A Buffalo News Opinion piece accused the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of suppressing and ignoring data about the dangers of not just hand-held mobile phones while driving, but hands-free devices as well.
It is true that there are a number of studies that show how distracted driving – which can mean anything from chatting on the phone, arguing with other vehicle passengers, playing with the on-board GPS system, or changing songs on a car MP3 player – is just as dangerous as driving with a .08% BAC in your bloodstream.
And we’ve noted before that texting while driving is even more dangerous than driving while impaired. Which makes sense, since texting requires more concentration and attention paid for longer durations that changing the song on the stereo.
So it is an absolutely legitimate point to question why these activities are not penalized with criminal charges nor demonized by the media to anything near the degree of drunk driving cases.
The author of the editorial, Sarah Longwell, attempts to paint a picture of a corrupt congress, willfully burying the facts about the danger of distracted driving, due to the influence of millions of dollars in campaign contributions from the auto industry. Ever increasingly complex car gadgets like bluetooth-enabled hands-free teleconferencing mobile networking espresso makers do sell cars. And the car companies have a vested interest in keeping this going, so buying off the lawmakers to ignore the issue and the danger is plausible.
Or perhaps the more simple explanation is that there is no huge constituency of decades long advocacy against distracted driving, unlike with anti drunk driving groups like MADD. There are new organizations advocating against texting while driving, but that is a relatively new interest group. Congresspeople not only respond to contributions, but they also listen to these organized interest groups who lobby hard and garner public attention and opinion.
And speaking of lobbying groups, it may be difficult for many in the public to take an article railing against the influence of lobbyists working against the public good seriously, when that spokesperson works for the American Beverage Institute. The ABI is a lobbying group that defends “responsible consumption of adult beverages” for it’s clients, the restaurant and bar industry.
Again, alcohol consumption is a perfectly legal activity, and it is fine to defend against many of the crazy MADD people who are openly ne0-prohibitionist, and think all vehicles should have ignition alcohol monitors that don’t allow cars to stop if the driver has any detectable amount of alcohol in his or her system. They would gladly shut down all restaurants and bars that serve a single drink to anyone who will drive home, and maybe everyone else, too.
But I’m not sure this line of reasoning is very convincing from another lobbyist with a clear vested business interest as well.