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#1 2013-12-15 17:54:05

btrettel
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Registered: 2013-10-01
Posts: 42

Texting while driving in Austin (2013)

I catch drivers who are obviously texting on nearly every ride I go on. Best I can figure, once I notice it, all I can do is get out of the driver's way if we're both on the road.

This seems to be a very common occurrence in Austin. What can we do to prevent texting and other distractions while driving?

I've done two things: I've talked to my friends as appropriate about the dangers of distracted driving, and suggested enforcement locations to the police. I've seemingly had some success with the former, but a few friends of mine seem incredulous that texting while driving is actually dangerous. Oh well. The latter took some work because I started with 311 and almost no one knew who the right people to talk to were. No word yet on if anything actually came of it.

Does anyone have any other ideas? Or would anyone know how we could get more consistent enforcement? I did emphasize to the police representative I was in contact with how often this occurs. But, I don't think they'll increase the number of times they enforce the law. I figure they'll just add a few new locations to their rotation.

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#2 2013-12-15 23:30:13

MichaelBluejay
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Re: Texting while driving in Austin (2013)

btrettel wrote:

What can we do to prevent texting and other distractions while driving?

Oh wow.  That's kind of like asking, how can we get people to stop being racist?

Nothing other than a radical cultural shift is going to change anything.  And radical cultural shifts are kind of hard to come by.  Certainly above my pay grade, I'm afraid.

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#3 2013-12-16 10:55:58

btrettel
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Re: Texting while driving in Austin (2013)

MichaelBluejay wrote:

Oh wow.  That's kind of like asking, how can we get people to stop being racist?

Nothing other than a radical cultural shift is going to change anything.  And radical cultural shifts are kind of hard to come by.  Certainly above my pay grade, I'm afraid.

I recognize that solving this problem on a large scale is difficult. What can we do to prevent as much distracted driving as possible?

There are many things we could at least try. Enforcement has been repeatedly shown to change behaviors (at least temporarily). I haven't read much about the effectiveness of campaigns like AT&T's recent documentary by Werner Herzog, but such things are worth considering. I also wonder about the effect of including something about distracted driving in motorist education, or even other education. There might be things worth learning from the anti-smoking movement, as well.

We also surely have many allies in motorists if we campaign against distracted driving. I know several motorists who are as strongly opposed to distracted driving as I am.

I guess I'm asking this because I'm still somewhat shocked by how much larger the fraction of motorists who drive distracted here is than it was when I lived near DC. Distracted driving was not on my radar there. I'm not sure what causes the difference, but I imagine it has something to do with the culture. (With this being said, I'd say I experienced road rage more often there.)

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#4 2013-12-16 11:57:50

MichaelBluejay
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Re: Texting while driving in Austin (2013)

Back when I tracked it, I found that about half the serious car-bike crashes in Austin were hit-and-runs.  So about HALF the drivers out there, if they hit you, are quite willing to leave you for dead.  You don't combat that kind of extreme selfishness with a public awareness campaign.  And if so many people are perfectly willing to leave you for dead, then they're *certainly* willing to text and drive.

Bottom line: people suck.  Forgive my pessimism, but after paying attention to this stuff for 20 years and not seeing it get any better, there's not much other conclusion to draw.  You're apparently new enough that you're not jaded and bitter yet.  Good for you.  I wish you luck in your campaign, and if you're successful then there will be no one more appreciative about it than I.  Until then, you can't blame me if I'm skeptical about the prospects of efficacy.

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#5 2013-12-16 15:26:23

dougmc
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Re: Texting while driving in Austin (2013)

MichaelBluejay wrote:

Back when I tracked it, I found that about half the serious car-bike crashes in Austin were hit-and-runs.  So about HALF the drivers out there, if they hit you, are quite willing to leave you for dead.

No, that doesn't follow.

Presumably most of the the people who hit and run have a reason to run, and I suspect that the #1 reason is that they're drunk, and drunk drivers are far more likely to hit you in the first place.   So you can't extrapolate from "half of the people who hit somebody" to "half of the people on the road".

That said, it's quite an interesting statistic, that roughly half of serious collisions where a car hits a cyclist or pedestrian turns into a hit and run.  (I haven't carefully tracked the statistic, but I don't really see much of a change.)  It's not true of cars hitting cars, though I suspect that that is simply because when a car hits a car hard enough to seriously injure somebody in a car -- in most cases neither car is easily drivable.

You don't combat that kind of extreme selfishness with a public awareness campaign.

Well, you can't fix it 100%, but you might be able to help.  If you can make texting while driving socially unacceptable -- that should help.  Drinking and driving is already largely there -- it used to be quite acceptable just a few decades ago.

Note that hit and runs are a different beast -- nobody drives around thinking that they're going to kill somebody and then run off, and once they do hit and kill somebody, they tend to make weigh the pros and cons of sticking around, and unfortunately if they are drunk the rational (but evil) thing to do is to flee, sober up and then lawyer up if they can, thanks to the way our laws and legal system is set up.  (The penalties don't go up too much if you leave after killing somebody, but the odds of not getting charged at all, getting acquitted or a good plea bargain go way up.)

