Sunday, December 18, 2011

Why Do Personal Electronic Devices Hate America?

This past week, there was a report that the National Trasportation Safety Board has taken the dramatic step of recommending that every U.S. state ban the use of personal electronic devices while driving. Here are the details:
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) called Tuesday, Dec. 13, for a nationwide ban on nearly all use of personal electronic devices — including cellphones and smartphones — by drivers.

The board’s recommendation came in a review of a highway accident that occurred last year in Gray Summit, Mo., that killed two people and injured 38 others. A review determined the accident likely was caused by a distracted driver who sent several text messages in the moments before the pileup.

The NTSB’s recommended that all 50 states and the District of Columbia ban drivers’ “nonemergency use of portable electronic devices” except for uses that support the task of driving, such as GPS navigation. The board is also calling for the ban of drivers’ use of hands-free calling technology.
Just for the record, I am in total agreement with this idea, even though the corporate interests that profit from the manufacture and distribution of cell phones will no doubt lobby heavily against the effort citing its "curtailment" a people's "freedom" to risk their stupid lives while chattering on and on about nothing. Because it really is Jerry Seinfeld's America, and the rest of us are just living in it.

Nevertheless, this story might have been of only passing interest to me but for this passage:
“According to [the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration], more than 3,000 people lost their lives last year in distraction-related accidents", said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman in a statement Tuesday. "It is time for all of us to stand up for safety by turning off electronic devices when driving."

A press release announcing NTSB’s recommendations cited a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study of commercial drivers that found “a safety-critical event is 163 times more likely if a driver is texting, emailing or accessing the Internet.”
Wait an minute...where have I seen that "more than 3,000" figure before? Oh that's right, that's the number of Americans who were killed on 9/11, the event which in the subsequent decade has caused us to lose our collective sanity, shred the Constitution, spend trillions of dollars on unnecessary wars, kill thousands of our own soldiers and hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals, engage in torture and rendition, open an offshore concentration camp and pretty much turn our backs on our long tradition of civil liberties just to make sure such a horrific event never happens again. Yet every year out on or highways and byways, just as many people are killed, and many thousands more are no doubt maimed, because of how collectively self-absorbed and distracted we are. All without a peep of protest.

There is a very simple reason why those of us who oppose the destruction of the personal liberties of American citizens in the name of fighting terrorism feel the way we do. The fanatical efforts to prevent the next potential major terrorist attack have caused far more damage to the fabric of our society than even another successful attack could ever cause.

There is a risk in life's every activity. Clearly, right now in America you are at far more risk of death and serious injury from being struck by a distracted driver than you are from an attack by a Muslim jihadist. But everyone makes a rational decision whenever they leave their house that the nevertheless infinitesimal risk that they will become a fatal auto accident victim is outweighed by their need to go to work, go to school, go grocery shopping, or whatever else they need to do to survive. It's a point that cannot be reemphasized often enough: by crippling our economy and enacting draconian curtailments of the freedom of our citizens, we are doing far more to destroy ourselves than Osama Bin Laden ever could have hoped to achieve.


  1. I spent over an hour last night digging a 19 year old girl out of her car which was wrapped around a tree. Face cut open, legs twisted around the pedals, and torso smashed between her seat and the steering wheel. It took jaws, cutters, and hydraulic rams to get enough room to free her and then get her off on a helo headed towards a trauma center. Texting. "Like OMG!"

  2. Bill there is a great book called Risk by Dan Gardner, about how bad people are at accessing risk. He write about a 1,595 spike in US road deaths in the months after 9/11. People were afraid of another Jihadist attack and got in cars instead of planes and 1,595 extra people died.

    The book is full of madcap stuff like this, another one jumps to mind, people buy the most earthquake insurance right after a major quake and as the time since a major quake moves on they buy less quake insurance. There is perfect negative correlation between the risk of a major quake and the purchasing of earthquake insurance.

  3. @Megadoom - and yet that asshat Karl Denninger was screaming about this proposal the other day as being a "unwarranted federal curtailment of civil liberties," even though it is a recommendation that the states pass the laws (state's rights, which conservatives like Karl are supposed to love) and NOT the federal government.

  4. @iwe - that book sounds fascinating. Thanks!

  5. Civil liberties are all well and good until it kills another innocent motorist or worse: leaves a person hooked to a ventilator suffering the indignity of eating Christmas dinner with pureed ham dinner through a gastric tube because Nelly had to share some teen gossip about whose doing the prom queen or why she hates her parents. Not that the universal retardness is exercised by just girly teens, but rather, the idiocy is completely pervasive to all phone owners at the wheel. Hell, just go for a drive and count how many people you see on the phone while also at the wheel. Close to 90% where I'm at. I just pick on teenage girls because it combines a lack of driving experience with talkative female puberty, a lethal combination if there ever were.

  6. @Megadoom - looking at it another way, though, that short text message supported a LOT of jobs and GDP. After all, health care spending is 18% of GDP now. Those jaws of life things aren't cheap. Community colleges butter their bread with EMT classes and training.