Friday, March 19, 2010

Distracted driving

The Nebraska Legislature has been pontificating this week about the problem of distracted driving.  Legislative Bill 945 advanced on a first- round vote Monday.  The bill prohibits texting-while-driving: composing, sending or reading text messages, emails, web pages, and so forth while driving.  My personal favorite in this category occurred three years ago. Back in May of 2007 I reported here in the Chief's Corner my observation of a driver at 9th and South Streets in Lincoln who was brushing his teeth. 

Not that I'm opposed to good oral hygiene, but there sure is a lot of bad driving out there. Like everyone else it seems to me that I see a lot of lane-straddling weavers driving like ding-a-lings driving 10 MPH under the limit, only to pull up alongside and notice the driver yammering on the cellphone.  And don't get me started about the aggressive driving.  I hear from people all the time complaining about speeders, red light runners, tooth brushers, and big talkers.  It seems to me that bad driving is epidemic. 

Or is it?


Anonymous said...

I think existing law is sufficient on this issue. Introducing and passing a specific bill that only focuses on one type of distraction is just a way to get one's constituents to stop e-mailing and calling.

Anonymous said...

Lincoln traffic lights are best made without a stop if you drive 5 to 10 mph under ( HW 2 48th to 10th street). The green seems to happen far more often if you drive slower than the posted speed.
Another example is the Big X (antlpe Vly Pkwy)Vine to Adams.
Those lights never go with the flow.
O street from from 48 to 56th is timed well. Other than that section, the traffic lights are great gas wasting tools. Try 12th K to L street sometime, bring a book to this mess of timing. And as for O street from 10th to 19th, you can watch an entire DVD.

Dave said...

I had figured that this was sort of a none sense feel-good law, like a lot of laws are.

However, my opinion changed when I was downtown one day, stopped at the light at 17th and O st, when a LPS school bus pulled along side me. I glanced over and notice the large woman driving the bus, was texting on her cell phone!

That literally floored me, then I thought of that law and thought to myself, "I guess it is needed after all."

A school bus driver? C'mon, what business does that woman have with a cell-phone in her hands, while driving a school bus? Granted, it was empty, devoid of school children, but it still made me shake my head and wonder "why?"

Timmy Fireballs said...

Chief... would you mind giving my girlfriend a call? She has many bad driving habits including texting and putting on makeup while behind the wheel. She doesn't seem to listen to me. If a call isn't in the cards, how about some advice on how to get her to listen?

Anonymous said...

Chief, how do you really feel about this law? To me this is just "feel good" legislation. There are already laws that cover weaving,straddling etc. How is this law going to be enforced? If you see someone pushing digits on their phone and stop them, They will just say "I was dialing, not texting". It will take a subpoena to get the information needed to make a case. I only see this really enforced in cases of a fatal or serious car crash. They should just ban the use of cell phones while driving. This law is about as crazy as making a law to ban eating a hamburger while driving. At least I can prove they were eating a hamburger. The wrapper and ketchup on their face would be great evidence.

Anonymous said...

the traffic lights on 56th from O to hwy 2 work best driving 2 mph over the speed limit

Grundle King said...

But Jim J, they WANT to to waste gas! How else are they going to buy more cold patch without that wonderful city fuel tax?!

Anonymous said...

"And as for O street from 10th to 19th, you can watch an entire DVD."

Tom Casady said...


I have sort of a mixed emotions, personally. You've already got a violation for negligent driving for the type of behavior I described, whether is caused by your iPod, your Blackberry, or just plain HUA. I think it's virtually unenforceable, unless a driver involved in a crash admits it, or unless it occurs in a major crash with critical injuries or fatalities, where we seek cell phone records in the course of the investigation.

On the other hand, just because it will only rarely be enforced doesn't mean that its a bad thing. The vast majority of people obey laws because they are laws--not because they are afraid of being caught. The law encourages lawful behavior via several different mechanisms, only one of which is enforcement. As an example, I would not want my grandkids, my neighbors, or my boss to see me driving without wearing a seat belt. The law is not the reason I wear it, but if I wasn't a fanatic about it the first place, the passage of the law would make me one. Ditto with texting. If this law passes, I'll put the crackberry in my briefcase on the back seat, just so I'm not even tempted to glance at my emails.

Anonymous said...

In other words, the city government had not formally taken a position on this pending legislation, and for that reason, any city official that weighed-in on this issue would have to stay middle-of-the-road in their expressed opinion.

Tom Casady said...


Yes, that's true, but it also happens to be the way I really feel. Otherwise, I'd just keep my opinion to myself.

Anonymous said...

Chief-Off topic but food for thought and maybe a future post. Last night I heard an interesting statistic. In England, there are 2034 violent crimes/100,000 population, up 77% since 1998. In the USA there are 466 violent crimes/100,000 population. I'd be interested in your thoughts sometime. This was on the NRA Channel and of course they have their own opinion as to why this is occuring.


Tom Casady said...


I'd love to dig into the details of that data I suspect that the 466/100,000 is FBI Part 1 Violent Crimes--rape, robbery, murder, and aggravated assault. If the UK data reported by the NRA is accurate, I'll almost guarantee you it is not an apples-and-oranges comparison, Among other things, I'd suspect that it includes crimes non-aggravated, misdemeanor assaults that would not be refelcted in FBI Part 1 data. Hard to say, without getting into the details.

