Shaming distracted drivers: A blog we need

They could kill my children.

That’s what I think when I’m driving or walking alone and dodging the drivers around me. Yesterday a lady drove at medium speed through a Stop sign and right through the intersection where I was jogging — or rather, where I stopped jogging and jumped out of her way. She was looking only left (I was on her right, other cars straight ahead). And, of course, she was talking on her cell phone — the modern way, by holding the iPhone away from the ear in Speakerphone mode.

The thought that they could kill my children makes me mad, swinging mad, fighting mad. I am a “liberal” (meaning libertarian). But their freedom stops when my children’s security is threatened.

Matt Richtel

Matt Richtel at The New York Times (who, incidentally, took over my teaching spot at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism when I left) has done a great public service by running a series of articles on the subject to raise awareness. I salute him. I want more of them. Give Matt an award.

But we also have to admit that it has not stopped. They are still texting and yapping about their important things (“like, ohmigawd, he was soooo creepy….”) while driving their killing machines past my children.

Dangerous misconceptions are spreading:

  • That “hands-free” (Bluetooth) technology makes any difference whatsoever (it does not)
  • That talking is OK, even if texting is not (it is not)
  • That others should not do it, even though I can control myself (I cannot.)

The reality is that merely talking on a phone in the car (“hands-free” or not) causes the same cognitive delay as drunk driving. Texting is several times worse.

A modest proposal

Eventually, they will pass laws, and those will be ineffective and late. (In the 70s, seat-belt laws were passed after spontaneous social change had already changed behavior. Politicians react to what voters believe already.)

So change must happen differently. How?

Through shame.

It’s a powerful emotion. We don’t like to be embarrassed, even in the face of complete strangers. They did studies (which I can’t find, so if you can, please share the link) that people wash their hands in a public toilet much more often when somebody else is there than when they are alone.

So, we must shame them. How?

I urge and plead with somebody who is reading this to start a blog devoted entirely to posting pictures and license plates of people yapping/texting while driving in flagrante.

Let them see themselves. Let them be googlable.

I promise my support.

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139 thoughts on “Shaming distracted drivers: A blog we need

  1. I couldn’t agree more. Aside from the danger, the combination of ignorance and arrogance and thoughtlessess is mind boggling. Talking is bad enough, texting is infinitely worse. What could possibly be so important other than “order me an Appletini, I’m running a little late?”

    In NZ they passed a law outlawing everything but hands free phones. It became effect last November and there was overwhelming support for the new law but like with drunk driving, there is still a group of hard core people who think it doesn’t apply to them.

    • I must tell you, though, that I’m nervous about even that law. It allows hands-free phones after all.

      The reason all this is dangerous is the COGNITIVE effect. We cannot multi-task, we cannot concentrate on more that one thing at a time, without slowing down our reaction time. For that reason, a hands-free phone in the car might even be worse, if it gives a false sense of security.

  2. Well said. Pie in the sky and probably pointless but well said. Laws do not prevent, or interrupt, stupidity. Laws are reactive ( I have been waiting a long time to make that statement). That is, they punish behavior after the fact. So, their too little, too late status is pretty much unimportant. What has to happen is before the fact. The blog, while laudable and in the spirit of “before the fact”, would be almost useless. First, because only a tiny percentage of the driving public reads these things. Second, because an admonition’s lasting effects can be measured in micro-seconds.

    When I was in high school, they used to show us what were called “Signal 30” movies (and, yes, they were “talkies”, we had `em way back when) to frighten us into not driving so recklessly (as teens are wont to do) and to not drink and drive. Later, we would pass around the beer as we talked about the movies while careening down the highway at excessive rates of speed. Yeah, it didn’t work then either.

    You just can’t legislate common sense. It is a pity but it is true.

    I have, I admit, talked on the cell phone while driving. Both hand held (now illegal here in Florida) and hands-free. It was obviously distracting. I realized that I was going into tunnel vision mode, that I was less aware of what was happening around me. More so than a conversation with passengers in a car, it seemed to me, which struck me as odd. How did we condition ourselves to converse with passengers while driving? We all do it. We even glance over at the passenger(s) from time to time while we do. Yet I cringe a bit when I see TV shows or movies where the driver is constantly looking at his passenger while navigating a busy street.

    I don’t have an answer for this danger. I agree with you that something must be done. But, for the life of me, your kids, my grandkids, and everyone else’s safety, I have no idea what it is.

    • Of course legislating common sense this is the bigger issue with respect to how society works.

