A molecular-biologist-turned-Buddhist-monk says altruism is the answer to many of the world's most pressing challenges. Can concern for others help solve wealth inequality, climate change and world hunger?
Werner Herzog is not a name one would associate with a public service campaign. But the filmmaker who made evocative pieces about Antarctica and a man living with grizzly bears has taken on a much different, and equally haunting, topic: texting while driving. And the public is paying attention. The film has now been viewed nearly 2 million times on YouTube. But with 75 percent of teens admitting that texting while driving is common, experts say there is a long way to go before people change their behavior behind the wheel. Guest host Steve Roberts and our guests discuss the dangers of texting while driving.
- Michelle Kuckelman executive director at AT&T.
- Charlie Klauer research scientist at Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.
- Paul Atchley professor of psychology at University of Kansas.
- Jonathan Adkins deputy executive director at Governors Highway Safety Association.
- Ashley Halsey III transportation reporter for The Washington Post.
“From One Second To The Next” Documentary
MR. STEVE ROBERTSThanks so much for joining us. I'm Steve Roberts of the -- of George Washington University sitting in today for Diane Rehm. She's having a voice treatment and then going on vacation and will be back in this chair in late September. An estimated 200,000 car crashes involved texting in 2011. And despite state laws, the number of people texting behind the wheel is increasing.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSTo talk about the dangers of texting while driving, I'm joined in the studio by Jonathan Adkins of the Governors Highway Safety Association and Ashley Halsey who covers transportation for The Washington Post. Joining us from the studios of Kansas Public Radio, Paul Atchley of the University of Kansas. And joining us from the studios of WVTF in Roanoke, Va., Charlie Klauer of Virginia Tech. Thank you all for being here on "The Diane Rehm Show." We appreciate it.
MR. ASHLEY HALSEY IIIGood to be here.
MR. JONATHAN ADKINSThank you.
PROF. PAUL ATCHLEYThanks for having us.
ROBERTSYou can join us as always on this show by sending us an email -- don't do it while you're driving, but send it to email@example.com -- Facebook, Twitter and, of course, our phone number, good old-fashioned telephone, 1-800-433-8850. Before we start, I want to bring in Michelle Kuckelman. She's the executive director of brand marketing at AT&T. That's the company that approached Werner Herzog, the filmmaker, to make this extraordinary film on the dangers of texting while driving. And let's listen to a clip, and we'll start the conversation that way.
MR. CHANDLER GERBERI was driving, and I was texting back and forth with my wife. I was texting, and I think I was reading a text back at the time of the accident because I remember driving. And, like, my head just snapped up when I saw, you know, the windshield just -- glass broke and screeching. And my head -- you know, it happened in about a second. I mean, I had a thousand thoughts going through my mind. As I started coming to a stop, I saw, you know, a body come down from off the top of the van. And I just thought, oh, my gosh, what have I done? I just -- what have I done?
ROBERTSThat was Chandler Gerber talking. He was texting with his wife when he hit an Amish buggy in Bluffton, Ind. He killed two children and one teenager. Chandler's story is one of four that Werner Herzog deals with in this 32-minute film, extraordinary film, Michelle. What was the motivation at AT&T to put on this rather extraordinary public service announcement, not your normal 30-second ad?
MS. MICHELLE KUCKELMANAbsolutely. Well, you know, Herzog has a long history of powerful storytelling. And although we did a fabulous job, I think, in a 30-second PSA, we wanted him to give a voice to the people whose lives had ever been changed. And we were hoping that it would help us reach more people with our live-saving message. So for us, it was giving Werner some more time and footage to allow for that real revealing of the human condition and what's left of these people's lives after what is -- can be a very insignificant text.
ROBERTSAnd why has AT&T partnered with three other providers, wireless providers, Sprint and others, to do this? But what was your sense of corporate responsibility? Why did you feel it was your role to do this?
KUCKELMANWell, I mean, we started this journey in 2009, and 2011 and 2012, we started the PSAs. And really we felt as though it was our corporate responsibility because we are effectively breathing a life into these devices. We could have never known, you know, 10 years ago, what texting would be to people today.
KUCKELMANAnd so it's become almost a new natural for communications. And when we saw the statistics rising, we knew we had to do something about it. And so we launched the campaign, which has largely been awareness driven, trying to create a stigma socially through our communications and PSAs but also through technology. And in 2013, we wanted to broaden our reach. And in order to really amplify this message and reach as many people as we wanted to reach, we brought in collaborators, and three of the carriers joined us.
ROBERTSNow, but as advertisers and marketers -- you're in brand marketing -- so much of the advertising both by the carriers like AT&T and the phone makers, whether it's Apple or Samsung or any of them, the message is, stay connected constantly, use our devices and our systems to always be cool, always be in touch, always be connected. So in some ways, are you -- is this campaign almost fighting against the corporate message you've been sending in terms of marketing your services?
