Diane talks with Annie Lowrey, staff writer at The Atlantic, where she covers economic policy.
Texting while behind the wheel is illegal in most states. Warnings abound about the risks of distracted driving; Texting alone can make you twenty-three times more likely to crash. And yet drivers are still doing it. A lot. New numbers say 70% of crashes could be due to distracted driving. And it’s not just teens. Meanwhile, traffic fatalities overall are rising sharply. Many experts now say the problem has reached crisis levels, and requires radical new thinking. One proposed solution: a device that lets police officers view cell phone activity after a crash, the way a breathalyzer checks for alcohol levels. What it will take to meaningfully reduce distracted driving.
- David Strayer Professor of psychology, The University of Utah; has been researching distracted driving for 15 years
- Jeff Larason Director of highway safety for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; former president, Safe Roads Alliance
- Joan Claybrook President emeritus, Public Citizen; former administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
- Ben Leiberman Co-founder, Distracted Operators Risk Casualties (DORCs)
Poll Results: How Distracted Driving Impacts Listeners' Lives
As we worked on our recent show about the prevalence of distracted driving, we wanted to know how it played a role in our listeners' lives-so we put together what guest host Susan Page jokingly called a "highly scientific" survey, and collected responses throughout the morning of the segment.
MS. SUSAN PAGENow, we turn to the latest efforts to reduce distracted driving. Road fatalities are on the rise after years of declining. Up an estimated 8 percent in 2015 over the previous year. We all know it's dangerous to text, make phone calls or check social media while driving and we know now, more than ever, about other risk factors, even like driving while crying or angry.
MS. SUSAN PAGEBut when it comes to using digital devices in our cars, we don't seem to be slowing down. One proposed solution, a so-called textalizer. It would let police at the scene of a car crash check for recent phone activity, like a breathalizer checks for alcohol in a driver's system. With me in the studio to discuss the issue is Joan Claybrook, former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MS. JOAN CLAYBROOKThank you.
PAGEFrom KUER in Salt Lake City is David Strayer, a psychologist at the University of Utah. Welcome.
MR. DAVID STRAYERThank you.
PAGEAnd by phone from Boston, Jeff Larason, director of highway safety for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We're going to take your calls and we're going to offer an chance for you to take a poll on our website about driving habits. You can take it at drshow.org. We'll let you know some of the results later in this hours. We'll take your calls, although hopefully not while you're driving. Our toll free number, 1-800-433-8850.
PAGEYou can always send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Facebook and Twitter. We're going to take a very short break and when we come back, we'll start our conversation about distracted driving.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And we're going to talk about the issue of distracted driving. With me in the studio, Joan Claybrook of the -- former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. From Salt Lake City, we're joined by David Strayer. He's a professor of psychology at The University of Utah. He has been researching this issue for 15 years. And by phone from Boston, Jeff Larason. He's director of highway safety for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
PAGEAnd we want to take your calls and comments. Our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email at email@example.com. You can also take our poll on our website about driving habits -- your own and those you've seen around you. You can take it at drshow.org. And we're going to give you some of the results from this extremely scientific poll later in this hour. Let's talk -- start with Jeff Larason, who's joining us by phone from Boston. So, you know, we've heard a lot about the issue of distracted driving in the last couple of years. We see these public service announcements that warn us not to do it. Is this a battle we're winning?
MR. JEFF LARASONI think, in some ways, it's a battle we're winning. I think that there's significantly increased knowledge on the part of people that it's a dangerous act. But it's -- on the other hand, it's -- we're losing it because the technology is advancing faster than we can change attitudes and change the law.
PAGEWhat do you mean by the technology?
LARASONWell, the phones that we're using continue to have more and more applications that allow us to do more and more things on our phone. You know, what we were doing two years ago is different than what we're doing now. And that will be different two years from today.
PAGEWell, David Strayer, tell us what percentage of automobile crashes do we now believe have distracted driving as a contributing element?
