Shocking news! Cell-phoning and e-mailing while driving a car increases risk of accident!

It’s shocking because, don’t people have a right to do what they want? And if they have a right to do it, how can it result in harm?

I’m adapting the bizarrely legalistic argument, of course, from today’s young women, who believe that because they have the right to go where they want, when they want, and dressed as they want, therefore nothing should bad happen to them as a result of their doing these things that they have a right to do.

The article is from today’s New York Times:

Driven to Distraction
At 60 M.P.H., Office Work Is High Risk


JOPLIN, Mo.—Looking back, Paul Dekok wonders what he was thinking that May morning when the urgent call came in. Mr. Dekok, a manager at the Potash Corporation, learned that a 25-ton truckload of the company’s additive for livestock feed had been rejected by a customer as contaminated.

Scrambling to protect his company’s credibility with a big customer, he grabbed his cellphone to arrange a new shipment, cradling it between his left ear and shoulder, and with his right hand e-mailed instructions to his staff from his laptop computer—all while driving his rental car in a construction zone on a two-lane highway in North Carolina.

“I thought I was doing a great job because I was being productive,” Mr. Dekok said. “It’s an adrenaline rush. It’s the buzz we all get of trying to do everything you can in business.” [LA replies: It’s like the combination of business and the Dionysian that you get in Atlas Shrugged. John Galt is both a man of scientific, industrial rationality, and a Nietzschean superman. ]

But later, reflecting on the risks he took that spring day in 2007, he saw himself in a different light: “I was Bozo the clown.”

Mr. Dekok may be rethinking how he works on the road, but tens of thousands of Americans barely give it a second thought. They have turned their cars, vans and trucks into mobile offices, wired with phones and computers to stay in close touch with bosses and customers.

On Wednesday, the Transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, called the broader phenomenon of distracted driving a “deadly epidemic” at a meeting on the issue in Washington. Real estate brokers, pharmaceutical sales people, entrepreneurs, marketers and others say they have little choice but to transform their cars into cubicles. In this merciless economy, they say, they have to make every minute count, and respond instantly to opportunities and challenges.

And they argue that the convenience of constant contact—and the chance to tick off items from an endless to-do list while driving—far outweigh what they think are slim chances that it could lead to a wreck.

For white-collar employees, pressures to multitask are largely self-imposed. For blue-collar workers, the demands to stay connected while driving are often imposed by their bosses.

Truckers, plumbers, delivery drivers and others are tethered to dispatchers with an array of productivity devices, including on-board computers that send instructions about the next job and keep tabs on drivers’ locations. Such devices can require continual attention—distracting drivers who are steering the biggest vehicles on American roads.

The compulsion to work while driving often trumps clear evidence that such activity is dangerous. Studies show that someone who talks on the phone while driving is four times more likely to crash, even using a hands-free headset, than someone who is simply driving. The risks are even greater when sending text messages.

For all the perceived benefits of multitasking behind the wheel—like staying a step ahead of competitors—the dangers have begun to take their toll on companies, leading some to ban the practice by employees.

Some families of victims killed in collisions with a multitasking worker have successfully sued the driver’s employer for tens of millions of dollars.

Researchers say there is another reason to question the benefits of working behind the wheel: a growing body of research shows that splitting attention between activities like working and driving often leads to distracted conversations and bad decisions.

“There is an illusion of productivity,” said David E. Meyer, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. “It’s actually counterproductive.”

“To the extent that someone is focused on driving, the quality of work product is diminished,” he added. “To the extent someone is focused on work and not driving, there’s a risk of crashing and burning. Something’s got to give.” [The article continues. The full article is 3,400 words long, an extremely long piece for the Times, and all to make the point that text messaging and driving don’t mix. It’s really, really hard for liberals (and libertarians, who are a species of liberal) to take that in.]

Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 01, 2009 11:35 AM | Send

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