It was only a matter of time, I suppose, until I had to advance from venting about the evils of distracted driving here on The Hannibal Blog to doing so in The Economist. So here it is. My rubric says it all:
Distracted driving is the new drunk driving.
The research and writing process had the usual frustrations (usual for The Economist, I mean): I talked to lots of people, read many tens of thousands of words of academic research, took more than 10,000 words of notes, and then…. reduced it all to 700 words.
Oh well. Out went a whole lot of nuance.
If you ask me to name the most interesting concept from the article, and about the whole topic, it is this:
The human brain cannot process communication (oral or written) with a person who is not physically present without drastically reallocating attention and thus compromising driving safety. This is a biological fact. All those who claim that they can call/text and drive are the modern equivalents of the people you might (if you’re older) recall bragging that “I can hold my liquor” before that started sounding ridiculous.
As Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary biologist and a delightfully belligerent blogger, puts it:
Any communication with parties who are not immediately present is evolutionarily novel, and the human brain is likely to find it cognitively difficult to handle.
Steering a large metal weapon at lethal speeds through crowded surroundings, of course, is also “evolutionarily novel”. So we have a double whammy. Homo sapiens just didn’t do this stuff in the savannah.
And yes, this means that bluetooth (“hands-free”) does zero to reduce the risk.
Anyhoo, here is just a tiny sample of some of the research that, sadly, got little or no exposure in my article for lack of space:
- Carnegie Mellon Brain Research
- World Health Organization report
- Cell phone v drunk driving
- Naturalistic Driving Study
- Meta analysis
- Latest statistics (showing decline in traffic deaths overall)
- Department of Transportation data on gadget use
- State laws
- Pew Internet on “Teens and Distracted Driving”
- Pew Internet on Adults and Distracted Driving
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on crash factors
- A list of even more research