STRAYERWell, those estimates will range. But up to -- between 60 and 70 percent of crashes involve some form of distraction where the driver takes their attention away from the road or just isn't looking where they're going, so a surprisingly large number.
PAGEAnd how does that compare with in the past, for instance, 10 years ago? Do we have any idea about what the trend is?
STRAYERIt's really difficult to know for sure. We just know that there certainly are many more sources of distraction. As you just heard, when you bring the phone into the car, it pairs with Bluetooth and all the functionality that your phone has, all the social media interactions and so forth, now just become an extension of the car. And so we're putting distractions right at the fingertips of drivers, which is just a real bad idea.
PAGESo, Joan Claybrook, this sounds like an issue that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration would really be focused on, the agency that you once headed. Are they focused on it?
JOAN CLAYBROOKNot enough. They're worried about it. They had a forum about it about a year ago but nothing really came out of it. And it's an extremely difficult issue to tackle because people love their phones. They are busy. They want to get something done while they're driving. So they figure that they can text or talk. And there are state laws, that's where the legal responsibility is, state laws for not allowing driving and texting or driving and cell phone use. And they're quite substantial but they're very hard to enforce. The police are, you know, distracted with many, many other priorities.
JOAN CLAYBROOKAnd so I think that's the reason we've seen this dramatic increase in the use and most dangerously, obviously, with the younger drivers, who are just not as skilled and not as aware of the humongous dangers that are involved.
PAGEJeff, is there a big difference between younger drivers and older drivers when it comes to this issue?
LARASONWell, there are differences. Younger drivers are inexperienced. They're not as good. They don't understand what needs to be done and the dangers of the road. They don't anticipate the dangers ahead. On the other hand, parents and adults are driving significantly more. So it's not just a teen issue. This is an issue that all of us need to be aware of. Adults spend more time on the road, they drive more miles and they're also more prone to respond to messages as well.
PAGEYou know, I got a tweet this morning from someone who said, my dad won't let me text and drive but he signs checks while he's driving. So, David, tell us about what is distracted driving. Define it for us. What are we talking about when we say distracted driving?
STRAYERIt means when we try and do something other than the task of driving. And so there's a whole cluster of activities that people might do that just don't support the task of being able to navigate from point A to point B. It could be talking on a cell phone, it could be eating something. What we're really most concerned about is the fact that a lot of the new technologies that are these digital technologies may have addictive characteristics so that, when the text comes in, you really have to respond to it. And so you're coupling this new social interaction, either with texting or social media or talking on the phone, with the fact that you can't not answer it in many cases.
STRAYERAnd so it's that -- and that's not the case with a cheeseburger or something like that. And you don't have as many people eating a cheeseburger as you do talking or texting.
PAGEWell, there are several things that could be distracting, like eating a cheeseburger or sending a text or maybe trying to read an email or send an email. Rank them for us. What's the most dangerous to the one that people can most handle when they're driving.
STRAYERWhat are some of the most dangerous things?
PAGEWell, yeah, put them in order. Right.
STRAYERWell I would say that anything that's taking your eyes off the road for more than two and a half seconds is something you just shouldn't do. And that could include texting or interacting with social media, could include dialing or even looking at navigation displays. We know that, as soon as you take your eyes off the road for more than two and a half seconds, the crash risk increases. It's like driving blindfolded. That's part A. Part B is, you need to pay attention to what you're looking at. And so that's the cognitive sources of distraction. And if you're engaged in a phone conversation or trying to send a voice text or do any kind of mental activity that's not linked to driving, that's also very unsafe.
STRAYERSo I would really put it into the visual-manual is one of the -- a real serious concern. That's why we really put texting at the top of the list, texting and other kinds of visual-manual distractions. But the cognitive sources are also very -- can be very distracting and lead to crashes as well, a significant source of crashes.
PAGEYou know, I never text while driving. But I have to admit, I -- sometimes when I'm stopped at a red light, I might look at my phone. Is that dangerous?
LARASONThat is texting while driving.
