Cell use ‘worse than driving drunk’

Interesting quote from Gary Ronald of the AA in the Cape Times this morning:

Driver distraction is probably six times more dangerous than driving drunk. If a driver over the legal alcohol limit of 0.05 already has the potential risk of being involved in a crash 15 times more than a sober person, the context of distraction is even more frightening.

I’m all for any measure that improves road safety in SA. But it worries me that Gary seems to be spouting figures for the sake of figure spouting: “probably six times more dangerous than driving drunk”? Well, maybe it is, but why chuck the word “probably” in?
Does this figure that you are spouting come from any sort of research or did you just make it up? And if it came from some sort of research, what sort of result is “probably six times more dangerous than driving drunk”?
When I do science, I don’t come up with results like that. I either say yes or no. And if I’m ever tempted to stray towards a “probably”, then I go away and I do some more research until I can say yes or no.
That’s how it works.

People see that sort of quote and they think “He’s just made that up, hasn’t he?”.
The obvious next step is not to take what Gary is saying seriously and then what most individuals will do is refute all stats on cellphone usage while driving as being nonsense, which in itself is also nonsense, but that is what will happen.

And it spoils what is a very important message: that using your cellphone while you are driving is a dangerous thing to do.
That’s why it’s illegal.

But then, so is driving without a seatbelt and so is drinking and driving and so is speeding and so is going through a red light.
Sadly, here in SA, there is a real issue with people’s attitudes to obeying rules and a real issue with any sort of law enforcement on the roads.
Every day, I see tens of people driving while using cellphones. There’s the usual two versions of the talkers: one doing 130kph without really looking where he’s going, and the other one who unknowingly slows down to 30kph and may weave slightly.
Then there’s the texters (although it could also be social media or email, of course). There are also two types of them: the ones who hold the phone up right in front of their field of vision, resting it on the top of the steering wheel, and the ones who have it down on their lap, text, look up, look down, text some more, look up, look down, text some more etc etc etc. Each of these four approaches demonstrates a clear lack of concentration on the road around them. Each is dangerous and illegal.

Funny thing is, most of those people would probably baulk at the suggestion that they would ever drive drunk and yet they happily use their phone while on the road, which “is probably six times more dangerous than driving drunk”. Why?
Is it because they don’t know how dangerous it is?
Is it because they know and don’t care?
Is it because they don’t think they’ll get caught?

The spokesman for Cape Town Traffic Services, Kevin Jacobs, said 4 184 drivers in six months had been fined for the unlawful use of a cellphone while driving.

4,200 in 6 months. That’s 700 a month. Or 24 a day. 1 an hour.
In a city with 3,000,000+ inhabitants. It’s a drop in the ocean.

The war on drink driving in SA has proved that it takes a combination of stricter law enforcement and powerful advertising to even begin to get the message across to a public which is used to getting away with breaking rules. For the first time since moving here, I am beginning to notice a shift in attitude amongst my friends when it comes to drink driving. It used to be that they’d know it was wrong, but that they take the chance of getting away with it. Now there’s more of a social stigma attached to it (like in the UK) and there’s more awareness about getting caught and the consequences that come with it, people don’t do it any more.

How long before using your cellphone while driving (which, lest we forget, “is probably six times more dangerous than driving drunk”) generates that same sort of reaction?

A year? Ten years? Never?

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