Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Rules of the road

The state is still trying to figure out what to do about elderly drivers, as every few days we see another story in the news where a 70- or 80-year-old runs down a pedestrian or drives through a building. Yet -- as many of those who leave comments on these stories at Boston.com point out -- teenagers are actually more dangerous behind the wheel than older folks.

Many of the comments on these message boards take issue with Boston.com, which is the Internet portal of The Boston Globe, highlighting these stories as they do, or at least linking them with other cases involving older drivers, because they feel the reporting is skewed against the elderly. I disagree. This has been a story that has attracted a significant amount of interest and people are talking about it. Therefore, the Globe needs to do what it's doing.

On the other hand, Massachusetts should act to make texting while driving illegal and subject to significant penalties. Such laws exist in 36 other states. While this isn't strictly aimed at teenagers, it will affect that age group much more than others. A study I just read about -- which covered 18 months and three million miles -- found that motor vehicle operators are 23 times more likely to get in a collision or near-collision while they are sending or reading text messages behind the wheel.

In an interesting side note to that issue, The New York Times recently used a photo, I have posted it above, to illustrate a story on teens texting while driving. While the image looks staged, the paper gave the back story in a blog entry today: a Times photographer was doing a story on teen dating and tagged along with a few boys heading to the mall. The passenger reached over to take the wheel as the driver sent a text message to girls that they were meeting. The photographer captured the image.

One other issue in this area: cell phones. While almost certainly not as dangerous as texting, talking on the phone while driving does present a raised level of risk. I am all for requiring drivers to use their cell phones in hands-free mode only. I have an inexpensive earphone that allows me to answer calls while driving and it leaves me much more nimble than when one of my hands is occupied by my phone. Also, I think if people are forced to use a hands-free set-up they won't be looking for a ringing phone while driving 70 miles an hour.


N.starluna said...

I think if we were honest with ourselves, all of us, no matter the age, should have to undergo the driver's test periodically. I do think we get a little complacent about our driving skills. How many times in the last month have you missed a stop sign or red light? Or found ourselves driving just a little too fast down Chelsea Street? Perhaps periodic testing would make us all a little more cognizant of our duty to safety when we're behind the wheel.

We had to deal with a father-in-law who was a real danger on the road. He refused to stop driving and did all of the things that elders do to prevent an accident: only drive during the day, stay off the highway, etc. But the family knows that it is a miracle that he never hit anyone.

In California there is a law that require testing after 80 and another requiring doctors to report drivers who may not be safe drivers. These laws were very helpful in convincing my father-in-law to give up his car. He'd much rather give up the car than have it taken away. At the same time, we all could see how painful it was for him to lose his autonomy and freedom. L.A. does not have a good public transit system at all. He became reliant on my sister-in-law to drive him where he needed to go and he hated to depend on anyone.

I think testing laws are not a bad idea. At the same time, we have to figure out ways to make available have effective and affordable public or private transit for those who cannot or should not drive.

Jim said...

A few hours ago I was driving up Bennington Street to my apartment. I was in the right lane, in moving traffic, and came upon an SUV that was apparently parked well out from the curb, jutting a couple of feet into traffic. I slowed to pass and as I was just about to pass it, the reverse lights go on and the vehicle's front end moves out farther to the left as it backs up. Of course, I beeped, as if to say, "Hey, be aware, I am right here." At that moment my car passes the driver's window and a woman -- not elderly and not a teenager -- turns to me and yells, "Fuck you!"

I was stunned. I hadn't done anything wrong or even rude and the woman belted out a vulgar imperative to me. All I could do was laugh because it was so crazy.

Steven said...

Driving is an inherently dangerous activity ... distractions occur from texting, cell phones, interesting signs, kids asking you a question from the back seat, music on the radio as well as many other events on the road and in the car. We will not be able to remove all of those distractions. The brain's ability to quickly recognize and make decisions based on what you is happening around you can improve driving safety significantly. Why? Because drivers will be able to ignore certain distractions and pay attention to other critical cues and take the appropriate action quickly. Pairing that with individuals taking responsibility to stop self-inflicted distractions, e.g., texting, will go a long way toward reducing the 6 million accidents that occur in the US annually.

As CEO of Posit Science, the leader in clinically-proven brain fitness software, I wanted to let you know that we just released DriveSharp. It is a software program recommended by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety that makes people safer behind the wheel by training the brain to think faster and react quicker. For more information and a free assessment of crash risk based on brain performance, please go to www.drivesharpnow.com

N.starluna said...

You know, Jim, I think I've seen that woman. Perhaps we need to add "courtesy" to the list of things driver's need to properly trained in.

Anonymous said...

I think everyone should be tested for vision,and reflexes evey 10 years as our bobies change very fast,as does our health. But dont throw them under the bus.