KUCKELMANI would say no. I wouldn't say that they're contradictory. I think that part of the head tilt from our customers, and even the customers of our collaborators, has been in a positive light. So it is a little surprising that our bread and butter are texting and data services. We're asking folks to use them in a safe manner.
KUCKELMANThe issue of driver distraction is first and foremost in our mind, and we are working to try and create more technology that's introduced into cars that's done in a manner that doesn't distract from safety. But I wouldn't say that they are contradictory. It's just a bit of a head tilt given we're asking folks to use our products responsibly.
KUCKELMANYou can still be connected, and there are tons of technologies out there that allow you do that, but just in a responsible manner.
ROBERTSMichelle Kuckelman, let me ask you one other thing. I know that this is -- in its full length, this video goes over 30 minutes, but you have a 12-minute version that you're going to be distributing to schools, I understand. Folks who want to see the whole thing can go to our website, drshow.org. We've got it up right now. And what's your strategy here? What are you trying to accomplish by distributing this to schools, by putting it on YouTube? What do you want people to take away from it, Michelle?
KUCKELMANWell, first of all, we want to reach more people on an emotional level, and we think that the 30-minute documentary, even the 12-minute documentary does a really good job of hooking you in and facing our customers and viewers with the dire consequence that these participants are sharing. We hope that, you know, the 12-minute version will be distributed to over 40,000 high schools.
KUCKELMANAnd we hope that this can be used to not only teach the youth of today who are, you know, much more inclined to have an accident because they're new drivers, and they're high text intenders, but also that we create some sort of social stigma amongst commuters who also are -- you know, I think it is 49 percent of the commuters admit that it's wrong, but they still do it. So we're hoping that this will sort of jolt anybody that sees this, and they'll share it with loved ones.
KUCKELMANAnd they'll pledge to not text and drive. And we use this as a resource to start the conversation.
ROBERTSThank you very much. Actually, I think the figures from your own survey is 49 percent text, but 98 percent think it's wrong according to your own figures.
ROBERTSMichelle Kuckelman from AT&T, thanks very much for joining us on "The Diane Rehm Show." I want to turn to our experts now in the studio. And, Jonathan Adkins, when I asked Michelle, is there a contradictory message here where your -- all these marketers are saying constantly be in touch, but then don't do it in a certain place, that there's a contradiction? Talk about your reaction. You seemed to be nodding your head when I made that point.
ADKINSWell, you know, it's a little bit like when we deal with drunk driving. We're not against alcohol. We're about using the products in a safe manner, and I think that's what the companies are saying. And what we really have to do is look at the culture. We have to make it unacceptable to text and drive. And efforts like AT&T and Sprint and others, they are getting us in the right direction, and they're providing some leadership. So we applaud that. It's one of many things that have to be done. It's not going to get us there, but it's certainly a great start in the right direction.
ROBERTSI should remind our listeners that's Jonathan Adkins. He's the deputy executive director for the Governors Highway Safety Association. On the phone with us from Kansas, Paul Atchley is a professor of psychology at University of Kansas. And you've written about why this is such a difficult problem to solve, that being connected and being cool and being in touch -- a very powerful concept. Talk about that, Professor.
ATCHLEYYeah. It's really powerful for a number of reasons. First off, our brain is a social organ. It wants to know where it exists in a social environment, and it really conspires against us, especially something like texting, because our brain gives us a reward chemical called dopamine when we get a text, when we respond to a text, when we post to Facebook. And so we're constantly getting these little rewards that tell us please continue to do this.
ATCHLEYUnfortunately, when it comes to driving, if you have a device in the car that helps you get this little reward chemical at the same time you're being told don't do it, the areas of the brain that you need to turn off that behavior to not text are being used to drive. And so the ability to inhibit a behavior like texting and driving is very, very difficult, especially for young adults whose brains won't be fully developed till they're about 25, at least in terms of inhibiting bad behaviors.
ATCHLEYSo it's a kind of a perfect storm there physiologically. And then socially, it's very, very difficult because we know that if you take someone's cellphone away and they're a teenager, their self-esteem goes down. They get depressed. They don't feel like they belong. So it's really a difficult message to get across and something tough to enforce.
ROBERTSNow, Ashley Halsey, you've been covering this topic for The Washington Post, and Ray LaHood, the outgoing secretary of transportation, has talked a lot about comparing drunk driving to texting. And it's been a big part of his whole tenure here.
IIIIt certainly has. Ray LaHood early on said, the president gave me a bully pulpit, and I intend to use it. And he has used it to crusade against texting and against cellphone use and mobile use device in general. He's been very, very effective with it, and I think he, more than other person, has raised the consciousness about that. And the drunk driving connection is quite good because what happened with drunk driving was that Mad Mothers Against Drunk Driving sought to put a face on the consequences of drunk driving. They brought up the victims. They brought up the families.