STRAYERYeah, one of the reasons...
PAGEYeah, well, true.
LARASONLet me just say this, even if you're stopped at a red light, that is the act of texting while you're driving. You're in the ignition. You do not have situational awareness of your surroundings. So that's something that we hear from a lot of people, that they're not doing it while they're driving, they're stopped at a red light. But it takes time to understand what's around you when you're at that red light. So you start up and you don't know what's there, the dangerous activity.
PAGEAnd, Jeff, if a police officer saw me doing that in the states that have banned texting while driving, would I be guilty of a crime?
LARASONIt depends on the state. But you should be, yes.
PAGEYeah. Well, I'll try to stop that then, just for the record here. What about, you know, one thing that surprised me in preparing for this show is that one -- something that can also be distracting and contribute to crashes is when people drive when they're really mad or when they're sad, when they're crying. Does that have an effect, do you think, David?
STRAYERYeah. I mean, what we know is that the more engaged you are in that -- whatever activity that's not related to driving, the more likely you're going to be distracted. So emotional conversations, arguments, trying to discipline your kids, those kinds of things can clearly be distracting. But it doesn't even have to be that -- it doesn't have to be an emotional conversation. Even the most mundane, simple discussion or the simple little text is sufficient to distract us significantly. So don't just think it's the real, you know, emotional distracting kinds of conversations. It's -- anything that uses technology takes our mind from the road.
PAGEJoan, though, it's, you know, people drive all the time. Especially in this country, it's part of our culture. It's necessary to get to work or to pick up your kids, do a million different things. So how do you address this in a way that can make a difference?
CLAYBROOKWell, research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over the years has shown that they only way to change human behavior -- which is what we're talking about here -- is to have a law, very clear, to have a lot of publicity about this law so people really know and understand it, and to have tough enforcement. Well, we have laws in most of the states, that's not really the issue anymore -- not all of the states, but many. But the key issue is how do you enforce it? How do you give the police enough resources to do so? And how do you make people fearful enough that they're going to get a really serious ticket. When they get a ticket, it ought to be a slam-dunk ticket. I mean, it ought to really sock them.
PAGESo, in what way? Hundreds of dollars?
CLAYBROOKIt ought to be $150, yes, $200. Something that is enough for people to say, well, that's just not worth the risk. And it is also possible to teach people that, one thing, if they really have an urgent phone call they have to take, they can pull over to the side of the road.
PAGEYeah, a revolutionary idea there.
CLAYBROOKRevolutionary, right. So the determination by the enforcement officials at the state level, supplemented with funding from the federal level, as well as encouragement and help with the publicity is really what's needed. And at the federal level, there really hasn't been this commitment.
PAGEYou know, Jeff, I wonder, though, the laws, of course, can make a difference. But I think about drinking while driving which when I was a teenager, I have to say, was not seen as something that was really stigmatized, even though there was a law against it. And I wonder, how big a part -- how much big a difference would it make to make it sort of kind of socially unacceptable -- the way smoking is socially unacceptable -- to text and drive?
LARASONWell, that's certainly one of the big challenges right now. At the moment, a lot of people looked at this with sort of a wink and a nod. You know, it's like, well, everybody does it, so it's okay for me to do it. It needs to be made to be a social stigma in the same way that, back in the early '80s when Candace Lightner founded MADD and moved forward with that, people started to make that change. Because when I started to drive, that's exactly what it was. You could drink and drive. It was wrong and people knew it. But people still did it and it wasn't enforced in the way that it needs to.
LARASONAnd so what Joan was saying, I think is absolutely important. There does need to be a stronger penalty. And the laws need to be stronger to give police the ability to enforce it in a way that allows them to be able to detect these problems.
PAGEWell, do you think the police now, Jeff, take this seriously? Is it something they think, I really want to enforce this law. This is important.
