Live-blogging Midmorning: Distracted driving and taking risks

On the heels of last week methodology-flawed and poorly reported study that distracted driving laws in Minnesota and other states don’t work, we’re talking risky driving today and looking for your feedback.

I’m looking for your stories of encounters with the distracted driver, or — if you are looking for absolution — your confessions. But beyond that, we’re talking about the risks you take that you know have a high chance of misfortune, but you take them anyway.

The guests on today’s show are:

* David Pizarro: is Assistant Professor of psychology at Cornell University.

* Craig Fox: is Professor of Policy and psychology at UCLA.

* Kathleen Vohs: is Professor of Marketing at the University of Minnesota.

Listen on the radio and talk with us in the comments section below.

Here are Kerri’s questions:

Can we bring the kind of social pressure that eventually built against drunk driving.. to bear on distracted driving? Can we make texting while you drive the kind of social no-no that smoking has become? Do we need to combine tougher laws with ethical arguments?

9:09 a.m. – Prof. Fox says in matters of economics, we don’t like risk so much. People would take a guaranteed $5,000 over the chance of winning much more. “We’re all given to positive illusions; people think they’re safer drivers than average. They think the odds don’t apply to me.

9:11 a.m. – Mr. Pizarro says one of the reasons distracted driving doesn’t get the same response that anti-drunk-driving efforts have is that people haven’t processed the numbers. And it won’t change, he says, until someone you know is killed or injured in a distracted driving accident.

Here’s the Distracted Driving Summit Web page for additional resources.

I have texted while driving when I should have paid attention to what I was doing?online survey

9:15 a.m. – Interesting observation. Because we saw 9/11 unfold, the visions forced us to stop flying and start driving more, even though driving is more dangerous.

9:22 a.m. – Caller says he started writing a motorcycle five years ago and that changed all of his driving habits. He says because he’s more vulnerable, he drives better. “I never text and drive, I’m just so much aware having been on a bike.”

9:24 Mr. Pizarro says he gets annoyed when he sees someone texting, but he texts while driving.

9:26 a.m. – The producer says a caller on hold admits to being “addicted.”

9:28 a.m. – Just read Brooke’s comment (below) that over time changed behavior fades. Prof. Fox agrees and says employing a psychological device is the only thing that’s going to change people for good.

Caller Chris says he doesn’t have to think about driving any more because newer cars take over a lot of the work. He says he’s excited about the technology “assisting” with texting “because I can’t stop it myself.”

Pizarro says there either needs to be a stiff penalty or your chances of getting caught get higher. He admits getting two tickets for talking on the phone while driving. “Now I have a GPS on my phone and I think how can they — the police — know the difference between whether I’m entering an address or texting. There’s no radar for this sort of thing. So the possibility of getting caught goes way down.”

9:33 a.m. – Professor Fox is done. We’re taking a news break. After the break we’ll be joined by Prof. Vohs over at the U of M.

9:35 a.m. – Joking with Kerri that I should be doing this while driving around the Twin Cities. As with so many things on News Cut, it would be a veiled psychological test to see if that repulses you or entertains you.

9:38 a.m. – We’re back and Prof. Kathleen Vohs at the U of M is joining us. Maybe we’ll devise an anti-texting marketing plan. “You want to make people have the visceral reaction of “I want to pick up the phone, ooooh that’s a bad idea.” She says she’d tried to use people’s will-power and get them to see it as an act of self-control. So there you have it: You’re texting? You’re weak. Prove us wrong.

“What’s the reward for exercising willpower,” Kerri asks.

“It gets hard for people to imagine,” Vohs says. “It’s like saying, ‘you don’t want to be like your mother.’ She says they try to give people alternatives. One way is to think of it as a goal, and next is give yourself a rewarding behavior as a result.

>> Inside glimpse. While Kerri is listening to the guests, she’s also looking at the list of people on hold — the list has the point they want to make — and directing the producer to stack the calls in a certain order depending on whether the question advances the discussion. It’s very impressive juggling. << 9:43 a.m. - You don't have to send a text message back right now, just because someone sent you a text message, a guest says. But I've been with drivers who get a text message and if they don't, there's another one...and then -- ding -- another one... and another one. 9:45 a.m. - Caller Tyler says he's dating a woman who's "a notorious text and driver." He was inclined to text her about this conversation. "Communication is paramount. You just have to tell people about things." 9:47 a.m. - Prof. Vohs says texting and driving will be passe in two years and says people who do it will be seen as foolish. She brings up the old seat belt campaign, which reminds me of one of the original seat belt ads which said, "Nobody wearing seat belts has ever been killed within 25 miles of their home." That has nothing to do with the conversation, of course, but I was distracted by my memories.

9:50 a.m. – A paralegal calls to say she works on a lot of car crashes and the first thing attorneys do is ask for a driver’s cellphone records.

9:52 a.m. – I’m intrigued by the idea that someday texting will be as societally-negative as drunk driving. But 1 in 7 Minnesotans have a DWI. Have the anti-DWI efforts really worked?

9:54 a.m. – A Duluth school bus driver says he’s been nearly hit many times by people on their cellphones. Several have failed to see the stop arms on his bus. He doesn’t see it changing because students in high school are joined at the hip with their cellphone.

9:57 a.m. – Prof. Vohs mentions this PSA — graphic.

Listener Sasha writes:

I have two babies with me in the car all the time. And every time I see somebody texting I just wanna call the police. I believe we should have the right to call the police EVERY time we see somebody texting. I just recently visited Germany and drivers next to you will literally honk and wave and even call the police if they see you texting or talking.

This concludes our distract driving broadcast day.

