Yes it’s in the news again, the hope that laws banning gadgets in cars can make the roads safer; propelled by a crash in Missouri involving two school busses and another vehicle which housed a texting or talking driver, causing the death of two individuals, one of whom was a teenage student, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) felt compelled to act. However was calling for a nationwide cellphone/gadget ban in cars the best way to go; further will it ever actually happen considering it has to go through the legislatures of all 50 states? Added to the poorly put togetherness of this idea, this proposed law is asking tech makers, car manufacturers to create apps, technology that would disable a cellphone, blackberry, tablet or other device while the car is moving; at the same time the law would carry an exception for if the cellphone was going to aid the driver, say in dialing 911 for an emergency. Aside from the obvious question of ok how is that going to work; are there better ways to cut down on distracted driving, are their better ways to make the roads less hazardous without imposing a ban many say is unenforceable? Is removing technology the answer as opposed to using it to solve the greater problem? And are there unintended consequences to banning what people do in their cars, including operating any number of gadgets?  Or, on the flip side is limiting only gadget use going far enough?

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One expert believes the answer to the former is a resounding yes, that there are better ways from the former NTSB chairmen speaking on CBS’ The Early Show talking about exactly that, what else can be done, perhaps should have been recommended in conjunction with the ban or instead of it. The gentleman began by coming out in support of apps disabling cellphones while the driver is moving, taking the choice to endanger self or others out of a person’s hands from the get go, but quickly moved on to something he said the NTSB missed in a big way, requiring manufactures to equip cars with front end collision sensors enabling the car to sense another car or other road obstruction and apply the brakes, independent of whether the driver sees the problem or not, not waiting for the diver to turn the wheel, apply braking or other evasive maneuvers to avoid road hazards. Because as our analyst pointed out, it would cover not only the cellphone but the hot coffee spilled in someone’s lap. Elaborating on his comments, how many people have swerved either off the road wrecking their own car, or instinctively into another lane of traffic trying to avoid the deer, moose, turtle, squirrel or small child suddenly in the road? News exposés have been done on road debris falling everywhere from commercial trucks hauling goods, to moving vans; drivers impaled, even killed, by pipes long enough to ram through windshields hitting them or traveling at such velocity impact was inevitable. Everything from tarps, to rugs, to clothing have spilled out of somewhere causing other motorist not to be able to see where they are going. Mentioned collision technology would cover almost all distractions currently known, including cellphones, and possibly cover things coming in the future, things we haven’t seen yet that may pose a greater danger.   

To view his full comments check the caption below

Published on Dec. 14, 2011 by CBSNewsOnline

CBS News transportation safety consultant Mark Rosenker, a former
National Transportation Safety Board chairman, comments on the board’s
call for a ban on cell phone use while driving.
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Public reaction is mixed attitudes ranging from it’s about time to calling it another big government intrusion on personal freedom; people pointing to the mobile command centers in cars these days, satellite radio boasting a thousand choices, GPS giving you directions, CD players, i-pod plugins, Bluetooth outlets just to name a few of the given distractions before you bring in any device of your own.  One astute Facebook/Twitter user saying, in part, if they ban texting and driving he also wants a ban on eating and driving, shaving, putting on makeup and driving, along with someone to mind junior in the back seat. Unfortunately our Facebook user may soon get his wish, at least in some parts of the country, as areas surrounding Chicago try to legally put the kibosh on eating and driving; how they are going to enforce it, if it does pass, remains a mystery with dwindling police forces across the country trimmed due to budget cuts. To say nothing of what we want our cops doing, solving crimes, stopping/ preventing violence, catching everyone from murderers, rapists, child molesters, child abductors and on the road, stopping people who are weaving all over it, show obvious signs of  driving under the influence, who are actually running red lights, ignoring vital road signs? Or do we want them handing out tickets to people eating while driving who are obviously in control of what they are doing, the vehicle they are driving, have never caused an accident doing what they’re doing, posing no real threat to anyone? Similarly do we want our courts, regardless of if it’s just the traffic division, clogged with people resolving tickets for eating and driving, device usage and driving, who have never caused an accident, who have a relatively clean driving record, who maybe have been in accidents where their distraction wasn’t the issue, repeated offenders getting bumped up the judicial food chain incurring stiffer penalties for worst case scenarios that haven’t happened yet? Or do we want our traffic courts going after repeated drunk drivers, people repeatedly getting high and driving, people driving on a suspended license or without one entirely, who are causing accidents, who are dangerous?             