ROBERTSWhich is very much the feeling with this Herzog (unintelligible)...
IIIExactly. And that is what Ray LaHood began to do with an organization that came along about texting and cellphone use, and that's what the PSAs culminating with this Herzog PSA have done. They put a face on the consequences of using your mobile device to communicate behind the wheel.
ROBERTSAnd as Prof. Atchley was saying, there's a connection also in terms of almost a narcotic. Ray LaHood talked a lot about the alcohol sort of consumes people in the same way that texting does. We're going to get right back to your comments and your calls. Give us a call. Give us your experiences and your reflections. We'll be right back.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane. She's going to be back in mid-September, not late September, you all will be happy to know. And we have in the studio: Jonathan Adkins from the Governors Highway Safety Association, Ashley Halsey who covers transportation for The Washington Post, Paul Atchley, professor of psychology at University of Kansas.
ROBERTSAnd I want to bring in Charlie Klauer, who is a research scientist at Virginia Tech. And, Charlie, you have done some very interesting work in putting cameras actually inside cars and studying reaction times and the effects of distractions. Tell our listeners what you've learned.
MS. CHARLIE KLAUERWell, we have instrumented over thousands of vehicles, both nationwide as well as internationally. And what we are learning is we've basically able to watch those seconds leading up to crashes and near crashes. Our cameras not only show us what type of traffic these vehicles are in or these drivers are experiencing, but we are also able to watch exactly what the driver is doing and their behaviors in those seconds leading up to the crashes and near crashes.
MS. CHARLIE KLAUERAnd what we find over and over is that, first of all, drivers are very surprised by how quickly the crash or near crash occurs, by the sequence of events that occurs, and they're usually very much taken off guard. Many, many times, these drivers are also not looking forward. They're not paying attention to the forward roadway.
KLAUERThey assume that everything is fine. They look down to do something, and that's when they get surprised. And so we were very pleased with Werner Hertzog's documentary, especially the title of it being "From One Second to the Next," in that it really is just literally seconds. And people really need to understand how dangerous it is to look away from the road in those seconds and how important it is to keep their attention and their eyes on the forward roadway.
ROBERTSAnd also, you make the point that -- and others have, and I want to bring in Paul Atchley in a second on this as well -- that people lose track of time when they have these conversations. And they think they're only looking away for a second or two, but your studies have shown it can be much more damaging than that.
KLAUERThat's correct. And that...
ROBERTSPlease go ahead.
KLAUERThat even -- we are finding that risk does increase with just a couple seconds of eyes off the forward roadway.
KLAUERAnd so it's -- anytime the driver looks away from the forward road, it does increase risk.
ROBERTSAnd, Paul Atchley, expand on, from a psychological point of view -- you were talking earlier about the -- almost the dopamine fix people get from a conversation and being connected and being contacted. And relate that to what Charlie was saying about the enormous danger here of reaction time being cut down as a result of this distraction.
ATCHLEYWell, in cognitive science, we call perception the grand illusion. I mean, we have this -- as observers, we have this idea that our visual system gives us this 180-degree, full-color, high-definition, 3-D motion panorama. But really, we've known in cognitive science for about 20 or 30 years now that we keep track of about four objects in our environment at any one time, that, for the most part, we're literally blind to what's going on around us.
ATCHLEYOur brain doesn't process but a fraction of what we think it processes. Yet we fool ourselves into thinking that we can see far more than we can see, and that's really a theme of human experience.
ATCHLEYBut it's definitely a theme of driving. You know, think about it from this perspective: If you're a parent and you put your son or daughter in a car because they can drive now, you're actually having them do the most risky thing that they will ever do in their lives up to the age they're 25. More people under 25 die in vehicles than the next three causes of death combined.
ATCHLEYBut we don't think about it like that. We think it's relatively safe. We fool ourselves into thinking we can do far more than we can. And so it doesn't make -- it makes sense that someone would take their eyes off the road or put a Bluetooth headset in and think they could talk for 20 minutes and it wouldn't distract them when, in fact, it really does because they don't have that experience that they're missing anything.
ROBERTSInteresting point. Now, Jonathan Adkins, from the point of view of Governors Association, we've talked several times here about the successful campaign against drunk driving, which had many of the same elements as Halsey pointed out, focusing on the victims and the tragic consequences. Also, of course, the campaign to click it and ticket on seatbelts has been reasonably successful, child seats. There have been a number of ways in which safety in cars has been increased by public pressure and by laws. Why has this lagged behind?
ADKINSWell, because -- we've raised some awareness, but what we haven't done is enforce the laws. We've just now in the last five or six years passed laws in most states, not every state.
ADKINSAnd we're starting to enforce it. If the public doesn't think they're going to get a ticket, that there's going to be a consequence as far as a fine or law enforcement, they're going to continue to do it. People are upset about other people texting and driving, but it's fine for them to do it. And unless we're able to have a very visible presence and say, you know what, you're going to get a ticket, most people, unfortunately, aren't going to change. And that was true with drunk driving. We did a good job with awareness, but we didn't really get over the hump until we had a tough enforcement campaign.