      Is it a cause/effect problem where in a society that attempts to engineer out risk (through warning labels and child-proof packaging for example) people cease to take responsibility for their own and others’ safety? Or is it because in an affluent and decadent society, we are so wrapped up on ourselves and our toys that we can’t be bothered to think about the implications of our behaviour?

      And is there a link between all of this and our willingness to submit to limitations on civil liberties in order to make society safer? Just wondering.

    • I believe there is a book titled The Death of Common Sense which addresses some of your questions.

      Are we willing to trade freedoms for safety? Of course we are. We have done it any number of times. Why is anyone surprised? You may have freedom of movement but you still wait at lights. You may have freedom of speech but you are careful about what you shout and denounce those who shout down those you agree with (see shout of “You’re a liar!” in Congress). We have a thousand little ways we compromise our liberties in order to have a civil society. In times of great national danger, we gladly cede even more liberties. In most cases, we regain those rights that were taken away.

      I always find that argument a little suspect when I hear it.

      But we are, over the last several decades, teaching formally and informally that personal responsibility takes a back seat to personal desires.

      Things are not getting better in many ways.

    • Sorry, I was not clear. The argument that we do not trade liberties for safety. As I said, we have done this countless times. More often than not, we regain liberties and sometimes even expand them once the threat to security has passed or is shown to have been not the threat it seemed.

    • “…How did we condition ourselves to converse with passengers while driving?..”

      Actually, Douglas, there is a nuance: I’ve seen research that conversations with passengers (as opposed to on the phone) are not that dangerous. That’s because the passengers are also THERE, looking out for traffic. Through their eyes and gestures and body language, they seem to help us drive.

    • Actually, Douglas, there is a nuance: I’ve seen research that conversations with passengers (as opposed to on the phone) are not that dangerous. That’s because the passengers are also THERE, looking out for traffic. Through their eyes and gestures and body language, they seem to help us drive.

      Not if they are fellow teenagers or talking on cellphones (which won’t be illegal under any law). A common perception of parents when I was a teen was that passengers made up of our peers were dangerous distractions. I even dated a young lady whose parents insisted we not double date for just that reason.

      But we learn to have discussions with passengers within a short period of time and still maintain a reasonable amount of safety. I think passengers also learn to do the driver assistance you mention. I think it would be an unconscious form of learning, something picked up by observance of others and maybe as a subtle form of survival instinct.

      The cellphone usage hasn’t been around long enough for us to learn the techniques needed, if there are any possible.

    • How did we condition ourselves to converse with passengers while driving?

      As the driver, you can just listen and nod, add a few “mhms,” “yeahs,” “nopes,” and “maybes” when necessary. Furthermore, your passenger(s) won’t need to ask you if you heard them; you don’t necessarily need to say, “Hold on a second, I have to change lines three lanes now/make a left turn.”

      I do my best not to answer or make any calls while driving (unless I’m at a red light), but I still get distracted just by thinking. I imagine people who sing or talk to themselves could lose an amount of focus comparable to having a cell phone conversation.

    • That’s a good description of how the driver can control the conversation ebb and flow. That control is more difficult with a phone conversation. The other person is not in the same environment, isn’t involved in the drive in anyway. That person may continue the conversation even though the driver might provide a verbal signal that a passenger would grasp. The driver would then continue to have a conversation going in his ear and would unconsciously have a need to maintain his focus on that. That would explain why I go into a “tunnel vision” mode with a phone conversation and do not when talking to a passenger. I am transported, in a sense, to somewhere in “telephone space”.

  3. “The freedom to swing your fist stops at the tip of my nose.” (Oliver Wendell Holmes)

    I concur with all your points.

    But doesn’t it also make you swinging and fighting mad that a reckless driver on a cellphone could kill or injure you? You just express anger at the thought of anyone harming your kids or threatening their security.

    The safety instructions on every flight dictate to secure our own oxygen masks first and then deal with our kids. After all, if we’re passed out, there’s no one there to help them.

    Of course, I’m not a parent, so I lack the parental limbic system. But I’m guessing that if I were a father and a driver killed or severely incapacitated me, not only would I be prevented or limited in your enjoyment of watching my kids grow up, but I wouldn’t be there to protect them. For these reasons, I’d be just as concerned about my own security.

    And what about your wife or girlfriend? (Sorry, but I don’t know your relationship status.) Mad that someone might threaten her security? Or mad, but not quite as swinging mad?

    • …in my enjoyment of watching my kids grow up …

      What makes me swinging and fighting mad is not being able to correct typos after posting.