Unintended consequences are around every corner with a potential law like this; we’ve all seen the movies, would be victims of stalkers, terrorists, psychos saved at least long lasting trauma, possibly death, if only they had answered their cellphone, sometimes while on the road. Now no one thinks that’s going to be a common occurrence in real life, but what if it’s you for whatever reason, and you can’t get the potential lifesaving message because of phone disabling technology employed due to the fact your car is moving? Another question, what if anything such technologies, especially first generation technologies, could do to passenger devices, cellphones; what that could mean for a passenger trying to call 911 because the driver is having a seizure or some other incapacitating episode in the middle of the road? It plays into another limited, rare danger of banning eating and driving as a diabetic, a hypoglycemic, who would normally go to a drive through or convenience store and get a juice, meal slowly sipping or eating it as they go, now can’t do that and ends up blacking out behind the wheel causing their own, or a multiple person accident, because of proposed bans, said bans being the catalyst for the very thing they were meant to prevent. Going back to enforcement we’re going to what, ticket those same people for using a glucose tab or piece of candy to prevent blackout because technically they were eating and driving? Returning to traffic court, how are the roads safer if you have more people driving on suspended or revoked licenses as a result of the ban, people who may be more reckless because they see the law as arbitrary and unnecessary? We also live in a very tech savvy generation; there is nothing to say teens and 20 something’s won’t be writing apps to get around disabling software, selling them to their friends or even fortune 500 executives, company middle management or a struggling small business owner.  

Why, oh yeah the biggest unintended consequence may be to businesses, according to an AP report managers, event planners who commute between stores, venues say they would go out of business if the ban were to take effect because employees cannot get timely answers to provide the customer service expected today; says one man running a sales business who is all things the business requires from administrative assistant to salesman, to sales director, he would double his driving time if he had a hundred messages to return, owing to the ban. Another person quoted in the report makes a good point stating he’s been conducting business from his car for 20 years had an early “bag phone” (likely something similar to a car phone) before today’s smaller cellphones; leading us to the pure fact that there were car phones before cellphones and not a faction of the accidents. Continuing, true this law may go into effect sooner or later, but it’s not going to change your bosses attitude about why you didn’t answer your phone and thus showed up at the wrong place for the meeting, didn’t alter the sales figures, gave inaccurate presentation data, because you were driving and didn’t get  the update. It’s not going to change what customers expect from a business today in the form of timely service; it’s not going to change the need for timely communication and interaction between employees and bosses, between business partners, between workers and their assistants. It makes no allowances for people e-mailing, texting while at a stoplight or commuting in bumper to bumper traffic on their way to work, reminding their secretary to do this, perhaps holding a conference call, because you are stuck in traffic and running late. Businesses have to operate in the 21st century and the last thing our economy needs is a poorly conceived law standing in the way of that.

It is a step not needed in dealing with public transit drivers, school bus drivers, commuter and other train operators, semi-truck drivers, one place where the ban should already be in effect, but is redundant because they can be fired and probably charged under another violation of their employee contract, conducting personal business on company time, especially when that personal business leads to an accident. These people have no reason to be e-mailing, texting or talking to their boss on a cellphone, Bluetooth seeing as all of these various forms of transportation already carry radios to communicate with their dispatchers about accidents on the roadway, weather conditions, potential delay to your destination. Something else to consider when claiming hands free cellphone use is not enough, these bulky radio mikes drivers are holding in one hand while operating an 18 wheeler, a commuter train,  a school bus or public transit bus. Do we honestly think people can’t be upset, distracted leading to greater chance of an accident using those too; that they won’t be impacted by their boss sniping at them about when their cargo has to be in X city, their bosses reaction to the traffic pile up at the corner X and Y? Or as their reporting whatever situation to dispatch headquarters, missing actions on the road causing an accident or damage to the vehicle, yet no one is calling for their removal; they are seen as a necessary evil because you have to be able to communicate with drivers, they have to be able to communicate with you, they need a way to communicate with 911, police, fire departments if the situation arises. Civilian communication needs are little different with today’s expectations and moreover is simply achievable thinking outside the usual box.                      

Bottom line, government panels, advisory boards show a complete lack of imaginative thinking, creative problem solving and demonstrate their unfailing stupidity spouting recommendations like these or the ones put forth in Chicago, because the goal isn’t another law, isn’t putting a legal vice grip on risky behavior, isn’t stripping cars of their accessories. It is instead to remove as much human error as possible; this too we’ve seen in futuristic movies cars that are on an electronic track, care that virtually drive themselves or can be driven manually. Obviously we aren’t there yet, arguments can be made we should never go there, but there are things we can do and do the right way to make roads less treacherous.  That’s why front end collision sensors make so much sense. Because the moment you ban something people will come up with either a way to get around it or replace it with another bad behavior not covered by the law. It would compensate for delayed reaction times due to medications, lack of sleep, grief or other emotional crisis. It would compensate for someone replaying the fight had with a spouse or girlfriend and not seeing the road as clearly, thinking about going home to that troubled kid or reeling from the fact they were just laid off, fired, their company or them is suddenly under investigation. And unlike disabling software for phones, collision sensors would be part of the car, not an apparatus easily tampered with, not that people would want to owing to it not usurping their freedom to make choices for themselves. In fact why not do this for public transit, school busses and semi-trucks as well; next retrofit or adapt the technology to be easily installed on other, older cars, vehicles, similar to the OnStar review mirror now available for almost any make or model providing OnStar service for a $2-300.  These are the real solutions to road safety, using technology to solve the problem not removing it hoping to eliminate it.