Last year in Lincoln, we had 4,501 assaults (aggravated and non-aggravated) reported to LPD, 4 murder, 126 rapes, and 190 robberies. Add those up, divide by our population, and you get 1,931 violent crimes per 1000000. If you tossed in a few hundred other crimes that most people would call "violent" (molest, child sexual assault, false imprisonments, etc.) I think you'd find little difference between Lincoln, NE and Lincoln, UK. My impression after 5 days in London in 2005 was this: same thing with a different accent, and bar break at 2300 instead of 0100.

I suspect the real difference isn't in the rate of violence, it is in its severity, and I'm quite certain we occupy a special place among western democracies on that list.

Anonymous said...

I can't wait for this

"Attention all units, OMV green Ford lic-(insert plate here), SB on 9th from O street, w/m texting while driving". Oh that's gonna get old.

Anonymous said...

There's some dispute over how crime is classified over there. The real numbers and rates are likely much higher than the official figures. The linked stories related to that story are also quite interesting.

Anonymous said...

Actually, my initial thoughts were that this had to be an apples/oranges comparison due to reporting inconsistencies. In fact, the reporter said that a murder is not classified as a murder in the UK until someone has been convicted of the crime. The reporter painted a picture that made it sound like there are a whole bunch of countries where violent crime is significantly higher than here in the US. I found it a little hard to believe. He really railed on Mexico, an easy target. I was in El Paso in December, which according to them is one of the most safe places in the US. Yet a few feet away is Juarez which recorded it's 4000th homicide for 2009 the day I was there. My experience with crime stats is limited. But, I find the topic interesting.


Anonymous said...

I'll preface this by saying that I don't ever text, not while driving, and in fact not at any other time either. I chose to disable receiving texts with my provider, and I think texting is a backward step in communication. Voice is simply more efficient for short dialogues. If I want to type a comm, I'll pull over, open up the netbook with the USB cell dongle, and use a real keyboard and screen to send an e-mail, then pull back onto the road. If I ever answer or make an important voice call in the car, on a non-demanding stretch of road in light traffic, the car has built-in hands-free, so I never have anything in my hands but the steering wheel, not a phone, not a travel mug, not a shaver, not a sausage biscuit - nothing.

I do understand that texting is a plus for some, especially in very noisy environments (like reporting belligerent stadium drunks to UNLPD during a game), or when they must comm stealthily (like texting LPD in a domestic violence situation).

That being said, what I took away, after looking at your graph, was that with a higher percentage of motorists (and the population as a whole) having cell phones, and a higher percentage of those phones being text-friendly with full mini-keyboards (physical or virtual), we'd expect to see an upward trend in accident rates in recent years - if texting was indeed the hazard that it's made out to be. The graph shows no such upward trend, and you probably have the data at hand to tell me if that stagnant or even slightly downward rate trend exists nationally as well, both in states with and without texting bans.

I think the old media has ginned up this so-called texting hazard thing like they do with so many other kerfluffles, from a statistically-insignificant hanful of accidents. Anything to attract viewers/readers, because they're losing viewers and readers (and thus advertising dollars) like the sinking ship that the old media is.

mike said...

chief, can you comment on the bar brawl at main street and the girl sent to the e.r.????? I was wondering if this particular bar has a history of brawls??? and the condition of the girl injured.



D. said...

Chief, I don't get this. I happen to be neighbors with a law enforcement officer. There have been stories shared where he caught someone in the act simply by pulling up next to them at a stop light or even passing them on the road. These are things they are doing inside the car. He is trained to be observant. So I would ask why we would not already enforce a law such as negligent driving when an officer sees the person texting. To pull them over and ticket them. I think even you have said you have observed it. I know I certainly have and in some cases I can tell just by how they are holding up traffic (later confirmed when I get next to them). (I also wonder why we don't actively ticket people who do not strap their children in the car with child endangerment - why is it a accident must occur before these tickets are issued).

Next, with the weather this winter I have been alarmed at the number of drivers who do not clean off their window. The worst I saw was a driver with a small spot on the windshield about 3x5in clear the rest of all the glass was frosted over. Now I know your crew gets busy with accidents but I would think this is a violation of some sort and why don't you enforce it. This idea came to light because that same guy was sitting next to one of your cruisers at a stop light.

Finally, I'll admit it, I probably fall into the category of road rager. Not because I am just an inconsiderate ass. Because they are. I don't like it when you text while driving which causes you to drive slower than the speed limit but the minute that light changes yellow you speedup. Makes no difference if you just screwed the rest of us sitting in the turn lane. I have many more but my all time favorite.... Nebraskans and all their "rights" drive in the left hand lane regardless of how it affect the flow of traffic. This is incredibly bad on the interstate but I also see it in town. In fact in the Nebraska Driver's manual sections 4a-2;4b-3;5a-2;6f-1 and even #36 on the practice test all speak to this very thing - Slower traffic stay right. I use this as an example. I know it would be hard to judge the effect on traffic in town. The interstate though is very evident when you have 25 cars in the fast lane backed up behind Joe Nebraska slowly driving to his I hate Obama/Health care bill rally. The whole point is...I wouldn't rage if you people were so damn inconsiderate. There have been time where I "angered" another driver and instead of me fingering them as a a-hole I apologized and made any attempt I had to say I was sorry. I'll ask myself what I may have done. I worry about being inconsiderate to those who don't deserve it. To the others who are a-hole. They get the finger and whatever else I can think of.

Thanks Chief!

I know you are gonna give me the lecture on being a rager.