Bottom line: people suck

Some do.  But most are good.  But for good or bad, the good people are also less likely to run you over and kill you, because they know better than to drive drunk or text while driving.

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#6 2013-12-17 09:30:05

MichaelBluejay
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Re: Texting while driving in Austin (2013)

dougmc wrote:

No, that doesn't follow. Presumably most of the the people who hit and run have a reason to run, and I suspect that the #1 reason is that they're drunk, and drunk drivers are far more likely to hit you in the first place.   So you can't extrapolate from "half of the people who hit somebody" to "half of the people on the road".

You've said that before, but you're ignoring the fact that some people don't leave the scene because:

(1) They can't (vehicle incapacitated)
(2) They're uncertain they can get away without being identified (too many witnesses)
(3) The fear that if they get caught later, the consequences would be worse.

If you add these up, I'm sure that it more than compensates for any greater tendency of drunks to flee the scene vs. non-drunks.  So I'm far, far from being convinced that much fewer than half the people on the road are willing to leave a victim for dead.  And even if it were dramatically less, say 25%, then it's still not comforting that 1 out of 4 drivers, if they hit me, are willing to leave me for dead.

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#7 2013-12-17 10:49:06

btrettel
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Re: Texting while driving in Austin (2013)

MichaelBluejay wrote:

Bottom line: people suck.  Forgive my pessimism, but after paying attention to this stuff for 20 years and not seeing it get any better, there's not much other conclusion to draw.

I understand how disappointing many years of no progress can be. In terms of efficacy, one study suggests that enforced bans on cell phone use significantly reduce their use (or at worst cause drivers to switch to hands-free devices). There appears to be much here we could do. I suppose the real issue is whether what can be done will be done.

dougmc wrote:

Well, you can't fix it 100%, but you might be able to help.  If you can make texting while driving socially unacceptable -- that should help.  Drinking and driving is already largely there -- it used to be quite acceptable just a few decades ago.

This is more or less what I am thinking. I've tried to indicate that distracted driving is totally unacceptable to me when appropriate, and I'd suspect that at least some of my acquaintances will change their behaviors because of that. Anything helps.

I've looked a bit into reasons why people run after crashes. In Austin, seems that most hit-and-runs are a result of fearing the consequences, being drunk, or being an illegal immigrant. The latter is a bit surprising to me, as I haven't heard of traffic cops enforcing immigration laws. Perhaps if traffic cops don't enforce those laws, that should be better known to prevent hit-and-runs. Hit-and-runs might be another area where progress could be made, but I don't know much about how to do that. Edit: I see I probably am wrong here. The initial cop probably won't do anything, but certainly committing crimes could cause deportation. I'm not sure what can be done about illegal immigrants here other than making it easier for them to become legal immigrants.

Last edited by btrettel (2013-12-18 23:41:08)

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#8 2013-12-17 20:49:02

rich00
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Registered: 2010-01-18
Posts: 166

Re: Texting while driving in Austin (2013)

People text and drive because most of the time (nearly all the time) they can do it without realizing how dangerous it is. It's just a matter of statistics and luck that their eyes could wander for three seconds without consequence.

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#9 2013-12-17 22:25:55

MichaelBluejay
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Re: Texting while driving in Austin (2013)

btrettel wrote:

In terms of efficacy, one study suggests that enforced bans on cell phone use significantly reduce their use (or at worst cause drivers to switch to hands-free devices).

And a switch to hands-free devices is no progress at all, since hands-free phones are just as dangerous as hand-held, or worse.

Of course I'd support a ban on all cellphone use.  And of course no politician would ever introduce such a bill.

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#10 2013-12-18 10:41:38

bizikletari
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Registered: 2009-03-18
Posts: 223

Re: Texting while driving in Austin (2013)

MichaelBluejay wrote:

Of course I'd support a ban on all cellphone use.  And of course no politician would ever introduce such a bill.

True at this point here in Austin, Texas.
Luckily the world is wider, and some good ideas sometimes come here too. Cycling came to Austin after all.

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#11 2013-12-18 16:58:22

dougmc
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Re: Texting while driving in Austin (2013)

MichaelBluejay wrote:

You've said that before, but you're ignoring the fact that some people don't leave the scene because:

(1) They can't (vehicle incapacitated)

I clearly didn't ignore that because I specifically brought it up.  Except that hitting a cyclist or pedestrian rarely incapacitates a car.   Sure, it smashes the windshield, leaves a big dent in the front -- but the car is usually still drivable.

I suspect that this factor alone is the biggest reason why we see so many more hit and runs against cyclists and pedestrians than other cars.

(2) They're uncertain they can get away without being identified (too many witnesses)
(3) The fear that if they get caught later, the consequences would be worse.

If you add these up, I'm sure that it more than compensates for any greater tendency of drunks to flee the scene vs. non-drunks.

They're certainly reasons for people to stay, yes.

But why would you think that these factors are stronger for drunks rather than sober  people?  For #3 in particular, the effect would seem to be much stronger for sober people.