  • Brooke

    I agree with the notion that after a certain experience, people will alter their behavior but after time the original behavior comes back. I know someone who has had 2 DWI’s. She believes it was unjust both times, but after each she has really cracked down – saying she would never have more than 1 drink and then drive. After a while it went to having no more than 2 drinks before driving. Now I have seen her drink more than 2, and sometimes not even count the number of drinks before driving. I mostly believe she would not harm anyone at her level of drinking and driving, but I just can’t understand someone who already knows the risk, knows the drastic consequences, and still just does what she feels like in the moment. In the case of DWI’s, the punishment also gets even more drastic with each offense.

  • jm

    it’s interesting that people wont make the choice “that driving will be my unconnected time” and just turn off the phone.

  • AnnaCarrie

    The last question was what has/might stop us from texting/talking on the phone while driving. I have stopped, (almost completely) because I have a new driver in my family and two very observant younger children. Whether or not the kids are with me I know I will really be in trouble with them if I get in an accident because I was using my phone.

  • Bob – The technology already exists to prevent texting on devices moving more than 15 mph. If corporations were more responsible, this might be one answer.


  • Bob Collins

    That’s interesting, Marty. But you know what I thought of right away? The driver of the runaway Toyota who called 911.

  • By the way Bob – My 16 year is not allowed to take his phone with him in the car when he’s driving. It just does not make sense to take that chance with teenagers who are already risky drivers.

    Marty Owings

  • That’s right Bob, I forgot about the 911 Toyota driver… I think they can enable calling but prevent texting…specifically the functionality is different in the devices.

  • Scott Jann

    Nothing will be effective in stopping texting while driving. We’ve tried everything, including some of the suggestions to stop texting, to stop drinking and driving and it still happens. You can ask anyone, and they know it is dangerous, but think nothing will happen to them and do it anyway.

  • Joanna

    I haven’t texted (actively entered text) while driving, but I have looked at my phone to see what I received. And that is just as bad. Now I keep my phone in my bag in the back seat where I can’t reach it easily. It works.

    Having said that, I once helped a woman who crashed her car while bending down to pick up a hairbrush. Distraction comes in many forms!

  • Joanna

    The difference between DUI’s not having an effect on drinking and driving and the idea of pressure about texting is that people who drive after receiving DUIs are alcoholics who need treatment. One hopes that texting does not fall into the same category!

  • Jim Shapiro

    In California ( where I currently live ), the fine for using a cell phone while driving is $20. On more than one occasion I have seen police ignore the violation. The only way to change behavior on a societal level is to make the consequence for continuing the behavior more painful than the perceived benefits of continuing it.

  • Jennifer

    The real issue with crashes caused by distracted driving is that no one thinks it will happen to them. That’s why the behavior doesn’t stop. I don’t think that everyone really believes that it is distracted driving that causes accidents. They believe that it is drivers that are not as talented at multi-tasking as they are and can’t handle it. Much in the same way people who drive after a few drinks claim that other drunk drivers just can’t handle their alcohol, so it isn’t the same issue. The only thing that really changes people’s behavior (and even then it isn’t always the case) is when they are personally affected by it or lose someone they love for such a stupid reason.

    I feel very strongly about this issue because a distracted driver changed my life. In 2004, I was involved in a chain reaction crash caused by a 19 year old distracted driver. (I never heard what the distraction was.) Long story short (or at least shorter) her neglect ended in a 5 vehicle collision including her truck which was pulling a loaded horse trailer, 3 cars (including my own), and a propane tanker. One women was dead on the scene and two of us were rushed to the emergency room. I now have permanent injuries to both my neck and my knees. I quit the jobs I was working at the time because they both required me to be on my feet for long hours. This has also left me with limited options as I try to search for a new job after being laid off from a less physically demanding position in the midst of the recession. I’ve spent the last six years battling insurance companies to settle this matter and struggling to secure private coverage. I’m not even 30 and I’m spending a good part of my time and energy researching and trying out methods of coping with the chronic pain that will now accompany me for the rest of my life. I can’t do all the things most people my age can do and my schedule is increasingly reliant on my ability to manage my pain. It’s hard. And I know that I’m lucky all things considered, especially when I see the photos of my car.

    Needless to say, I never text and drive. I try to avoid distractions as much as possible. I can’t imagine what could possibly be so urgent that you’d be willing to risk your own or someone else’s life or well being.

  • Susan WB

    Turn the bleeping phone OFF people, and stow it in the backseat or glove box before you kill someone!

    I have a small child in my car every morning. At least once a month I have a near accident with someone in my neighborhood who is talking or texting while driving. They run stop signs. They speed. They don’t use turn signals. They don’t notice you’ve stopped for the school bus. You name it, they miss it. It’s a good thing I’M paying attention, so I can dodge them!

    These irresponsible people are endangering my life and my son’s life for their stupid need to be constantly in communication. IT MAKES ME SO ANGRY!! I want to jump out of my car and hit them in the face.

  • Emily

    I don’t text, and for someone my age, it is uncommon. I also don’t talk on the phone while driving (I live in Nebraska, I don’t know if its against the law). I did dial and drive when I purchased my first cell phone in 2002. But after I’d hung up I realized I didn’t remember anything about the last 30 minutes. How far did I just go, what did I pass, were there any signs on the freeway, other drivers, etc? That moment scared the living crap out of me. I changed my behavior. Also, I am a bike commuter and more often than not I am almost hit by someone using their cellphones. I, too, want to jump off my bike and hit those damn distracted drivers in the face.

  • Zebulun

    I share the kind of frustration that Susan described above. I didn’t think much about distracted drivers until we had our first child; then I started to notice how dangerous our car culture really is. Even before personal digital devices, we were losing almost 40,000 people in automobile accidents every year. Think about that number and compare it to other causes of death in our society. What other aspect of daily life can you think of that kills so many of us on an annual basis?