The Times' story recapped the studies showing the dangers of driving and using one's cell phone ("drivers using phones are four times as likely to cause a crash as other drivers" or about the same as someone with a 0.08 percent blood alcohol level) and how drivers overestimate their own ability to drive and safely use their phones ("81 percent of cell phone owners acknowledged that they talk on phones while driving, and 98 percent considered themselves safe drivers. But 45 percent said they had been hit or nearly hit by a driver talking on a phone.")
Only 5 states and the District of Columbia require drivers to use hand free devices when using their cell phones, while 14 ban texting and driving. The Times story also says that there is no real political will to ban cell phones altogether in vehicles, regardless of the danger created.
I would like to hear about what the laws are in countries outside of the US for both cell phone use and texting while driving. Do any ban the use of cell phones completely in cars?
In addition, the Times story provides a link to a game that demonstrates how your reaction time can be affected by texting. It is a bit sobering, which is probably appropriate.
Car and Driver put drivers on a test track and tested their reactions driving normally, then trying to read messages on their phone as they drove as well as sending text as they drove. They also tested their drivers' reactions while legally intoxicated (0.08 percent blood alcohol level) but without the distractions. The tests were conducted at 35 and 70 mph.
The full results can be found in the article, but the upshot was that driver reaction times while reading or texting were worse than when they were alcohol impaired by fairly significant margins. The magazine didn't do the test when alcohol impaired and reading or texting, mostly I think because no one wanted to be the observer in the test vehicles while the drivers conducted the test.
I supposed you could run your own experiment by playing the Times' game both sober and intoxicated (or by using these goggles) to compare the results.
Finally, because of a recent spate of rail accidents, some of which (see here and here) have been linked to train operators texting, several US transit systems have decided to ban the use of mobile devices for their transit system operators, with even carrying a mobile communication device grounds for being fired.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.