LARASONI do think police -- I've worked very closely with police in Massachusetts and we've done a sweep through the month of April, it's been distracted-driving awareness month -- they do take it seriously. They recognize the problems. But, as Joan was saying, there needs to be funding to be able to enforce it. Police are distracted by a lot of different things on the roads and the different crimes. So it's hard for them to get the focus on it.
PAGESo, David, how -- if we wanted to make distracted driving socially unacceptable so people thought it was not -- it was not only something that was against law but something that they didn't want to do. They disapproved of other people who did it. What are the lessons from drunk -- the campaign against drunk driving that might apply here, that might work?
STRAYERWell, I think, already, we know. When we've done our research, what we find is that people don't like other people texting and multitasking behind the wheel. They do it themselves. So one of the first things we need to do is realize that the person who's driving is part of the problem. It's not just everybody else who's distracted. I think that's part one. Part two is you just need to make it so that it's not acceptable. Really sending a -- we're really sending a mixed message. If you look at new cars, they're supporting all kinds of things that we know are not good to do. They're supporting social media. They're supporting various aspects of voice texting and so forth. So we're actually really giving kind of the wrong message.
STRAYERAnd I think, from my perspective, we have to work really hard. Because the laws clearly need to be put in place and they need to be enforced. But at the same time, if the car you buy has all these features that allow you to do stuff you really ought not do -- and I think most traffic safety engineers and traffic safety professionals would say -- that social media in any form doesn't belong at the fingertips of the driver. When we start to basically wire our cars so that that supports it, we're -- we have problems.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to go to the phones in just a moment, 1-800-433-8850. But, first, joining us from New York, Ben Lieberman, co-founder of Distracted Operators Risk Casualty, that's DORCs. Ben, you've been a force behind the idea of a textalyzer. Tell us what that is.
MR. BEN LIEBERMANWell, the textalyzer is a device that police would be able to use at the scene of a collision. You know, actually, to agree with a lot of what was being said on the program so far, there is really no tools for enforcement. And one thing, where I'd disagree with something that's said, that police are being distracted by other issues. I don't really think that's the case as much. I think what the problem is, because I've -- we've organized symposiums and we've had police in the audience and I've actually had this direct conversation with them, that the issue is that the police are not comfortable looking at phones at a collision.
MR. BEN LIEBERMANThey're worried about getting fired. They're worried about getting sued for privacy issues. Plus, they're also not trained to know the different nuances between an iPhone, Android, Galaxy and iPhone, so -- you know, Blackberry or whatever. It just has created this real paralysis at the scene of a collision on how to evaluate the problem. So therefore, we don't have -- we can't get accurate information at the scene of a collision. And, to everybody else's point, you also can't hold the people accountable to do that. And when -- and that's the type of behavior that actually helped drunk-driving problems, this is.
MR. BEN LIEBERMANSo we have a device that we've been -- developing a device and legislation that will allow police field testing. And at that site, that device will most notably and what we're meticulously trying to do is to respect people's privacy rights. And the device will only show usage. It won't show any content. Another way...
PAGESo a police officer comes up at a crash scene and says, this looks -- I think distracted driving might be an element here, get's the phone from the driver. And what does he or she do with it then?
LIEBERMANIn front of the driver, would plug the device into a scanner. And the scanner would generate a report in front of the driver and it would show usage.
PAGEIt would say, at this moment, you were sending a text. Or at this moment, you were looking at social media.
LIEBERMANWell, the actual protocol is still in development. But, at one sense, it would just be for usage or not usage, pregnant or not pregnant, so to speak. And as it would escalate, you know, you would be able to glean more information, whether it was texting, phone, web-browsing, you know, that type of a think, without actually showing what the conversations were, who it was with or what the sites, browsing.
PAGEBen, I know that your involvement in this whole area comes from a personal tragedy in your life. Tell us about your son.