    • I think Andreas’ point was that he can protect himself (at least he believes so) while his children are seen (in his mind) as less capable of this. It is a parental emotion, one perhaps difficult to grasp by a non-parent. It is difficult enough for a parent to understand.

    • I’m sure that’s what Andreas had in mind but Peter raises a good point about this whole children thing.

      I’m going to get a lot of hate mail from this I fear.

      Have you noticed how whenever a plane goes down or there is a terrorist attack or big accident the media will say “X people were killed including Y children.” I’ve wondered why we need that piece of data. Does is make the tragedy greater? If a bus of mature artists, scientists or athletes goes over a cliff is it less of a tragedy than a school bus full of kids?

      I don’t think that is a question that needs to be answered, but I also don’t think it should be asked either and the media would seem to think it is important.

    • I also subscribe to the egalitarian point of view regarding the value of human life. While I concur that children require more protection than adults, I would imagine that bleeding to death on the sidewalk is just as horrific an experience for a 30-year-old than for a 3-year-old.

    • Are you in the UK? I’ve expressed this same observation in the past as a difference between accidents in the US vs. the UK.

    • You won’t get hate mail here, I don’t think, and your point is well taken. We collectively seem to see women and children as “innocents”. A ship is sinking and the cry is “Abandon ship! Women and children first!” It may be a survival of the species thing. There are countless examples of people sacrificing themselves to save their wives and/or children. Ah, let me address Peter’s airplane safety instruction. It’s an instruction. Think about that. We must be told to do it (and, of course, it is eminently logical), to make sure we are not rendered unconscious so that our children are left helpless. The instruction assumes we will see to the child first before we see to our own safety.

    • Well, regarding my children:

      It’s not logical at all. It’s purely primal. For some reason I have never worried that much about myself — during turbulence on airplanes or what not. But as soon as I had children my threat perception went through the roof.

      Again, I can’t explain it, but as a writer I thought that those readers who have children would picture their own and get the same knot in their stomach.

  4. When, as a teen, I was learning to drive, I got a piece of advice I’ve never forgotten, which was in so many words: Drive, or even walk, in the expectation that any driver will suddenly do something totally mad. Never assume anything.

    This is something priceless to tell your children, and to keep telling them,

    • The priceless bit of info that I got as a beginning driver was: Remember, if you kill somebody’s daddy or mommy, you might be sued for all the family support $$ that person was going to make in their life! That made a strong impact on me.

  5. I want to say that all sorts of activities that I’ve seen while driving should be outlawed (except maybe one). Let’s start a list. I’ve seen: eating, writing, reading the newspaper, knitting (no shit), eating and talking on the phone (OK, eating and just about everything else), makeup, and lads checking their look in the mirror to ensure that their hair is precisely mussed.

    But there is something about the auditory component. The idea of visual accommodation is known. Have you ever turned down the radio so that you can see better, or find the right exit to the airport? It is known that one’s eyes will focus to a near-distance under auditory stress [references neglected].

    The movie Seven Pounds is an interesting public service announcement on this matter.

    I want to say cell phones are like guns; cell phones don’t kill people, people kill people. But, I’m a luddite (blogging aside) and I don’t have any friends to text or phone. So, I’m with AK.

    One more thing, what are the elements of AK’s post that prevent it from sounding self-righteous? I want to learn how to complain without sounding self-righteous.

    • “… One more thing, what are the elements of AK’s post that prevent it from sounding self-righteous? I want to learn how to complain without sounding self-righteous….”

      Well, thank you, for implying that my post is NOT self-righteous. Arguably, it is. Or perhaps not.

      This is more profound than you might think. It gets to the question of “tone” that I’ve discussed here on the HB a few times, and that I am constantly struggling with as a writer.

      If indeed I achieved a tone here that is not self-righteous I would loooove to know how I did.

    • It’s hard to describe. I think it is because you are not pontificating–you are stating a very real problem and putting it in personal terms. The fact that we all agree that this is a problem helps. Also, your proposal is reasonable. You aren’t advocating some big brother techno solution or something radical like executions. It is a call to arms rather than a lecture and I think that resonates.

    • But it occurs to me that, to avoid the charge of self-righteousness, I should have begun by confessing (in a pre-emptive strike) my hypocrisy.

      It goes without saying that I have committed some of the sins I rail against. I have talked on a Bluetooth set, and I have used GPS while driving.

  6. There is clearly a consensus that the activity is wrong. Used properly, the law probably proscribes it anyway. I am deeply sceptical about passing laws to drive reform; in a multitude of words, there is sin. (Now that does sound self-righteous!)

  7. In the article, Andreas writes:

    So change must happen differently. How?

