Distraction receives attention

The US DOT put on a major two-day Distracted Driving Summit. Here is a news story about the conference from the WSJ.

There was a media blitz including e.g. major press push from AAA, and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.

The federal government announced via executive order an immediate ban on texting for employees while driving government vehicles or while driving on official business in any other vehicle.

Legislation will be pushed which will ban texting while driving for federally regulated drivers, such as bus, truck, drivers. In addition, legislation to “encourage” states to likewise ban texting will be likely be introduced. The feds have no direct control over what legislation states enact — but (a big but), they can tie such things to withholding of federal monies, a la seatbelt and age-of-drinking, and 0.08BAC laws.

While all of this sounds good on the surface, my take is that is designed to make it appear to be getting tough on DD (distracted driving) while more-or-less ignoring the bulk of the problem. Why not a ban on talking on cell phones? (the “handsfree” business is just subterfuge). Or why not just enact real penalties for distracted drivers who harm others? This driver received a $254 fine for KILLING somebody. Here’s another driver — the police, because of an oversight, didn’t even write the citation. Just two examples of a huge class of inattentive drivers; drivers distracted by who-knows-what. They are apparently either sleeping, or daydreaming or actively distracted — though they rarely admit to the latter.

What does this all mean?

While I’m glad that distracted driving is receiving attention — it looks to me in looking at the press that the powers-that-be are setting up texting as the scapegoat. Texting will eventually be made illegal everywhere; but we will still have all sorts of other inattention being ignored, like talking on cell phones.

here is a blurb that ran in many media stories, but I have to find the source, note that it refers to cell phone use in general, not texting in particular:

A study performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that 955 deaths and 240,000 accidents in 2002 could be attributed to cell phone use. The study was conducted in 2003, but the results weren’t made available until last week…

morganlee.org has some good cell links, Motherjones article on the study, and reference to a lawsuit here.