Menus Subscribe Search

Feds Seek Ban on Cellphone Use for Drivers

• December 13, 2011 • 2:42 PM

As past Miller-McCune articles have shown, driving while using your cellphone is a bad idea, and the U.S. government is doing its best to make sure you can hear that message now.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Transportation launched a new website, distraction.gov, to chide drivers about using cellphones (or “personal electronic devices,” PEDs) while they were behind the wheel. The feds had already told government employees they couldn’t text and drive while on Uncle Sam’s business, and later extended that rule to commercial truckers while on Sam Walton’s.

As Emily Badger wrote for us in February 2010, putting up a nagging website was really all the federal government could do to address what’s pretty much an issue for the states.

On Tuesday, DoT went a step further and called on the individual states and District of Columbia to enact a nationwide ban on PED use while driving. Lots of states have already set down that road, banning handheld cellphone use or texting — the Governors Highway Safety Association offers a handy chart here — but lots of states, such as Missouri, don’t.

And it was in Missouri a year ago August that a madly texting pickup driver helped engineer a crash that killed him and a passenger in a school bus while injuring another 35 people. The National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into that crash led to Tuesday’s call for a nationwide ban.

“The Missouri accident is the most recent distraction accident the NTSB has investigated,” the agency wrote in a release. “However, the first investigation involving distraction from a wireless electronic device occurred in 2002, when a novice driver, distracted by a conversation on her cellphone, veered off the roadway in Largo, Maryland, crossed the median, flipped the car over, and killed five people. Since then, the NTSB has seen the deadliness of distraction across all modes of transportation.”

As NTSB Chair Deborah A.P. Hersman said in making Tuesday’s recommendation, “We will never know whether the driver was typing, reaching for the phone, or reading a text when his pickup ran into the truck in front of him without warning. But, we do know he had been distracted — cognitively, manually, and visually — while driving.”

[class name="dont_print_this"]

By the Way

BY THE WAY
When news breaks, this blog shows that Miller-McCune has the topic covered.

[/class]

Driving while distracted, or inattention blindness, are pretty well studied phenomena, especially if we go beyond the demon phone (and its unicycling clowns) and lump in the equally diabolical French fry or styling brush.

In reviewing a then-new device that disabled a driver’s cellphone once the car started, our Matt Palmquist suggested that researchers feared new technology was really better than the old — conversations with passengers, eating, drinking, lighting cigarettes, applying makeup, and listening to the radio” — at taking minds off the road. “There is good reason to believe that some of these new multitasking activities may be substantially more distracting than the old standards because they are more cognitively engaging and because they are performed over longer periods of time,” he quoted University of Utah psychology professor David Strayer. Strayer’s own research, Palmquist wrote, had determined that “the risk from cellphone use is as great as that of the intoxicated driver, only in different ways.”

(Our 2009 piece prefigured one aspect of Tuesday’s announcement: the NTSB urges the Wireless Association and the Consumer Electronics Association to develop technology that disables phones while vehicles are in motion.)

Might there be a more powerful weapon out there for convincing people to put down their PEDs, especially since even the government’s own statistics suggest this remains an uphill battle? We offer another cellphone-use warning from Palmquist: “Do it and you might get dumped.”

“According to University of Minnesota professor Paul Rosenblatt’s paper [in Family Science Review], communication with family members suffers for the same reasons cellphone use is hazardous to driving — it slows motorists’ reaction times and reduces their attention spans. “A delay in the conversation could be a problem if the person on the other end of the conversation interprets the delayed reaction as an indicator of ambivalence, of not having a ready answer or of hiding something.”

Sign up for the free Miller-McCune.com e-newsletter.

“Like” Miller-McCune on Facebook.

Follow Miller-McCune on Twitter.

Add Miller-McCune.com news to your site.

Subscribe to Miller-McCune

Michael Todd
Most of Michael Todd's career has been spent in newspaper journalism, ranging from papers in the Marshall Islands to tiny California farming communities. Before joining the publishing arm of the Miller-McCune Center, he was managing editor of the national magazine Hispanic Business.

More From Michael Todd

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 19 • 4:00 PM

In Your Own Words: What It’s Like to Get Sued Over Past Debts

Some describe their surprise when they were sued after falling behind on medical and credit card bills.