LIEBERMANMy son, Evan, was a backseat passenger in a car collision. And I got the call that every parent dreads. Evan was air-transported by helicopter to a trauma unit and he died 31 days later in front of our eyes. The driver said he fell asleep at the wheel and it was a crazy road and it was rush hour. A lot of the story didn't make sense. And during our stay in the hospital, our friends asked a lot about texting. But, frankly, we didn't care about the reason, you know, because we were taking care of the business at hand, which was trying to save Evan's life. But also, we assumed that the police would be doing their job. What we learned was that the police rarely look at the phones at all.
LIEBERMANAnd it's not their fault because it's not a police protocol. They're worried, you know, as I said, they're worried about the difference -- in the different tech, you know, whether it's a, you know, iPhone, Android, a Galaxy, or, you know, worried about the privacy issues. So, on our own, we subpoenaed the phone records through a civil lawsuit and that had nothing to do with the police. It took six agonizing months to get the phone records. And we discovered there was texting throughout the drive leading up to the crash. The crash was in a dead-cell zone, so we couldn't prove what was going on at the exact moment of the crash and he couldn't prove he wasn't texting either.
LIEBERMANBut it was an old and daunting road and it's one of the hardest roads to fall asleep on. And anyone texting on that road is begging for a collision. And he was texting on that road and there was a collision. So what the phone records revealed to me was that the phone was sitting in a junkyard for weeks after the collision. It was never examined. And that's when I realized how misunderstood this destructive behavior is and the things that are in place right now to actually understand it, is not in place.
LIEBERMANSo, you know, you see enough, it motivates you. And so...
PAGEI bet it does. Yeah. We're so sorry for your loss there, Ben. We're going to take a short break. And when we come back, we're going to continue our conversation about the textalyzer, how it might work, what the other panelists think about it. And we're going to go to the phones and take some of your calls and comments on this issue. And pretty soon we'll give you some results from that poll we're running on our website, drshow.org, about your driving habits and those you've seen of people around you. Please, stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're talking this hour about the dangers and risks and consequences of distracted driving, including texting while driving. We're joined by Joan Claybrook, President Emeritus Public Citizen. From Salt Lake City by David Strayer, he's a Professor of Psychology whose been researching this issue for years. By phone from Boston, Jeff Larason, Director of Highway Safety for The Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
PAGEHe was formerly President of the Safe Roads Alliance and from New York City, Ben Lieberman who's been an activist on this issue and been working on this new textalizer device that some states might consider using. I've got to say, we've got one tweet from a listener who says, I'm listening to the show while driving. Does listening to the radio qualify as distracted driving? What do you guys think? David, what do you think? Is that a distraction?
STRAYERNo, I mean, we've done research to try and actually measure, you know, how distracting various activities are. Listening to the radio, at, at least a normal volume so it's not blaring at you, just does not distract you anywhere near the distractions from talking or texting.
PAGEWell, speaking for the National Public Radio System, at large, as well as the Diane Rehm Show, thank you very much for that answer. Let's go to Rick who's calling us from Moscow, Ohio. Rick, hi, you're on the air.
RICKHey, yeah, how are you doing?
RICKYeah, I'm a truck driver. I drive a tractor trailer and, you know, it seems like it just keeps getting worse and worse to me. I mean, I'm out about 10 or 11 hours a day, you know, running local here in Ohio, southeastern Ohio, western Ohio I mean, and I don't know how many times I've had to take a evasive maneuvers because somebody's on the phone and they're drifting into my lane or have to lay on the horn because somebody's looking down at their phone. And you know, to get their attention to keep them from running into something.
RICKAnd I was at a red light one day, and I seen a guy -- he came up, because he came up beside me and I seen him looking at his phone and he rear ended a car. And as soon as he waved at the guy that he hit and they were just sitting there, and he immediately went right back to looking at his phone. And I don't see any way to get it stopped. I mean, they pass laws and stuff, but it's just crazy.
PAGEYeah, that sounds terrible. Jeff, what do you think? Are you surprised by what Rick is seeing?
