Hypocrisy at the wheel

Many years and dozens of studies ago, the National Safety Council called for a ban on all phoning-and-driving, including hands-free devices, because research showed their use to be as dangerous as driving and talking with cell phones — which has been determined to be about the same as driving while drunk, distraction-wise.

How did some states, including ours, respond? By passing laws making it legal to drive and talk with “hands-free” devices.

How did some automakers respond? By building and heavily advertising vehicles that come with “dashboard infotainment systems” that respond to one’s voice commands. (If spoken quite clearly and slowly.)

(Coming soon: The NSA dashboard-info-gatherer, with its secrets-per-mile algorithm.)

So it comes as no surprise that a study released last week by AAA shows that talking on a hands-free phone isn’t safer than holding a phone, and using hands-free devices that translate speech into text is the most distracting of all, researchers reported. (Emphasis ours.)

“People aren’t seeing what they need to see to drive. That’s the scariest part to me,” Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, told Newsday.

That’s because the greater the concentration required to perform a task, the more likely a driver is to develop what researchers call “tunnel vision” or “inattention blindness.” Drivers will continue to look straight ahead (while ignoring side and rearview mirrors) but fail to see what’s in front of them, like red lights and pedestrians, researchers say.

Predictably, the auto industry disagrees.

“We are extremely concerned that it could send a misleading message, since it suggests that hand-held and hands-free devices are equally risky,” the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said.

Focusing on which is riskier — hand-held or hands-free — ignores the larger issue, and mountains of scientific evidence, that both are dangerous.

Is it because we can’t measure someone’s blood for cell-phone use after an accident that refuse to take this seriously? Or is it because those who ignore the law and/or scientific evidence cross all income and education levels? As many studies have shown, over and over again, people who drive and talk on the phone believe the habit poses a danger when practiced by others, but are completely confident that they, themselves, are perfectly safe drivers.

The aforementioned “attention blindness” means that car-phone talkers are often unaware of any danger they may pose, the speed they are going, or close scrapes avoided by the defensive driving of others. They aren’t in a position to evaluate the quality of their driving.

Let this be your command: “No calls, no texts, no Tweets.”

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