Butcher’s Bill for Texting While Driving

In my LA Times piece “Texters, You’d Be Better off Driving Drunk,” Oct. 3, I stated “There are no reliable studies regarding deaths associated with driving and texting.” Well, there is now.

Texting behind the wheel accounted for 16,141 deaths between 2002 and 2007, according to Researchers from the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Ft. Worth. One way of putting that in context is that in the last 10 years NHTSA has attributed five (5) deaths to sudden unintended acceleration in Toyotas, four in one car. So where are all the newspaper articles and congressional hearings on text messaging?

To arrive at their number, Fernando A. Wilson and Jim P. Stimpson, writing in the Nov. issue of the American Journal of Public Health, analyzed nationwide data from the Fatality Accident Reporting System and texting records from the Federal Communications Commission and CTIA, a wireless telecom industry group.

They compared the number of deaths there have been versus those that would have occurred if there were no text messaging.

And it’s only going to get worse. The average monthly number of text messages was 1 million in 2002, but by 2008 it was 110 million.

Panic over five deaths and complacency over 16,000? Not untypical. Since my first AIDS article in 1987 it’s been a common theme of mine that the media, the government, and people in general aren’t just irrational about reducing risks but actually tend to view them butt-backwards. The more rare something is, the more attention it gets along with more regulations. The more common something is, the more used to it we are and are willing to accept it.

Cassandra is not just the stuff of Greek legends.