Episode Information

WWL: Driving to Distraction
Where We Live - with John Dankosky
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In this episode:

Why we drive the way we do.


Episode Audio

49:02 minutes (23.54 MB)
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Guess what!? You’re not as good a driver as you think you are. 

It’s true. We can’t all be “above average” drivers, but most Americans rate themselves that way. And that’s at least partially because most of us drive every day without incident. Even though we’re talking on our phones. Illegally. If the law isn’t enough to get you to hang up, consider this: 6,000 people died last year in car crashes involving a distracted driver. More than half a million people were injured.

Last month, President Obama signed an executive order prohibiting federal employees from sending text messages while driving government vehicles. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the order yesterday, at the culmination of a national summit on distracted driving. Today, Where We Live, we’ll explore a whole list of strange things we do and think behind the wheel with Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do (and What It Says About Us). We’ll also hear from an NTSB official about the summit, and from Consumer Reports about the technologies already out there to help keep drivers focused and safe.

You can join the conversation!  Leave your questions and comments below or email us at [email protected]

*This program originally aired on October 2, 2009.

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Listener Email from Cliff

Great program.

Unclear is if this program now being broadcast is live or not, but one question I have on this topic of distracted driving is whether any of these studies cited on distracted driving look at the differences between hands-free headsets versus holding phones versus in-car cellular integration systems.

Having used all three of these different systems over time, I find that the largest distraction I have found is simply the sheer act of fumbling with the cable, trying to adjust volume on weak volume of bluetooth headsets, or dialing a number on a cell phone by hand. In upgrading to my current in-car system where calls are automatically connected and played over the speakers of the car, I find myself much more able to focus on the road, keep hands on the wheel, and feel like I am in control of the car.

Given that car manufacturers have been remarkably slow in integrating cellular integration as standard equipment, are statistics on in-car accidents inordinately skewed to exclude to a world of awkward headset cables and in-hand cellular conversations?

It seems like most folks here in CT are still not even aware of what technologies can be used in a car. If you do not have to fumble with dialing numbers or looking off the road to answer a call, it seems like talking on a cell phone would be roughly the same level of distraction from having a conversation with someone else in the car.

Thanks for continuing great content!

Listener Email from Gregory

Good morning - I honestly almost had an incident driving in this morning while looking down to change the radio station to "Where we live". As I was doing so I was merging on the exit from 384 to 291 when the driver of car that was in front of me must have realized he missed his exit and cut across the diverging lanes in front of me. I had to break a little but if it had been a second or two later, an impact may have been possible.

In addition, in response to the caller who said we need more police on the road, the police need to also drive responsibility. I was almost side swiped several years ago by an off duty state trooper in an unmarked car who was speeding to get around me just as I was changing lanes to get out of his way. He gave me a ticket for an improper lane change which I contested and had thrown out. The police are their to protect us on the road; not to endanger us and unless responding to a call should abide by the safety laws as the rest of us.

Listener Email from Steve

My idea...
A device(mandatory) in ALL vehicles that monitors if a cell phone is active only while the vehicle is moving. If detected, a substantial file is automatically sent to the owner of the vehicle. If the device is disconnected, a signal is sent to a central monitoring station. The car is confiscated, the owner fined heavily and relieved of his/her license for 2 years. That's my dream idea!

Traffic/Driving saftey show comment

I can appreciate the dangers of driving distracted and can't imagine how someone could drive and text at the same time (I can't text easily on dry land).

Some of the worst instances I've seen of driving distracted though have been by people who are militant in their opposition to people driving while on the cell phone. One day not long ago I followed a woman in the right lane for four long exits on I-84 as she attempted to drive exactly next to a car in the left lane because he was on a cell phone. He was driving in control with the flow of traffic, but she was swerving around, speeding up/slowing down, driving irratically and even running off the road in her attempt to flick him off, flail her arms at him and yell while holding her fingers to her own ears like a cell phone. It is a true wonder she didn't kill soneome with her attempt to make the road "safer."

Though she is an extreme example, I see this behavior alot and would love to hear you point out on the show that this behavior qualifies as distracted driving just as much as talking on a cell phone.

Listener email from Dave

Great and scary show. Can your guest comment on the idea of punishing these activities similarly to DWI? I thought I heard phone or texting can be as bad as such and such level of alcohol. Since the consequences and dangers are the same, shouldn't the punishments be?

Facebook comment from Fred

"Driving has become so easy... auto trans etc... that we as humans are able? to handle it along with other tasks. It seems no one wants to concentrate on driving anymore.... SO why not automate the experience and let drivers do whatever while in the car? This would save gas.... no slowing down for no reason.... and get everyone to where they want to go.... along with doing whatever they want to in the car... Inet surfing, talking, texting, makeup, personal hygiene, etc.. etc...."

Listener email from Jeff

I wonder if you could talk about the regional differences across the country in driving etiquette. I lived in Michigan for years and car culture there makes for lousy driving where drivers habitually run stop lights and signs. Also isnt there a law against driving and using a cell phone in Connecticut. I see drivers talking all the time whether Im in my car or walking.

Listener email from Kevin

I was wondering if Tom had studied the difference b/t drivers in manual and automatic transmission vehicles. One might expect a manual transmission to lead to hot-rodding, but I drive two manual transmission vehicles and feel that because I have to constantly shift, I am more in touch with the vehicle and thus more aware of the conditions around me.

Listener email from W. Hartford Police Chief Jim Strillacci

"One of your callers said that police are not enforcing the ban on use of cell-phones whiole driving. Two comments:

1. Connecticut didn't prohibit this till Oct., 2005, giving CT drivers time to become habituated to driving while phoning. It's hard to persuade motorists to give up a convenience which used to be perfectly legal.

2. Enforcement is an additional duty, but there are no additional police to enforce it.

New technology creates new offenses all the time (internet crime, e-mail harassment, identity theft) and there are never any more cops. We can't possibly tag every violator we see; there are just too many. It will take education as well as enforcement to change driver attitudes.