    Through shame.

    Haven’t we, at least in the US, eschewed the application of shame as a way of influencing behavior? I think, a couple of decades or so ago, we opted for enhancing self esteem rather than ridiculing behavior. The idea of positive reinforcement vs negative. The concept of shame was tossed onto the scrapheap where we hoped to toss bullying and hazing (associated behaviors, I believe). Ironically, those latter behaviors seem to have become more of a problem since.

    • I don’t know. I agree with you that shame might be a good method to alter behavior, it was a traditional method for centuries (pilloried, stocks in the public square, etc.) but we have become more sophisticated, more civil now and we have moved beyond that. (Please note the dripping sarcasm implied)

      Let’s say someone started a blog, as you suggested, and posted the pictures of someone behaving badly on a cell phone while driving. There is the real danger of a lawsuit for “public humiliation” and for posting someone’s image with intent to cause damage (mental anguish) and for posting someone’s image without permission. Assuming that person is not Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan.

  8. I agree 100% but want to reiterate the dangers of GPS, which Thomas Stazyk mentioned in his comment. Somehow GPS seems to be off the hook in most of these discussions, since it’s seen as a tool for driving, but I have almost been swiped by a car drifting into my lane, its GPS glowing brightly on the dashboard.

    And yes, Mr. C., I often turn off the radio or ask passengers to stop talking for a minute when I’m trying to get my bearings or find a street sign.

    (P.S. to Andreas: I found your blog via Yoga Journal and am now sitting on the floor as I type!)

    • Oh my god, you’re sitting in …. Half Lotus? Virasana? Thanks to me?

      Please provide mailing address for my 91-page legal disclaimer. 😉

      Kidding aside: How ARE you sitting? Are you into it?

    • I love it! It’s only been a week or so — whenever I saw that article — but I can already feel a difference. All the problems you described — tight hip flexors, hamstrings, etc. — were becoming worse, despite my twice-weekly yoga classes. On Monday, I was able to do three-legged dog without pain — a position that has given me trouble over the past 6 months.

      I’m at my computer all day long (writing my diss) so you name it…half lotus, virasana (with/without a block), cow face (just the legs!), fire log, cobbler’s, staff pose. I love that I’m now doing yoga all day long. It’s made me much more aware of my posture and my tendency to type with my shoulders up around my ears or my pelvis tipped back. Also, since I’m already down here, it’s easy to throw in some twists or a down dog while I’m waiting for something to print or a long pdf to download.

      You’ve changed my life! No joke!


    • Will someone other than me please comment about being able to ‘do a three legged dog without pain?’

  9. I can’t believe this is what you were writing about yesterday.

    I will not be posting for awhile.

    Yesterday, my mother was hit and run while riding her three wheel bike in a retirement community. At this point, we expect her to recover and are awaiting the results of another CT scan. I have written about Joan before.

    Whether the driver was on a cell phone is only part of this scenario. How could someone leave a handicapped deaf person on the pavement?

  10. I can always tell when someone’s on their cell phone or texting… usually they speed, tailgate, or cut across 6 lanes.

    But I don’t agree that bluetooth and headsets are useless.

    If that’s the case, then all drivers need duct tape over their mouths when there’s a passenger in their car. What’s the difference of talking into bluetooth or talking to a passenger. Sometimes passengers can be even MORE distracting, and sometimes they can notice things the driver didn’t.

    • I can always tell when someone’s on their cell phone or texting… usually they speed, tailgate, or cut across 6 lanes.

      That doesn’t apply in California, that is the normal driving technique there.

    • Pixel8design, you may be right, but I did see research (I wish I could find the link) that there is a COGNiTIVE difference between talking to somebody who is “not there” vs somebody who is there.

      We get absorbed in the conversation, and THAT (not the inavailability of a hand, say) is what makes us dangerous drivers.

      But a passenger is usually also looking out the same windshield, at blind spots, etc. Verbally or non-verbally, he/she communicates things like …. Slow down, it’s weird up there….