If a sober guy kills a pedestrian and stays, the most likely result is a minor ticket -- and that's only if the police feel that he was responsible for the collision.
If a sober guy kills a pedestrian and flees, it's either nothing (if they don't find him) or a felony failure to stop and render aid.  This assumes that the police can find enough evidence, which is iffy.

If a drunk guy kills a pedestrian and stays, the most likely result is a felony (some sort of manslaughter,  or felony DWI) -- with a high degree of certainty.  Even if he wasn't actually responsible for the collision.
If a drunk guy kills a pedestrian and flees, the most likely result is nothing (if they don't find him) or some sort of felony failure to stop and render aid if they don't find him before he sobers up.  (If they do, then his situation does get worse.)   This assumes that the police can find enough evidence, which is iffy.

And you do agree that, all else being equal, drunks are more likely to have collisions than sober people, right?

I'd also assume that drunks are more likely to panic than a sober person when they encounter a serious problem (such as a dead person embedded in their windshield), though I don't actually know this for sure.

All in all, any time somebody does a hit and run, I assume there's some reason for them to run -- drunk, illegal immigrant, no insurance, no license, etc.  I imagine some percentage of people just panic when they have no reason to run too, but I suspect that percentage is small.

Considering that in most of the cases where they found the car later it just so happened that the owner was found to be out drinking the night before, and yet they never get hit with anything alcohol related unless the police can find them while drunk ... I'm going with the cause of the fleeing to be mostly due to the driver being drunk.  And unfortunately, if you kill a pedestrian as a drunk driver, the rational thing to do, if your primary goal is to reduce your consequences, is to flee if you can and deal with it after you've sobered and lawyered up.

So I'm far, far from being convinced that much fewer than half the people on the road are willing to leave a victim for dead.  And even if it were dramatically less, say 25%, then it's still not comforting that 1 out of 4 drivers, if they hit me, are willing to leave me for dead.

Well, I don't have a study to show it, but certainly, I believe that drunk drivers are more likely to have fatal collisions than sober ones, and they have far more incentive to flee the scene of the collision.  Both facts will make them appear far more in fatal hit and run cases, but exactly how much more is hard to determine.

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#12 2013-12-18 17:29:01

MichaelBluejay
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Re: Texting while driving in Austin (2013)

But why would you think that these factors are stronger for drunks rather than sober people?

I don't.  My point was the opposite.  You're arguing that it's not really true that 50% of drivers are willing to leave us for dead if they hit us, because the kind of people who are more likely to have wrecks (drunks) are more likely to flee the scene.  I'm saying that after you correct for that bias, you also have to correct in the other direction for people who don't flee the scene only because they can't or because they're scared they won't get away with it.

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#13 2013-12-18 18:48:02

dougmc
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Re: Texting while driving in Austin (2013)

MichaelBluejay wrote:

I'm saying that after you correct for that bias

You only correct for that bias if you're trying to go from "50% of fatal auto/pedestrian or cyclist collisions result in a hit and run" to "X% of drivers on the road are willing to leave you for dead."

you also have to correct in the other direction for people who don't flee the scene only because they can't or because they're scared they won't get away with it.

Ok, I see what you're saying now.  I misunderstood where you were going with that.

My original idea was that If these biases affect drunks and sober people equally, then you don't correct for them at all if you're trying to do the extrapolation I listed above.  You only correct for them if you have a reason to believe that they're more likely to affect one group than the other.

But I see, you're looking at intent too, and want to add back in the people who *want* to flee, but can't -- because people are watching, or their car is too smashed to move, or they're just afraid of the consequences of that.  (Though I've never heard of a car on cyclist/pedestrian collision making the car unmovable.)

Alas, I know of no way at all to quantify the percentage of people who want to flee, but can't, or choose not to because they're afraid of the consequences.  It could be close to 100%.

But the truth is that our legal system gives drunks a very strong incentive to flee, and unfortunately that's difficult to fix within the bounds of the Constitution.  (If we could just assume that every time there was a hit and run that the owner of the vehicle was 1) the driver, unless they can identify the real driver or point to a police report filed previously about their stolen vehicle, and 2) was drunk (and sentence accordingly), that would largely fix the problem -- and probably throw a few innocent people into prison and trample the Constitution while they did it.)

That incentive doesn't really exist for sober people, but might to a lesser degree if they have no insurance, or are illegal immigrants or such.  (Though the reality is -- the penalties for those things are relatively small compared to intoxication manslaughter and similar crimes.)

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#14 2013-12-18 23:35:34

MichaelBluejay
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Re: Texting while driving in Austin (2013)

dougmc wrote:

I've never heard of a car on cyclist/pedestrian collision making the car unmovable.

http://bicycleaustin.info/justice/detai … #churchill

The driver flipped his SUV in that one.

Your point is well-taken that the hit-and-run rate could be high because the kinds of people who are likely to flee are more likely to be involved in crashes in the first place.  You're probably right on that score.  But at the same time, I think many of the people who don't flee, would in fact have fled if they thought they could get away with it.  No matter how you slice it, a non-trivial percentage of people are willing to leave us for dead if they hit us -- even if we can't nail down the exact percentage.

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