September 19 • 1:26 PM

For Charitable Products, Sex Doesn’t Sell

Sexy women may turn heads, but for pro-social and charitable products, they won’t change minds.


September 19 • 12:00 PM

Carbon Taxes Really Do Work

A new study shows that taxing carbon dioxide emissions could actually work to reduce greenhouse gases without any negative effects on employment and revenues.


September 19 • 10:00 AM

Why the Poor Remain Poor

A follow-up to “How Being Poor Makes You Poor.”


September 19 • 9:03 AM

Why Science Won’t Defeat Ebola

While science will certainly help, winning the battle against Ebola is a social challenge.


September 19 • 8:00 AM

Burrito Treason in the Lone Star State

Did Meatless Mondays bring down Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples?


September 19 • 7:31 AM

Savor Good Times, Get Through the Bad Ones—With Categories

Ticking off a category of things to do can feel like progress or a fun time coming to an end.


September 19 • 6:00 AM

The Most Untouchable Man in Sports

How the head of the governing body for the world’s most popular sport freely wields his wildly incompetent power.


September 19 • 4:00 AM

The Danger of Dining With an Overweight Companion

There’s a good chance you’ll eat more unhealthy food.



September 18 • 4:00 PM

Racial Disparity in Imprisonment Inspires White People to Be Even More Tough on Crime

White Americans are more comfortable with punitive and harsh policing and sentencing when they imagine that the people being policed and put in prison are black.



September 18 • 2:00 PM

The Wages of Millions Are Being Seized to Pay Past Debts

A new study provides the first-ever tally of how many employees lose up to a quarter of their paychecks over debts like unpaid credit card or medical bills and student loans.


September 18 • 12:00 PM

When Counterfeit and Contaminated Drugs Are Deadly

The cost and the crackdown, worldwide.


September 18 • 10:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Molly Crabapple?

Noah Davis talks to Molly Crapabble about Michelangelo, the Medicis, and the tension between making art and making money.


September 18 • 9:00 AM

Um, Why Are These Professors Creeping on My Facebook Page?

The ethics of student-teacher “intimacy”—on campus and on social media.


September 18 • 8:00 AM

Welcome to the Economy Economy

With the recent introduction of Apple Pay, the Silicon Valley giant is promising to remake how we interact with money. Could iCoin be next?



September 18 • 6:09 AM

How to Build a Better Election

Elimination-style voting is harder to fiddle with than majority rule.


September 18 • 6:00 AM

Homeless on Purpose

The latest entry in a series of interviews about subculture in America.


September 18 • 4:00 AM

Why Original Artworks Move Us More Than Reproductions

Researchers present evidence that hand-created artworks convey an almost magical sense of the artist’s essence.


September 17 • 4:00 PM

Why Gun Control Groups Have Moved Away From an Assault Weapons Ban

A decade after the ban expired, gun control groups say that focusing on other policies will save more American lives.


September 17 • 2:00 PM

Can You Make Two People Like Each Other Just By Telling Them That They Should?

OKCupid manipulates user data in an attempt to find out.


September 17 • 12:00 PM

Understanding ISIL Messaging Through Behavioral Science

By generating propaganda that taps into individuals’ emotional and cognitive states, ISIL is better able motivate people to join their jihad.


Follow us


For Charitable Products, Sex Doesn’t Sell

Sexy women may turn heads, but for pro-social and charitable products, they won't change minds.

Carbon Taxes Really Do Work

A new study shows that taxing carbon dioxide emissions could actually work to reduce greenhouse gases without any negative effects on employment and revenues.

Savor Good Times, Get Through the Bad Ones—With Categories

Ticking off a category of things to do can feel like progress or a fun time coming to an end.

How to Build a Better Election

Elimination-style voting is harder to fiddle with than majority rule.

Do Conspiracy Theorists Feed on Unsuspecting Internet Trolls?

Not literally, but debunkers and satirists do fuel conspiracy theorists' appetites.

The Big One

One in three drivers in Brooklyn's Park Slope—at certain times of day—is just looking for parking. The same goes for drivers in Manhattan's SoHo. September/October 2014 new-big-one-3

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.