ROBERTSIs that what you learned from that? I mean, there's data here. There's experience here.
ROBERTSYou had two or three successful campaigns. What if -- what's the key thing (unintelligible) ?
ADKINSYou get what we call the easy pickings from education. But to really have a dramatic cultural change, you're going to have to do it through enforcement. People aren't going to do it because it's the right thing. They're going to do it because they have to.
IIIYeah, if I might add something to that...
ROBERTSYes. Please go ahead.
ATCHLEY...that's absolutely right. You know, most people don't realize the first drunk driving law went into effect in New York in 1917. It's not that we didn't have laws on the books. It's just that they weren't enforced. But there's also one other aspect we had to keep in mind, and that is the laws became enforced because we had these messages along the lines of what Werner Hertzog is doing and others.
ATCHLEYOne of the problems we're running into with regard to behaviors like texting, while someone can become -- can't become un-drunk at the scene of a crash -- even if you've passed away, we can take your blood and determine that you were a drunk driver -- it's very easy for someone to become un-distracted at the scene of a crash to tell the officer, I wasn't doing anything wrong, suddenly the car appeared out of nowhere.
ATCHLEYAnd National Safety Council estimates -- and it's conservative estimate in my opinion -- about half of distracted driving crashes that we know were caused by a distracted driver aren't even listed as distracted driving crashes. So this is probably so underreported, we don't have a real appreciation for how much of a problem this is yet.
ROBERTSAshley, you wanted to get in on this.
IIIYeah. Paul's exactly right. The -- if there's a fatal crash, there are ways to help an officer determine, an investigator determine whether there has been distracted driving involved. But if you have a fender-bender on the Beltway, the chances that the officer can invest that time into investigating that crash are pretty minimal, so he's not going to be able to check. He's going to say to you, gee, Steve, were you texting? And you're going to say, well, no, sir. I wasn't. And that's...
ROBERTSAlthough there are records of texts.
IIISure. But in a non-fatal crash, the chances that an officer can invest the time in investigating and finding out and checking your records and checking cell towers and doing all that coordination that could prove it are pretty minimal. So when you see -- hear the number 200,000 crashes caused by texting, that's a best-guess scenario. I would imagine that there are a great many more.
IIIAnd one other thing you referred to -- remember before Click It or Ticket, there was a jingle that most Americans of our generation could know from memory, buckle up for safety, buckle up. That campaign went nowhere. Everybody knew the jingle, but nobody -- but until they came up with Click It or Ticket enforcement, in other words, there was not effective seatbelt law.
ROBERTSNow, it's also true -- you mentioned Ray LaHood, the secretary of transportation, using the bully pulpit in your phrase to try to raise awareness.
ROBERTSThose are the questions of federal laws and federal responses. Now, in drunk driving, eventually there were laws, which created incentives for states. And give -- bring us up to date on the federal-legal situation.
IIIWell, Jonathan can give you chapter and verse on that, but I'll give you the short version. And that is the federal government -- states makes laws about driving. What the federal government can do and what it did in drunken driving with that when several states had the 18-year-old drunk -- alcohol consumption age was they threatened them. They said, if you don't change this to 21, we're going to withhold your highway funds. So that's the motivation that Congress or the administration can use with states, but the states make the laws.
ROBERTSIs there any talk on the Hill of moving in that direction?
IIIThere have -- there has been talk of it. But Ray LaHood, during his term, said that he would prefer that states take the initiative on their own.
ADKINSAnd 41 states have texting laws, so it's really not necessary at this point. We think every state will ban texting. Remember, the first state to give...
ROBERTSWasn't a bill just vetoed in Texas?
ADKINSTexas is the only state in which a governor has vetoed it. It's been pretty easy in most of the other states, and we think the other states will come on board. Remember, this just started five or six years ago. So unlike with drunk driving, it's been a very quick process in the states. There's not a lot of opposition to texting bans.
ROBERTSNow, Charlie Klauer, let me bring in you here. We've been talking a lot about how -- the risks of technology. But technology can also help solve the problem. There's a lot of talk about devices that might disable communications devices when a car is in gear. And what do we know about the research and the possibilities of helping to solve the problem through technology?
KLAUERWe are finding that technology can definitely solve this problem and can help us get -- put drivers' eyes back in the forward roadway. Many -- much of our research is showing that the highest-risk tasks are those things that take the driver's eyes off the road like texting, reading emails, putting on makeup, that sort of thing. And what we're finding is that if the driver's eyes are on the forward roadway, the risk is generally either negligible or not risky at all.
KLAUERAnd so as the -- Mrs. Kuckelman from AT&T was talking about, if -- there are technologies out there that do improve the distraction and the distractibility of many of these tasks, and we need to continue that research and continue that development to really take an important step forward in driving safety.