LARASONNo, in fact, my father-in-law is a truck driver in Ohio as well, and he tells me the same thing. He's saying, and I'll be here, I'm looking out at the roads in Boston as we're talking and, you know, one in every four persons, people are on the phone while they're doing it. So, it is getting worse in terms of the usage in the vehicle and in terms of the number of people who are doing it. So, I agree with him absolutely.
PAGEWe have had about 175 responses so far to our online poll. 51 percent of people say they have texted behind the wheel, that, you know, the people telling the truth might make that number even higher. We asked, what's the most surprising thing you've seen someone do while driving? Some of the answers we've gotten saw a guy shaving, a woman curling her hair while talking on the phone. Someone eating a plate of spaghetti. Okay, let's go to Andrew who's calling us from St. Louis, Missouri. Andrew, you're on the air.
ANDREWHi, thanks for having me on the show. I just, first thing I wanted to bring up was the 70 percent distracted statistic just, if I remember right, that's the number that was given -- it just seems like well, it would make sense, even if it's cell phone or, you know, your car's on fire, you know? If -- you're not distracted if you don't -- if you see something coming, you're going to try and avoid it. So it kind of makes sense that, you know, a lot of the times when there's an accident, that someone's distracted for one reason or another.
ANDREWBut the other -- the main thing I wanted to bring up was, on the textalizer that you were wanting to develop, I was just interested. You were mentioning Galaxy phones peppered from Android but they're a style of Android. They're just an Android phone, so the -- but my main, along that is how would you deal with privacy concerns because honestly, if you hook a machine up to a cell phone, it can -- it may be able to pull all the data. But -- and only display a certain amount. How would you be able to show that it's not actually just pulling an entire download of what's on the phone?
PAGEAndrew, that's a great question. Let's go to Ben and ask him that. So, what do you hear about privacy concerns, people's concerns that this police officer will be able to look at their phone usage without a warrant. It would be right at the scene of an accident. How big a concern is that?
LIEBERMANIt's a concern. And it's, you know, it's where the, you know, you have to, you know, we're very, we're very sensitive about the civil rights, civil liberties issue on this. And we try to duplicate exactly what goes on with drunk driving and breathalyzers. And there's a -- you know, the impairment is to the same level as drunk driving, if not worse, and you have some experts on the phone that could confirm that -- on the air here that could confirm that. So, we try to address the issue the same way.
LIEBERMANAnd when you get to the scene of a crash, if you take an example of somebody going through -- blowing through a red light and T-boning a car, if that person was suspected of being drunk, there's mechanisms in place to identify that behavior right there. And to, you know, hold that person accountable. It doesn't exist now for -- if somebody was emailing while they were -- and then blow through a red light. So that creates problem and there's misconceptions that you can just -- is the word they use -- just get the cell phone records or get a warrant. But those -- that creates other problems that are very, that are very difficult.
LIEBERMANAnd that's why this doesn't get addressed there. Because phone records will not show you the emailing or social media or other things that were talked about. And also, you know, getting a warrant in New York is a prosecutor and a judge and that there's, you know, there's hours and hours and hours of doing that. So, you know, what goes on in the interim of that? So, in order to solve the problem just like with a breathalyzer, it goes on without a warrant. The -- this would take place also at the scene, at a very low level, where, where just limited information could be gleaned by the officer at the scene.
LIEBERMANIn front of the driver, and that -- and, you know, I think you asked a couple of questions. I hope I answered it that way.
PAGEYeah, Joan, tell us, what do you think about this idea of this new device now being considered in New York? In fact, there's a story about it on the front page of the New York Times.
CLAYBROOKI think it's a terrific idea, because what you want the public to fear is that they're going to get caught. And if they know that police are carrying these devices around, and they have to be mass produced and made cheap enough so that the police can afford them, but if they know that every police person is carrying one of these devices, that they're going to get a ticket. And I think there ought to also be criminal penalties associated with motor vehicle crashes -- do have criminal penalties associated, but for, for texting and driving or violating the law in this respect. People ought to have fear of going to jail.
