The title of this dispatch is borrowed from a new article in Slate by William Saletan, on the topic of how our increasingly technologically divided attention spread across phones, Blackberries, PDAs, and MP3 players divorces us from what's going on around us in the real world. (Mr. Saletan writes the fascinating, and rather rigorously fact- and research-based, Human Nature column, on "Science, Technology, and Life".)
At some point last year, I was struck like, nearly literally, knocked back a couple of steps by an article in the Telegraph reporting that talking on the phone while driving has been shown to be more dangerous than drunk driving. The studies were done by the Transport Research Laboratory in Berkshire, the University of Sydney, and the University of Utah, and conclude that:
- Motorists using mobiles, including hands-free sets, are four times more likely to crash than drivers at the UK legal limit for drunkenness.
- The same cell-phone drivers have an average 30 per cent slower reaction times than drinkers at the UK legal limit.
I don't think I said anything about this to anybody, at all, at the time mainly because a number of people I care about are sick unto death of hearing me pontificate on this subject. (I realised that while trying to do a little bit to keep loved ones safe, I was screwing up my relationships with them, which was kind of Pyrrhic in some important sense.) But then this week I read Saletan's column, which added some additional data on this subject. [Links are to research sources.]
- 45 percent of Americans said they've been hit or nearly hit by a driver on a cell phone.
- The more tasks drivers try to perform listening, evaluating, answering questions the worse they perform. They drift off course, miss cues, overlook hazards, and react slowly.
- Six years ago, when only half of Americans had cell phones, the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis linked them to 2,600 driving fatalities and 330,000 injuries per year.
- Research shows that even with a hands-free device, talking on a phone can impair driving skills more than intoxication does.
The subtitle of Mr. Saletan's article, which suggests you can do whatever you want when it's only your neck and you're not controlling thousands of pounds of metal at high speed, and is well worth a read, is "Hey, you! Cell-phone zombie! Get off the road!"
And that will probably suffice for my Annual Safe Driving Harangue. As my dear grandmother unfailingly said: "Have a happy healthy."