ATCHLEYI need to add...
ROBERTSPlease go ahead.
ATCHLEYCharlie is a friend, but I do need to add that this is a controversial point, and Virginia Tech is on one end and there are a number of other people such as, well, AAA just released a study this summer showing that hands-free texting devices in vehicles are actually one of the most risky things you can have except for trying to do mental math while you drive. So, you know, eyes on the road is important, but I think it's important that we get the message across that to be a safe driver, you need to be an attentive driver.
ATCHLEYSimply looking at the roadway is not enough. You need to be anticipating and planning. And...
ROBERTSBut most of us would -- it's intuitive that speaking into a hands-free device saying call home is not as distracting as bending down and picking out a text message. But...
ATCHLEYSadly, our intuitions of how our brain works are generally pretty bad. You know, intuitively, yes, it makes sense that if you're just talking, nothing's going to happen. But, you know, we've all had the experience driving with a passenger, and suddenly, traffic gets heavy. What happens to the conversation?
ATCHLEYIt stops or it slows down because both people realize that the conversation is producing a distraction. We realize that. But when you're talking to someone on a phone and they're miles away, the conversation doesn't slow down. If you're trying to do something with a computer in your car, that takes your brain off the road. And that's a difficulty.
ATCHLEYI think technology's important, but it's not everything.
ROBERTSCharlie, go ahead.
KLAUERAnd I take Paul Atchley's point. However, we have over 10 million vehicle miles of travel -- of data, and we are showing that there is virtually no increase in risk if the drivers are simply talking. I think a lot of the research that is being done in laboratories is that they are asking drivers to do very difficult mental tasks.
KLAUERAnd I agree that that is distracting, and it would take the driver's attention away from the forward roadway. But the reality of it is, is that most of the conversations that people are having in their vehicles are not as distracting as trying to do hard multiplication problems. It's not that difficult, and people are not engaging in those high -- highly emotional conversations for the most part.
KLAUERI would agree that drivers shouldn't be doing that, and absolutely, that would increase risk. But for the most part, that isn't what's happening. And I think we can take a pretty good size chunk out of the risks of these activities if we can keep the drivers eyes on forward roadway.
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." This is a controversial issue and a data is to some extent in conflict. And, of course, Jonathan, this relates to the legal situation. I mean, what should be banned and what should not be banned? And how is the Governors Association processing this research? And how are the states dealing with it?
ADKINSWhat we know for sure is that texting is very dangerous while driving. We support texting bans. We also support handheld bans. But we're really trying to get message across, not to use your cellphone at all while you drive. Having a conversation with your boss or your wife while you're in traffic, while you're driving whether it's hands-free or not is dangerous. And there's a lot of talk about some of these systems that are out there.
ADKINSBut if you actually go out and test them, as I've done in others, they don't work very well. You say, call mom, you may end up calling who knows whom. You have to focus on that a little bit. You've got to look down at your phone. This is not working. The systems are at their, you know, early stages. We expect technology to get better, but we're not at all convinced that some of these systems out there are any safer. And as AAA and others have said, they may be worst.
ROBERTSAshley, conflicting research here. You as a journalist, how are you reading the data here?
IIIWell, remember that early on, and this is early on as five years ago, there was no research at all. So when this started, when this whole controversy, this whole issue started, when people began to develop awareness, there wasn't any research. So a lot of the stuff that Virginia Tech is doing and that some of the other people are doing is really groundbreaking, and it's bound to have conflict.
IIIThere's -- Texas A&M has -- a very well-regarded transportation institute, they came out with a study on voice-activated testing -- texting systems and determined that they were not advantageous. They were just as much of a distraction as using a manual texting device. So there's going to be a lot of conflicting research, and what you need to do is sort of filter it all out, look at sources. Obviously, Virginia Tech, highly regarded, Texas A&M, highly regarded. AAA research labs are very highly regarded. And you've got to report what's out there and sort of see what the common ground is.
ATCHLEYIf you might -- I might add one other thing to think about -- actually two.
ROBERTSYes. Please go ahead, Paul.
ATCHLEYOne, in science it's really easy to find nothing. I couldn't find my car keys this morning, for example. It didn't mean that they didn't exist. It just meant that I wasn't looking in the right place and using the right technique. My wife, who's a better searcher, found them. They did exist. So when you don't find anything in science, it doesn't mean it's not there. It might mean that you didn't do the right thing. But, you know, if you're a parent or a driver, here's what I would have you think.
ATCHLEYI'm going to engage in this conversation, I'm going to text, I'm going to call someone. What's the benefit I'm getting out of that relative to whatever risks might be posed on the road? You know, I played this game with my students, you know, give me a scenario where texting in the car or calling in the car is going to be beneficial. It's very difficult to find a case where the -- any increase in risk is really worth some small benefit that you might get for.
