In yesterday’s Washington Post automotive writer Dan Carney offered what seemed at first to be a pretty good case for banning talking on cell phones while driving. One reason I felt that way is that I’m very sympathetic to complaints about this subject. I watch drivers on cell phones all the time and — as a group — they suck. Not to be sexist, but my own empirical observations (which may be flawed) suggest that women are worse than men when it comes to cell phones. I watch them roll through the stop signs in my neighborhood while gabbing all the time. Men and women alike seem to take a lot longer to switch lanes to head for the exits. Etc. I really do believe that cell phone talkers make for more dangerous drivers.
The one problem with this op-ed is that it doesn’t mention any increase in traffic accidents. Presumably if phone-talking makes drivers more likely to rear-end another car, we’d have some data which showed an increase in such accidents. We know this sort of data is collected by the insurance industry and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. And yet all he does is cite studies on closed-courses and the like. People have been talking on phones while driving in large numbers for about a decade or so, right? Why wouldn’t we see a corresponding hike in traffic accidents, injuries and fatalities? Maybe we have, but I haven’t heard about it and Carrey would surely mention it if he could.
I still think there’s too much gabbing on the roads. But this omission leaves me unconvinced that it should be banned.