How the NTSB Can Really Meet Its Goals

DrRich | December 15th, 2011 - 1:55 pm


DrRich wants to record his sympathy for the recommendation, made by the National Transportation Safety Board this week, that all cell phone use by automobile drivers be banned at the federal level. When our government gives us new rules that are for our own good, we should be thankful and not critical.

The caterwauling we’re hearing from some Conservatives over this issue is a gross overreaction, and entirely unreasonable. For one thing, the carnage being produced by cell-phone-using drivers has exploded beyond all reason, and we simply cannot be expected to wait for each of the state governments to act, each at its own leisurely pace.

Furthermore, we should all recognize that regulating the cell phone usage of Americans, especially while Americans are behind the wheel, is now well within the purview of the federal government. This is because, under Obamacare, the Feds are ultimately on the hook to pay for all the extra medical care being generated by the automobile accidents caused by these thoughtless drivers. Indeed, Obamacare ultimately gives the Feds the authority to regulate all human activity that impacts the likelihood that people will need to engage the healthcare system – from what you eat to what hobbies you take up.

The recommended ban on cell phones was based entirely on scientific data, and certainly cannot be assailed from that aspect. The case that reportedly prompted the NTSB to take up this issue was that of the Missouri man who apparently caused a fatal accident whilst texting. We cannot ask the perpetrator himself about it, since he died in the accident, but all the news reports say that he had sent 11 text messages in the 10 minutes prior to the accident. That, to the uninformed, is an actual statistic. Evidence like that certainly constitutes all the justification the Feds could ever be expected to provide for a ban on all cell-phone usage, both texting and talking, both hand-held and hands-free.

Some, of course, have questioned the recommendation that even hands-free cell phones should be banned. If you are among these sadly uninformed individuals, DrRich points you to a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette addressing this very issue, in which Carnegie Mellon University neuroscientist Marcel Just explains, “listening to someone on the other end of the phone reduces the brain activity associated with driving by more than one-third.”

So there you go. The message from neuroscience is clear.  Just the act of listening to a conversation while you are behind the wheel increases your risk by 33%.  And unlike Conservatives (who always seem to fight against the logical application of scientific fact for reasons of practicality, ethics, tradition, religion or out-and-out denial), the Progressives on the NTSB simply followed the science. Cell phones should be banned, whether hand-held or hands-free.

Indeed, one can argue that the NTSB was too timid with their recommendations.  Obviously, this 33% increase in risk will not depend on whether the conversation you are listening to is being piped through your car speakers by some sort of Bluetooth arrangement, or whether it is being generated by the person in the passenger’s seat.  Listening, after all, is listening. And settled science says: no listening while driving.

Earlier today DrRich and his beloved spouse of some 37 years, Mrs. DrRich, were driving somewhere for some purpose or another that was none of DrRich’s doing, and he decided to test out this proposition. So when she started in with her deadly habit of talking to him while he was driving, thus attempting to engage him in a potentially fatal listening process, DrRich politely invited her to immediate silence for the duration of the trip, admonishing, “Don’t be such a menace to our society! You’ll have the FBI upon us in minutes!”  This tactic worked out so well that not only did she remain silent for the entire trip, but has maintained that silence to this very moment, and seems to be willing to continue it for quite some time. At least we were not killed in a traffic accident.

Undoubtedly the NTSB will be greatly disappointed, a few years from now, when they re-do their statistics and find out that a lot of people are still dying in automobile accidents despite the ban on cell phones. DrRich knows this because he can remember way back to the day when there were no cell phones, and can recall that our highways were every bit the charnel house they are today.  Presumably, this is at least partially because conversations took place in automobiles even before cell phones were invented.

But fear not, for there will be plenty of other things for the Feds to ban to make our highways safer. For instance, if listening to a simple conversation while driving is a deadly act, then surely one must ban listening to talk shows, which just get everybody mad anyway. It must also be true that radios themselves, and MP3 players, and all in-car entertainment systems ought to go, for just think how very distracting it all is. And children. They definitely ought to ban children from ever riding in cars.

You see, dear reader, as scientifically pure and as well meaning as our Central Authority is,  and however much we may sympathize with their intent, the government is going about this all wrong. If the Feds want to limit the healthcare expenses they are shelling out for people injured in traffic accidents, the best way to do this will not be to try to come up with regulations to prevent drivers from being distracted. Drivers will always be distracted, even if you strip the cockpit of automobiles down to a steering wheel, accelerator and brakes. They will be distracted by a hangnail, or by a song coursing through their heads, or by rehearsing an apology to (say) an angry spouse, or by something they see out the window. Regulating away all driving distractions is impossible.

Once again, the Progressives’ program for societal perfection smacks up against human nature.  Getting the great unwashed to always act for the good of the collective – to put aside their propensity to become distracted while driving, say, or to stop trying to accumulate personal wealth -  quickly becomes an extremely frustrating endeavor for Progressives leaders, and it is what invariably seems to lead them to purges and pogroms, or at least to sundry exercises in eugenics. In the case of regulating distracted driving for the benefit of the collective, Progressives might as well take a lesson from history and just cut right to the chase.

For if the Feds really want to save all that money they’re now spending patching up survivors of automobile accidents, there’s a way that is guaranteed to work, and it’s not that far removed from where Progressives always seem to wind up anyway:

1) Remove seat belts and airbags from all cars.
2) Eliminate the speed limit on US highways.
3) Make sure tethered cell phones are installed as standard equipment in all cars.
4) Several times each day, announce over the radio a contest in which the Federal government will award $5,000, tax free, to the next 100 callers.
5) Use a different call-in number each time, to require manual dialing.

There will be few survivors.

Call it self-selected eugenics. And since Obamacare does not offer to pay for funerals, it will all be good.

3 Responses to “How the NTSB Can Really Meet Its Goals”

  1. Stirner says:

    Such an approach would also have beneficial effects on the supply of donor organs.

  2. People don’t like others to use cell phones because they recognize the risk (cost) imposed on them. But, they use their own cell phones because they receive the benefit, and correctly see the benefit to themselves as much greater than the added risk.

    Should You Be Allowed To Use Your Cellular Phone While Driving?
    Regulation (2000) PDF By Hahn, Tetlock, and Burnett
      An economic analysis of cellphone benefits vs ban. $5 billion cost of use vs $20 Billion benefit. They estimated cellphone use in vehicles causes 300 fatalities per year (range 10 to 1,000). Assuming the same percentage of accidents as fatalities yields a best estimate of 38,000 accidents causing injuries (range 1,300 to 130,000). Cellular phone use contributes to an estimated 0.74% of total accidents.

    Ban Cell Phones In Cars?
    12/2000 – Cato Institute by Jason Burnett, Robert Hahn and Paul Tetlock
    === ===
    [edited]  A prudent regard for safety doesn’t imply cell phones should be banned. Americans are willing to tolerate some 41,000 deaths yearly from car accidents. If we wish to decisively curtail automobile deaths, the national speed limit should be set at 10 miles per hour and vigorously enforced–yet we’re not willing to do that, because that inconvenience outweighs the pleasure and efficiency of being able to get places quickly.
    === ===

  3. Ludovica says:

    Thank God the NTSB has no power to enact even a regulation. The FAA igonre them often. Hopefully the state legislatures will do the same. I’m getting very tired of nanny state government actions.On the other side I have no problem with manditory jail time for drivers that cause injury if they are using a phone and driving.

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