ROBERTSBut I think a lot of our listeners would say, there's also a safety benefit to having devices in the car, right?
ROBERTSI mean, there are many safety benefits to it. So to some extent, this is a cost-benefit analysis here. Isn't it...
ATCHLEYWell, having the device is good.
ADKINSYou want to have the phone in your car and you want to turn it off. It's going to give you a peace of mind, and you're going to be safe. There are all this different information out there. It's a little bit of a cluster at times, but common sense says that anything that takes your mind away from driving could lead to you being distracted and having a crash. If you're having a conversation with your wife, with your boss, that's going to be intense. You don't need to be doing that behind the wheel, hands-free or not.
ROBERTSWe're going to be right back with your calls, your emails, your texts, your comments. We want to hear from you about your experiences with texting while driving. So stay with us, we're going to be right back on "The Diane Rehm Show."
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane. And our subject this hour: texting while driving. I've got a panel of experts with me. Ashley Halsey covers transportation for The Washington Post. Jonathan Adkins is with the Governors Highway Safety Association. On the phone from the University of Kansas, professor of psychology, Paul Atchley. And from Virginia Tech at WVTF and also Radio IQ in Roanoke, Va., Charlie Klauer, who is a research scientist in this field.
ROBERTSI'm going to read some emails, some text we've gotten and try to get your responses to some of our listeners. I'm going to start with Fran in Frederick, Md. "I agree wholeheartedly with the laws against texting while driving. However, that's only a part of the problem. Driving while distracted by other things is equally problematic.
ROBERTS"We have hands-free calling in our car" -- we talked about that -- "but those calls are equally distracting. How can we make people" -- and, Paul Atchley, maybe you can answer this. "How can we make people aware of driving while distracted by children, calls, reading, searching around the car for things, I might add, eating, grooming, all of which the polls show are very common in cars?" Paul, what's your reaction to the listener?
ATCHLEYYeah. There's no question that there a number of distractions in the vehicle. You can see people changing clothes while they're driving. You know, certainly no one thinks that's safe. You know, the real problem that we're running into with these new devices is that while these other things do happen, they're so much more infrequent than the kinds of text messaging behaviors or calls that are being made.
ATCHLEYIf you look at a teenager today, for example, they actually communicate with their peers about twice as often via text as they do face to face. The average age of cellphone adoption now is about 8 years old. So when you put someone in a vehicle at 16, they've already been using a device for about eight years, primarily as their way to communicate with their friends. So they're going to do it frequently. We find at KU, 97 percent of our students text and drive. They report doing it about 14 times per week. It's just a frequency problem.
ROBERTSLet me read this from Dennis in North Carolina. "With all the impressive things today's phones can do, can the manufacturers not make a phone that will neither receive nor send text messages while driving really?" Three question marks. Charlie Klauer, what's your reaction to Dennis?
KLAUERWell, the problem with turning off a cellphone when it's in motion is that it's very difficult to tell whether the person who's using that cellphone is driving or a passenger. And a passenger would be perfectly safe in order -- using that phone while driving. So that's part of the problem why they can't just shut the systems -- shut the phones off simply because the vehicle -- or the phone happens to be in motion.
KLAUERIf you mind -- if you don't mind...
ROBERTSYeah. Please go ahead.
KLAUER...I'd like to talk about the previous caller as well. That person is absolutely correct. There are many, many things in the car that are -- that do increase risk and do -- and are dangerous. And drivers need to be cognizant of all of these things. Texting is just one of them. There is a frequency issue to a certain degree.
KLAUERBut according to our data, we do see these drivers doing a lot of these things and -- including reaching for things on the floor, reaching for things behind them, changing clothes, as Paul talked about, a lot of very dangerous things. And so drivers need to be cognizant of all of these things. They all are dangerous.
ROBERTSAnd isn't this particularly an issue for parents with small children in a car 'cause small children in a car can be very demanding in all sorts of ways, you know, I dropped my bottle, you know, I want a different song on the CD. And isn't that a moment of heightened danger?
KLAUERYes. Parents especially need to be very careful, especially when they're going, you know, 55 miles an hour down the road. When you're looking away from the forward roadway for four seconds, you've traveled the length of a football field. It's -- you're going at ridiculous speeds, and you're going very fast. And you're covering lots of ground. So parents need to be prepared when they get in the car. They need to be ready to handle those situations or simply be able to say and make sure that they turn it off and say, no, you're going to need to wait till I come to a stop.
ATCHLEYAnd one other point on that, too...
ATCHLEY...that it -- parents need to be aware that their behaviors will become the behavior their children engage in. A number of people that we talk to...
KLAUERYes, that's correct.
ATCHLEY...who are trying to not text and drive say, well, my mom's doing it, and I'm trying not to do it. But here she is showing that she engages in the behavior. That's part of the problem.