  11. In Oregon they have tried to make a law that addresses this problem. There are stipulations however: If you are over 18 you can use a hands free devise. If you are on the phone for your job, that is driving, or law enforcement, or operating farm machinery. My favorite detail is in the last part of the bill, where it states “) Notwithstanding ORS 810.410, a police officer may enforce this provision only as a secondary action when a driver of a motor vehicle has been detained for a suspected traffic violation or some other offense.
    So unless the driver is caught doing something stupid/distracted/already endangering the people around them, the cell phone use alone cannot be an offence. (link to new law)
    I am a biker. I am at risk on the road all the time. I recently ended up on the hood of an elderly mans car while I was stuck as he slowly creep out onto a bridge of oncoming traffic, trapping me, ans he rolled over the bike lane, and my entrance to the bike bridgeway (where there was no stop sign at all). The man was on his phone, and had his small dog on his lap, licking his face. Only after yelling and pounding on his hood did he look forward, at me, instead of to the oncoming cars on the Left. He looked stunned. Textbook “where did you come from” oblivious driver look. Shocking right?
    I bike defensively, and obey the same rules I do when I have the opportunity to drive. But irresponsible phone usage really does put me in danger all the time. Is this law enough? I say No.

    • Sue on what grounds? Having their picture taken in public? I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t believe privacy rights and free speech restrictions are applicable when it comes to exposing people’s driving habits on public roadways.

    • You cannot publish anyone’s picture without permission. When I was an avid photography hobbyist, I often took pictures of people on the street. I was taught to always get permission. A person has a right to control over his image. I think you will find, if you consult a lawyer, that you could easily run into a problem posting images as suggested.

    • Your “reasonable expectation of privacy” ceases the moment you set foot into a public area, where you have neither right nor control over images taken of you.

      Getting angry and threatening a law suit is different from actually having a case.

      Just open a newspaper, a magazine, or watch the news, and you’ll see plenty of passers-by who never gave permission to be photographed and their pictures published in print or aired on television. If that were illegal, virtually all media outlets would be getting their pants sued off day after day.

    • No, I’m not a lawyer, so naturally I have no idea whether or not shoplifting is legal or whether one can get arrested for setting mailboxes on fire.

      Perhaps you could enlighten us as to what law that may be which proscribes the publication of images taken in public places so that the non-lawyers among us can look it up.

    • You can always find a suitable law if you are intent on disrupting justice and are adequately paid. Paradoxically, it is easier an exercise with statute law than with judge-made law. This sounds like a condemnation of the adversarial system, but it is not. All you need is a robust judge. In the UK many of our leading judges have lost this robustness. They fear offending a non-existent democracy.

    • You are just being disagreeable. My advice is is caution. NOT doing something like this, publishing someone’s image while they are doing something stupid or perhaps is a misdemeanor without their permission, will NOT get you sued. That is something I know and you know. On the other hand, publishing that picture MAY get someone sued. And whether that suit is won or lost, it will cost you time, money, and aggravation.

      Now, go ahead and argue some more. We’ll take your picture and post it.

    • As long as I look pretty in the pic, go ahead and post it. I may, however, file an emotional cruelty suit for publishing an unflattering shot of me.

    • Okay, this clearly IS a big issue with my idea. We’ll need a real lawyer.

      Steve Block, are you there by any chance?

      We want to know if we can take pictures of assholes in traffic and post them and win their lawsuits.

      Incidentally, aren’t we constantly YouTubing and FlickRing all sorts of abuses? I’ve never heard of that kind of lawsuit

    • If I had money to burn, I would certainly hire one. Being utterly penniless, however, a lawyer would be a luxury that’s completely out of the question, trivial law suit or not.

      If I were sued for something that I considered trivial and had just enough money to hire a lawyer, I still wouldn’t hire one, as I’d be in a postition where the only way not to bankrupt myself would be to act in my own defense. Didn’t matter if I were wiped out financially on account of legal fees or on account of losing the suit. In other words, the only way for me to emerge unscathed would be to forgo legal counsel.

      Ideally, though, I agree that one should always have a lawyer.

    • I can understand that. The basic tenet being “If I have nothing (or close to it), I have nothing (much) to lose.” Which puts people of modest means at a great disadvantage when dealing with someone with a substantial bank account.

    • Yeah, well, that’s just the way of the world. Always better to have lots of dough than to have none. Still, if some dopey bigshot plaintiff has no case, he has no case, no matter how many lawyers he throws into the battle. You may be lucky and end up before a judge who simply goes by the letter of the law and doesn’t get dazzled by the dog and pony show the dream team is putting on.

    • I grew up around lawyers, my mother being a legal secretary (always wondered if there were “illegal secretaries” around somewhere) and learned that money seems to be able to provide the judge needed and to buy the justice desired. As my mother often told me… “Them that has, gets. Them that hasn’t, well, gets got.”

  12. Brilliant idea! I absolutely agree! Just yesterday I saw a lady driving and knitting at the same time. It could be like an MLIA type blog, where people submit stories and get them posted…

  13. Wouldn’t we be a distracted driver if we were taking photos and/or getting license plate numbers of other distracted drivers? 🙂

  14. This is one reason I developed a phobia about driving and did not learn until six months ago, when I was twenty-one. TWENTY-ONE! I have overcome my phobia, but I still greatly fear people like this.

