Can We Please Have A Grownup Discussion About Distracted Driving?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released a new study on distracted driving [PDF]. According to the agency, 9 percent of total fatal crashes in 2010 (2,843 of 30,196) were “distraction-affected” (D-A). This does not mean that the distracted driver was at fault; rather, it means that a driver involved in a crash reported to the police that they were distracted in some way. Of the D-A fatal crashes, 12 percent involved a cell phone distraction. Of total fatal crashes, cell phone distraction affected barely 1 percent.

If you were to listen to the Obama administration’s increasingly bizarre propaganda, you would probably come away thinking that cell phones are the biggest auto-related killer. In reality, they are but one potential distraction under the “D-A” banner, which itself is a subset of inattentive driving. In fact, according to NHTSA, drivers “lost in thought” are involved in 20 percent of D-A crashes and 1.9 percent of total fatal crashes. But this has not led Obama’s secretary of transportation to condemn the “national epidemic” of daydreaming-while-driving and recommend useless (and likely counterproductive) laws to combat it.

To be sure, using a cell phone while driving increases crash risk, but so what? NHTSA found that “adjusting audio and/or climate controls” was a distraction factor in about 2 percent of fatal D-A crashes. Should we expect a proportional public service announcement campaign? I would hope not.

Doing anything unrelated to the core task of driving while driving increases risk. Driver education should stress this point, but singling out a small risk factor and referring to a nationwide ban on texting-while-driving as “a good next step,” as Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood did today at an event sponsored by AT&T, is both stupid and intellectually dishonest. Drivers should be treated like adults and given a sober perspective on the risks of distracted driving, not infantilized by clueless bureaucrats who employ scare tactics and push for more nanny state laws and regulations.