purchased it, or in warnings attached to bills or other communications from your cell company, then if you continue to driver impaired, in conscious disregard of the health or safety of others, you too may be liable for punitive damages.
This is a Declaration of War.
Disclaimer: The foregoing is not legal advice and should not be interpreted or relied upon as legal advice. Laws imposing personal liability, product liability, the respondeat superior laws affixing vicarious liability upon employers, and the laws specifying the elements of proof essential for recovery of punitive damages vary widely from state to state.
Updates: The author will attempt to regularly keep abreast of the scientific literature on the subject of driving under the influence of cell phones, and will also provide periodic updates on this Motorcyclists-Against-Dumb-Drivers site page as additional studies are published in the scientific literature.
Copyright; All Rights Reserved: The foregoing is an original review article authored by Raymond Henke for Motorcyclists Against Dumb Drivers. All rights are reserved. Please direct all requests to reprint or republish the article to Raymond L. Henke, e-mail: RarelyL84ad8@aol.com Please feel free, without prior permission, to reprint the “Abstract” above with appropriate credit to the author and link citation to Motorcyclists Against Dumb Drivers, at: http://motorcyclists-against-dumb-drivers.com or link directly to this review article at: http://motorcyclists-against-dumb-drivers.com/cell-phones-and-dui-drunk-driving.html