    Last week my brother and I went to a late movie and on the way back he was surfing through his iPod WHILE WE WERE ON THE HIGHWAY. I starting having a mini-heart attack (figuratively). I finally tried the joking-teasing approach to avoid awkward silence and reminded him of how we used to watch “Rescue: 911” when we were young and of all the people who died from surfing the radio. To me, surfing the radio is even “safer” than looking directly down at your iPod/phone/whatever. If I see him do it again I won’t be so friendly.

    I really wish everyone would understand that they are not just putting their own lives in danger when they do stuff like that. I know you don’t want these people to kill your children, but I wish THEY would realize they don’t want to either.

  15. Yes, let’s start a blog with bad texters and drivers who text and yap away on their cells, that’ll be funny kinda like dad neighbors website – there you got bad drivers who exploit texting or calling and driving. I’m all for it.

  16. I’m not aware of your country’s laws on the matter unfortunately.

    Here in Portugal you can’t use your cellphone while driving, only “hands-free” devices are accepted. The law was made like this to prevent driving with 1 hand only; the limiting of the driver’s hability to see the street and his surroundings, etc. Not even texting while the light is red. I think it works nicely.

    Quote: “That “hands-free” (Bluetooth) technology makes any difference whatsoever (it does not)”

    Well, ofc it depends on the bluetooth gadget you’re using but the ones i’m thinking about mean that the driver isn’t doing anything different than speaking to the person on the other seat. A conversation can be distracting but well… for that matter even listening to the radio can be…

    • Again, based on the research I’ve seen, that’s not quite the case:

      The radio does not expect you to answer or listen. So if, say, you see iffy traffic ahead you stop paying attention.

      A passenger will likely stop talking when, say, you’re driving through a complicated intersection.

      A bluetooth interlocutor will yap on and distract you.

  17. People who text/talk on the phone while they drive can tick me off. Some guy nearly hit me from drifting into my lane while he was texting a few months ago. In some situations (SOME) it can be ok- a quick phone call…. If you can text *with out taking your eyes off the road* but most times it’s just plain dangerous.

  18. I’m obligated to say that I have been in the car, frantically screaming “STOP!!!” as a driver with NO distractions looked left, turned right and—hit a jogger. -.-

    Everyone was fine, but I never did drive in the car with her anymore.

  19. The problem of course is *not* the cell phone, it is the act of talking. Obviously, the only logical solution is to outlaw anyone driving with anyone *else* in the car, thus preventing the evil, distracting crime of conversation. Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? Law’s preventing the use of cell phones while driving are just as stupid since there are just as many problems with people who drive and….put on make up, style their hair, shave, and so on. It is also stupid to penalize people who are able to chew gum and walk at the same time (or talk and drive at the same time). The better solution would be to pass laws against distracted driving. Then enforce them. That way, it doesn’t matter if it’s a cell phone or just someone not paying attention because they’re talking to the person next to them. And at the same time, people who *can* do more than one thing at a time don’t get penalized just because some people can’t.

    • I like it! I have several times been driving to work, mad about something (husband, work, etc.) and looked down to see I’m going WAY above the speed limit. “I’m sorry, Boss, I can’t make it in because I’m hopping MAD!!”

    • I once witnessed a man driving a Corvette in rush hour traffic on a very busy main artery in West Palm Beach. He was approaching a red light. He was on his cellphone (tucked between shoulder and right ear) in a very animated discussion, waving one hand around (as part of the conversation, one assumes), lighting a cigarette with the other hand, and steering with his knees.

      I was glad I was on the sidewalk when I saw this and didn’t care if he was capable of doing multiple tasks. There are any number of people who think they are capable but, in fact, aren’t. That is the problem.

  20. semantics, semantics, semantics – not “shame”, use “witness”


    witness programs have proven to be highly successful.

    regarding photography: “Ironically, unrestricted photography by private citizens has played an integral role in protecting the freedom, security, and well-being of all Americans.” – quote by Bert P. Krages Attorney at Law

    cudos andreas, life’s short, get passionate, whip out that cell phone and snap that shot, provided you are not driving at the time. 🙂

    see site for photographers rights:

    if you don’t find answers, there are plenty of other sites dedicated to the legalities surrounding “expectation of privacy”.