ROBERTSGood point, Paul. I have an email here from Laurel, who's a registered nurse in Comfort, Texas. "Isn't texting while driving a willful act, a willful random threat against the public, not just to people in your car but to other people?" And of course, the Werner Hertzog video makes that point very strongly about the dangers to other people. Isn't texting while driving a willful act, a willful random threat against the public at large and a criminal act? What does the law say, Jonathan?
ADKINSIt varies by state, but the trend we're seeing is that states are making these laws tougher. There may be criminal consequences. When the laws first started, they were, you know, sort of slap on the hand, 10 bucks, 25 bucks. But the trend we're seeing is in the direction that the caller indicates and, you know, we're serious about this. And again, it's only been five or six years, but my expectation is of the next few years, there'll be more laws and the consequences will be more dire.
ROBERTSAnd let's -- I've got one more, Ashley, for you and then we'll turn to the live callers. But this is -- Sue from Bay Village, Ohio says, "Maybe the industry should take a humorous approach to a serious subject. Show people other than drivers who are texting while they should be paying attention. Surgeons, professional sports figures, race car drivers come to mind. Can you imagine the football refs missing a touchdown because they were on their phone?"
IIII think that's a wonderful, wonderful idea. I don't think humor is necessarily the best way to address this problem. But I think that if it makes a connection in that sort -- things of that sort certainly would, then its effect -- an effective campaign. So I would endorse that wholeheartedly.
ROBERTSLet's turn to some of our callers who've been waiting patiently. And let's turn to Rick in Dallas, Texas. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show." Welcome, Rick.
RICKThank you. Hi. I just wanted to point out to the listeners and maybe to the panel, there are many free apps right now on the Google Play store and the iTunes store that will disable your keyboard if you're moving more than 12 miles an hour. You can still receive a phone call, you can still have a conversation, but you can't text or do anything that involves your keyboard. And this is a very simple solution you can implement right now.
ROBERTSAnd these are available, you say -- tell our listeners where they can get them, Rick.
RICKOh, any -- wherever your smartphone is connected to. If it's an Android phone, it's the Google Play store. If it's an iPhone, it's the Apple store. Esurance is one the companies that's produced one of these. And, of course, I understand that if you're a passenger in a car, that's an inconvenience. But if this really is a genuine public safety issue, I can't imagine we're going to place the value of somebody's texting convenience as a passenger above the safety of people on the road.
RICKSo I really think AT&T's next step could be to step up and say, we're going to be the public safety company. We're going to disable people's ability to use their keyboards while they're moving that fast. Maybe too bigger risk, I don't know, but there are voluntary options out there right now.
ROBERTSExcellent. Thanks for the conversation, Rick. We appreciate the phone call. Charlie, what's your reaction to that, about the apps that are available?
KLAUERI think those are great apps. I think that a lot of them work really quite well. You need to test them out and make sure that they're going to work for you. But I think they're especially good, as Paul had mentioned earlier, for teen drivers. Novice drivers are notorious for this type of behavior. They're -- and they also have a more difficult time abstaining from this behavior. And so I think they would be excellent for parents to make sure that those -- some of those apps are on their children's phones.
ROBERTSAnd, Jonathan, there's precedent for technologies and rules that are harsher on novice drivers. I mean, this is not a foreign concept.
ADKINSNo. Most states have total bans on cellphone use. If you're a young driver, you can't use your phone at all while you drive. And those are critical laws. But parents have to be the ones, again, as Paul said, to enforce them. We have a whole host of restrictions on younger drivers. And again, there's not a lot of debate about that. We've got to get mom and dad to be ones to stop texting and driving.
ROBERTSBut this seems like one of the promising technological answers, to be able to disable a keyboard for a young driver at least.
ADKINSIt is. And, you know, the key is it's voluntary, and the key is the parent has to be the one involved in making sure that it's done. But as others have said it, it is a convenient tool. You get a voicemail, hey, I'm in motion right now. Leave a voicemail.
ADKINSAnd it's also peace of mind. You know, this cellphone addiction, I mean, it drives -- mine drives me crazy. I don't know about others. But it's nice to get behind the wheel and know that my callers are going to get a message, and I'm going to have 15 minutes to focus on something, driving.
ROBERTSLet's turn to Larry in Olney, Md. Larry, are you there? I think I don't have Larry. Let's turn to Mitchie (sp?) in Cleveland, Ohio. Welcome. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show," Mitchie.
MITCHIEHi. Thank you for taking my call. I may not be able to repeat this exactly as it was said, but I was suddenly caught very alert by the comment of one of your speakers made about the kids not experiencing the result of texting and therefore don't take it seriously. Have I got that sort of how he said it?
ROBERTSTo some extent, yes.
MITCHIEOK. This is my comment and my question. Number one, why on Earth have the schools around the country given up the driver's education which used to be required? Now, you have to go to commercial places, and there's no control over what the commercial places do or do not teach those kids.