PAGENow, we're getting a lot of questions from our listeners about how police themselves are distracted by devices. Let's go to one person who's -- I believe wants to discuss that issue. That's Tony calling us from Jacksonville, North Carolina. Tony, welcome to the Diane Rehm Show.
TONYHi, good morning.
TONYYeah, I have a question for the panel. Here, currently, it's not an uncommon sight to see emergency personnel, policemen, EMS service personnel texting while they're driving. And I'm just wondering, how are these laws applicable to them? Are they held to the same standard or do they enjoy some exemption visa their job? Thank you.
PAGEYeah, thanks, thanks very much. Does anyone on the panel want to address this issue? We know that when you look in a police car, it's got all kinds of sophisticated devices often. Is that a problem in distracting police officers?
CLAYBROOKWell, I'll answer that. I think that it certainly could be. And the police, however, are trained to know when to use them and when not. And so, that's a key issue that you can manage with just rules of the police department. The other issue, of course, is the motor vehicle manufacturers. They're making these cars so appealing to people to play video, to have all sorts of distractions in the -- right in their, the front of the car. That I think that there ought to be some kind of a limitation that says when the engine is running, you can't have certain of these devices operable.
CLAYBROOKThat are able to be seen by the driver. And that is something that is particularly the jurisdiction of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. I don't think they're doing anything on it at all, but they should.
PAGELet's talk about solutions. We've gotten a tweet from Josh that says, bring on the self-driving cars. Humans can't be trusted. Jeff, what about self-driving cars. Is that the solution to this?
LARASONWell, that would certainly be the silver bullet to solve the problem if people are taken out of the equation entirely. But it -- that's a long way down the road. And it's gonna take a long time for us to get to the point, and some people are going to continue to drive. You know, one of the things that I think is important as well. I mean, we're talking about the auto manufacturers who have a huge responsibility to make sure that this is not a problem.
LARASONBut I think the social media companies themselves need to take a focus on it as well. I think Facebook and Snapchat and Twitter and those companies that are providing these tools that people are using while they're driving. They need to be responsible in the same way that the alcohol distributors and alcohol companies did back in the day with regard to alcohol. They have -- they have a stake here too.
PAGESo, what could Facebook or Twitter do to make their sites less -- be less of a factor when it comes to distracted driving and crashes?
LARASONWell, there are elements that they can do within the architecture of the sites themselves and of the tools, but they can also speak out about it. If people are using their social media in some way, they need to be able to talk and communicate to their users that it is not something that they should be doing while driving.
PAGEHere's an email from John, who says, cell phones should be disabled in a car unless you're calling 9-1-1. Joan, could that be a good thing, and is that something you think would make sense?
CLAYBROOKI do. I think that that kind of a limitation means that people are not going to be tempted. I mean, the problem here is that compared to drunk driving, for example, a lot -- most people don't drink and drive. Here, everyone has a cell phone. Everyone is tempted to talk on their cell phone or text or whatever. And so, it's just the volume is enormous and the attraction of doing it is huge.
PAGEBut David, is that realistic, do you think, the idea of using the technology to make it impossible to be distracted by these devices while you're driving?
STRAYERYeah, certainly. I mean, one of the things you can do is there's lock outs in the vehicle for some of the technology that comes with the car itself. So that when the car is in -- not in park, certain features are just disabled. That would not be all that difficult to do with respect to the phone itself. And I think the problem, as we've heard, is really it's such a tempting -- the phone rings, I wonder who that is. That could be really important. And so, you start to actually, you know, really feel kind of an impulse to have to look at that phone. And it's just putting kind of the distractions far too close to the fingertips of the driver. So, lock outs are probably a good idea.
PAGEThat's David Strayer. He's a Professor of Psychology at the University of Utah. We're also talking this hour with Jeff Larason, Director of Highway Safety for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. And with me here in the studio, Joan Claybrook from Public Citizen. Former Administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. By phone from New York, we're joined by Ben Lieberman, co-founder of Distracted Operators Risk Casualties. You're -- I'm Susan Page, and you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show.