  21. I believe that cars should come with a loud speaker device on the hood so that you can embarass a driver in front of you or along side of you by announcing:” Green Chevrolet driver putting on lipstick while driving”

  22. You don’t need new laws banning everything. There are already laws that make it clear that its your repsonsibility to drive safely and responsibly. Where did we get the idea that everything can be made ok by the government forecasting what idiotic things people would do and then proscribing them exactly.

    • Where did we get that idea indeed. Not here, for sure. Nobody made that assumption, giantgames. intead, we’re assuming that we have to change behavior in some OTHER way than laws, which is what we’re discussing.

  23. I agree my wife and child are on these streets. Wish we could come up with a way to take pictures and drive at the same time. Otherwise we’re trading one distraction for another.

  24. This article by Matt Richtel links to the research about the difference between cell phone and real-life convos:

    I think people tend to overestimate their own ability to text/talk and drive. It’s a bit humorous to read the defenses of texting/talking while driving, as though some civil right or basic bodily function was being denied. I imagine most of the commenters here can remember them olden days when we were able to make it through our daily travels without making phone calls/texting. The content of most of these electronic exchanges are completely mundane and can wait til the car stops running.

  25. Notwithstanding my previous comments, the banning legislation in the UK has been a success. Most people here like to obey the law and, as the significance of the ban seeped through, the obstinate and irresponsible minority became the only offenders. It seems they will continue this behaviour because of the difficulty of enforcing legislation of this kind.

    That is my general concern – that poor enforcement brings the law into disrepute.

    As to evidence for the undesirability of the practice, I can only rely upon my own observations when driving. My impression is that anyone who speaks on the phone is seriously distracted. I have often seen reaction times reduced to the point where obvious potential dangers are missed and other road users have to take necessary avoiding action that should not really have been their responsibility. Indeed, phone users often take their eyes off the road, as mentioned above. The innocent party may be a child robbed of life or life’s potential: that can never be justified and rightly stirs a parent’s protecting instincts. The tragedy is that the wrongdoer’s life will usually be ruined as well. If only he or she could have the foresight !

    I find driving safely an extremely difficult thing to do, requiring all the concentration I can muster. The many learned reflexes make this concentration even more difficult. All the distractions listed above are highly dangerous, negativing acquired skills. The elimination of as many as possible is a priority. Motor cars are a menace, destructive of so much that makes life sweet.

    I did not mean to overlook your recognition of the difficulty of introducing new laws, Andreas, and found your “shaming” proposal novel and interesting. Whether it would, in fact, be effective is another matter.

    • Most people here like to obey the law

      I would hope that is the case everywhere. Myself, outside of my “posse” when I was in high school, I found it to be true even in America.

  26. I am afraid we can put as many laws into effect concerning this subject, but the fact of the matter is, until we get the police to follow the same laws, we are going to continue to have problems with this issue. I spend a good amount of time on the highway in a passenger seat, observing the traffic around me, and if you knew how many officers i have witnessed driving around with their phones held up to their ears, you might not believe it. I’ve also been in the back of a patrol car several times in which the officers drove me to the station while chatting on his laptop. Now a website of shame is exactly what what we need, if we get a few officers of the law breaking these laws on that site, we will see more strict enforcement of these laws.

  27. I like the shaming idea.

    I visited Olympia in Greece a few years back and the guide pointed out some pedestals with inscriptions. These were not trophies of success but icons of shame that indicated those caught cheating in the games. When an athlete was caught cheating the villages, towns, cities from whence the cheat came were held responsible for paying fines including the creation of the Icon which thousands of years later still cry out shame……. not bad ‘eh?

    • A great example, Laurence.

      As you’ll see if you roam around the Hannibal Blog, I looooove ancient Greece.

      Do you recall any of the athletes’ names or cities?

    • What is the value of shame today?

      I could give you any number of celebrities who seem to have none. I look around and see teenage girls dressed like the hookers who hung around the Navy base where I was stationed in the 60’s. In addition to the texting, we have something called “sexting”.

      So, is shame the weapon it once was? Or would one of those Shame Icons be seen as a something to be proud of?

    • Her marriage to the Governator (and he family connection to the Kennedys) notwithstanding, I wouldn’t have placed her in the “without shame” category. I was thinking more along the lines of Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, the guy who kissed his drummer on TV, and any number of Tiger Woods’ liaisons…

  28. The problem is that people should not have to drive so often cars. It would be more normal to take all sorts of transit system and only occasionnaly a car. This would change a lot of things for the best and would much more natural, because it is so human to be stupid!


  29. Wow, this has become quite a long discussion threat. I wanted to comment the first time I read it but I am glad I waited because you made my point for me Andreas.

