Texting while driving

Is texting while driving dangerous? I have always thought the answer self-evident, though perhaps that's just another cognitive bias of intuition. Tyler Cowen points to an economic paper (PDF) that seeks but can't find evidence of a surge in accidents from increased cell phone usage.

Cell phone ownership (i.e., cellular subscribers/population) has grown sharply since 1988, average use per subscriber has risen from 140 to 740 minutes a month since 1993, and surveys indicate that as many as 81 percent of cellular owners use their phones while driving—yet aggregate crash rates have fallen substantially over this period.

In particular, the study looks at a spike in calls from moving vehicles at 9pm, when many cell phone plans transition from peak to off-peak rates. Such a spike exists, but a corresponding rise in crash rates was not detected.

To me the study seems flawed in that a phone call, especially with the rise of Bluetooth and hands-free devices, seems less dangerous than trying to tap out a text message, which requires a long period of focusing your eyes on your handset and tapping with some precision on a tiny keyboard. 

The rise of services like Uber help, but it may just be that making humans better or even just less emotional drivers has its natural limits. Self-driving cars can't come fast enough in some ways. 

I still want to scream every time I see a driver peeking at their phone while driving, and that was even before I saw the Werner Herzog short documentary "From One Second to the Next"  which was commissioned by AT&T.

I was reminded of Darren Aronofsky's short PSA's against the use of meth. The first one I saw from that series The Meth Project really jolted me at the time, it was one of the earliest of the PSA's that employed the shock and awe strategy that I can remember seeing on TV. 

Baby steps towards self-driving cars

My brother has a new Mercedes GL that I rode in over the holiday break. One feature I thought was very clever was a triangular light on either side mirror that would light up if another car was in the blind spot. If you don't look over your shoulders and only glance at your side mirrors when changing lanes, it's a useful, if not life-saving feature.

That's among several innovative safety features available for the GL like auto braking and lane integrity maintenance, though many come only as paid add-ons. None of these will approach Google's self-driving cars in terms of impact on the world, but it's good to see car manufacturers innovating on safety by assisting humans with active disaster avoidance technology.

Incidentally, I saw my first Google self-driving car today as I came out of lunch. It was parked at the curb just outside Marlowe in SOMA. I have no idea if it drove itself there. It had a camera mounted on its roof that was spinning rapidly, perhaps serving as one of its eyes. Some are intrigued by Google Glasses, but I find self-driving cars to be Google's most compelling project. The global impact of self-driving cars will be many times greater.