PAGELet's go back to the phones and take another caller. Dan from Dallas, I think, is skeptical about what can be done. Dan, hi, you're on the air.
DANHi. Well, it just seems to me, like, we've raised a generation of children that can't function without the phone in their hands. I went to the movies the other day and sat -- and I'm in my 50s, so I'm an old man now. And I was surrounded by, you know, kids in their 20s and 30s that could not get through the movie without texting. So, it's almost like it's a national sickness. Here in Texas, we have a law that says you can't even so much as touch your phone when you're driving through an active school zone.
DANSo, do laws like that help? And something that you brought up, well, that I heard while you were on the -- while I was on the phone waiting was the distractions -- you know, I use my phone as a GPS to give me directions to get places. I use it to stream music on my radio. You know, I listen to WAMU in -- through blu tooth here in Dallas. I use it to -- you know, and when I do get a phone call, the number shows up on a screen right in front of me on my dashboard. So, you know, do those kinds of things help the situation or worsen the situation?
PAGEAll right, Dan, thanks very much for your call. David, let me go to you for Dan's original point which is that this is a culture where people text while they're sitting and having dinner with their families or when they're walking down the street. So, is it realistic to think it's a practice you can stop when people are in a car?
STRAYERI mean, it definitely is something where we're becoming more and more tethered to the technology, but it is clearly something that can be addressed and really needs to be addressed. And the types of technology that -- not everything's equally distracting, so for example, GPS, if it's giving you turn by turn directions, that's far better than looking at a map. It's just that if you're trying to actually enter in the destination while you're driving, that's just a real bad idea. So, you know, there's times when you can actually use that technology to support the task of driving.
STRAYERAnd then, there's other activities that, you know, just should not mix with the driving when you're actually driving the car itself. And clearly, the social media components, which are really, I think, a lot of what people are doing when they're sitting at a dinner table, just texting back and forth. Those things do not belong behind the wheel.
PAGEYou know, let's keep talking about solutions. Here's an email from Stephanie. She writes, as a driver, I see people talking on the phone or texting while driving all the time. Is there anything I can do as a driver to report unsafe driving that doesn't involve me getting on the phone while driving to call in a report? If there's a passenger in my car who could call someone, who would we call? Jeff, what would you say? What can drivers do?
LARASONWell, first of all, we always recommend that you use the designated texter, so if you're behind the wheel and somebody's in the passenger seat, you have that person take on that activity for you. In most states, you can call 9-1-1 if somebody is actively doing a bad job -- you know, is clearly being affected by their social media or what they're doing on the phone. Call 9-1-1 and let them know. It would be no different than seeing somebody who's driving drunk down the road and recognizing that they're a danger. Police want to know and they can help if they can get there quick enough.
PAGEHere's an email from Margie in Charlotte, North Carolina. She writes, the most distracted I've ever gotten while driving was when my children were young and fighting in the back seat. David, is that a serious problem?
STRAYERWell, it's clearly a source of distraction, but when we look at the problems, we look at how distracting a technology is, texting or talking, or disciplining your kids. And how many people are doing it. It's the exposure. And the problem we've heard already is if 20 to 25 percent of people are texting, not 20 to 25 percent of drivers are disciplining their kids. The real big problems are these problems where lots of people are tempted to interact and that's what we're talking about today.
PAGEHere's an email from Ken in San Antonio, Texas. He said, when I called my insurance company concerning coverage while texting, they said they will cover accidents when their drivers are using a cell phone. Texting will continue as long as insurance companies cover it. And we ask in the poll that we took online, have you ever asked a friend or family member to pay more attention to the road? 56 percent said yes. And then we asked, if you did that, was it uncomfortable? Some people said it was. I felt very pushy, someone said.
PAGEBut others said, crashing is far more uncomfortable. I want to thank our panel for joining us this hour to discuss this issue. Ben Lieberman, Jeff Larason, David Strayer and Joan Claybrook. Thank you all for being with us on "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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