    You said, “Well, regarding my children: It’s not logical at all. It’s purely primal.”

    My thought when I first read you article was you went straight to the primal reaction because they are your children. But then, as a reader of the Hanniblal blog, I thought part of the point of this blog is to train ourselves to THINK and STAND above the pure emotion or primal fear and then go through a logical discussion and debate.

    Allow me a “tangent” re the suggestion of shaming by posting photos and license plate. In China, a country that has use shame for decades as a “tool” to control and to create fear, the new internet generation has invented a new tool of “human flesh search engine”. Where netizens using photos of someone (who, in the crowd’s eyes, did wrong) to dig up all the dirts and private info including addresses, phone numbers and workplace, etc. And some lead to horrible and unfair consequence.

    My point, if there is one, is that using the crowd’s emotion (“shame” being one) can have unexpected and uncontrolled long term consequence. The tool is not without risk.

    Again, I totally understand your thinking and emotion as a father.

    P.S. One final thought. Few years ago, I interviewed a pair of grandparents whose son was murdered by the son’s girlfriend and later the woman pregnant with the son’s baby killed her son (their grandson) in a murder-suicide.

    At one point in the interview, the grandpa told me that he could have killed the woman in order to rescue the grandson and regretted that he didn’t do it. As a loving grandpa, he was willing to give up his life (he realize prison or worst is possible) to protect his grandson, a perfectly understandable emotion. But part of our training is to rise above that.

    Sorry for writing too long (as usual).

  30. My grandmother was killed in a road accident in 1916, Kempton, in the middle of WW1. It had a huge impact on my father’s life and on the life of his sister.

    She was waiting at a bus stop. As a bus approached the driver was distracted by a Zeppelin. At that very moment a young child ran out of a nearby house and under the bus. My grandmother dived after the child and thrust it to one side, but unfortunately the rear wheel went over her head. My aunt witnessed the accident and my father went to the site and saw the mark of his mother’s brains on the road.

    Nearly 94 years later this event continues to invoke a deep emotional reaction in me, even though, obviously, I never met my grandmother. Apparently, the child’s parents had lost a child under a bus at the same spot.

    I am torn three ways: resentment that the child ever existed, bitterness that the driver allowed himself to be distracted and fury at the parents’ nonchalance, both with regard to my grandmother’s death and with regard to their poor guardianship of their children. I fully understand a parent’s primal reaction, being one myself, and wonder at those parents’ lack of it. Readers of this comment will feel the same way.

    Reason and emotion can dwell together in harmony. In fact, it is vital to be conscious of the emotion in order to reach a rational conclusion. But what is the rational conclusion here? My father told me that all he could do was to shrug his shoulders and get on with life. Within a year he was in the Royal Flying Corps, training to be a pilot. Mercifully, the Armistice came just before he saw action. No doubt he was not that bothered for himself.

    • I don’t have one of those. The only GPS I use is one for the golf course. Before I go somewhere, before I leave, I try to make sure I have directions either by the person I am going to see or by using Google Maps (or Mapquest) to get a decent idea of how to get there. I am a bit amazed that people seem to have taken to these GPS map units so readily.

      Interesting comments on that article/site you cited.

    • I don’t like relying on or operating a GPS device. While I also use google maps (with street/satellite view when available), I’ve frequently experienced incorrect information it. “This street doesn’t exist!”

    • “This street doesn’t exist!”

      Funny you should mention that. The street on which this house I sit in was renamed two years before I moved in, as were several other streets in the area. After moving in, we purchased a number of furnishings which had to be delivered. And, in order to receive them, had to answer many calls and provide specific directions because the GPS units, which all the drivers seemed to rely on, could not find our street. Yet, Google maps could…. even if the house did not exist on the satellite image (still doesn’t, I think, yet it exists on the “street level” view)

  31. Looks like you will need to add another page for distracted pedestrians:

    Of particular interest:

    “Particularly fascinating, Mr. Hyman said, is that people walking in pairs were more than twice as likely to see the clown as were people talking on a cellphone, suggesting that the act of simply having a conversation is not the cause of inattention blindness.

    One possible explanation is that a cellphone conversation taxes not just auditory resources in the brain but also visual functions, said Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco. That combination, he said, prompts the listener to, for example, create visual imagery related to the conversation in a way that overrides or obscures the processing of real images.”

    • What Adam Gazzaley says is scarier than Grendel’s mother in Beowulf or Humbaba in Gilgamesh. The cellphone user/driver/walker/ becomes one of the monsters of the 21st Century.

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