MITCHIEIf the driver's education was back in the schools, then it could be required that there be a simulation-type video as part of that course where they literally seat behind that wheel and they start to text and they see the result. And nothing would be more experiential than they're actually seeing the result of that.
ROBERTSThanks. Good question. Ashley.
IIII can't speak to what the education system has done, but I think they've focused a whole lot more on core educational values and gotten away from a lot of things that many of us had when we were in school, including physical education, driver's education and so forth. So I think a lot of things have been sacrificed in the interest of reading, writing and arithmetic.
ADKINSAnd some of the courses that are out there, they do -- they really focus on helping the teen pass the test rather than training them on risks. And that's something that others are working on along with my association.
ATCHLEYAnd unfortunately teens are really bad at risk assessment, too, even when you have them do something like that. And we've done it. It works great. But it doesn't necessarily translate to on-road behaviors.
ROBERTSRichard in Syracuse, N.Y. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show." What's on your mind this morning?
RICHARDWell, first thing on my mind is pulling over and turning off the car. So the second thing is to lend a testimony to the dangers of using a cellphone. I was having an argument with my wife one day coming home from work, and I actually rolled through a stop sign in a rural intersection. And to my amazement, a giant cement mixer truck came skidding to a stop a few feet from my driver's door.
RICHARDAnd I was just ready to give the driver of the cement truck a fine lashing when I realized that I was the one who infracted the law. He was not using his cellphone arguing with his wife, and thus he saved my life.
ROBERTSThat's quite a powerful story. How did that affect your behavior afterwards, Richard?
RICHARDWell, I did -- I do what I do now. I just pull over. If the phone rings, I find a safe place to pull over. But -- also, may I take the liberty of adding the fact that, as a private pilot, we are trained to use transponders, navigational equipment, communicate with the towers, other pilots, and we are trained to deal with those distractions and cockpit chores and do it safely.
RICHARDAnd I would -- having been a student of driver training and having taught many kids how to drive motorcycles and cars with a very high level of defensive and intelligent critical thinking in their driving, I would recommend that states put a portion of, you know, part of your driving classes to use a cellphone.
RICHARDAnd if you can't, you flunk. You can't get your driver's license, which would keep all idiots off the road.
ROBERTSThank you, Richard. I don't think it'll keep all danger off the road, but certainly all of these things would help. We appreciate your comment. Thanks very much. I'm Steve Roberts, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Jonathan, your reaction to Richard.
ADKINSWell, he makes good points in that, when you are on your phone, period, and particularly when you're talking to a spouse, when you're having an argument, whether it's hands-free or not, your mind is taken away. You're not going to be able to react not only to what you're doing, but to what another driver is doing. And that's the key here.
ADKINSIt's not your own -- what's going on in your car, you got to be able to react to another driver, another driver who's distracted, who could be drunk. You've got to have all your wits about you. And as the caller indicated, when you're focused on a conversation, particularly an intense one, forget it. You've really got to focus -- driving's not easy. We tend to forget that.
ROBERTSAnd part of what the caller was saying was basically, thank goodness, that the cement truck driver was not on -- was not texting. And that gave just enough of a margin for safety in that (unintelligible).
ADKINSRight. Yeah, and that change -- that'll change behavior. And getting a ticket will change behavior as well. We know that from experience.
ROBERTSAnd where is this going in terms of the laws? You say the governor of Texas vetoed a ban. But in most states, you see steady progress toward more?
ADKINSWe do. We think all states will ban texting, and we think all states will ban handheld cellphone use. There are now 12 states that ban handheld use. It's been a little slower in that area. There's a lot more debate. The governor of Illinois just signed a handheld ban last week, and we expect more states to follow very shortly.
ROBERTSBut not bans of devices that are hands-free?
ADKINSNo. There is not political support to totally -- to have a total ban at this point, but it could come down the road.
ROBERTSAnd, Ashley, what are you seeing on the Hill? What can we expect from a legal point of view?
IIII think that there is a lot of concern on the Hill. I think there's a lot of concern on the administration, and I think that you're going to continue to see pressure put on the states to pass these sorts of laws. But it's going to be -- I don't think that there will be a threat to withhold federal funding to force states to this in the near term.
ROBERTSLet me ask our two experts -- Charlie first -- what would you recommend to legislators from a legal point of view? Do you see a hole in the system here from your research that can be filled by law?
KLAUERNo. I mean, I think that it's important to make some steps towards some sort of a ban, especially for texting as far -- to increase our safety culture and to increase our ability and our education of the public that these things are very dangerous. The proliferation of technology in the vehicle -- smartphones, iPads or iPods, iPads, email, all those things -- those are all increasing our risk. And so it's very important that some of this stuff -- we need the public to understand how dangerous it really is.
ROBERTSFinal word from Paul Atchley. What would you recommend?
PROF .PAUL ATCHLEYIn America, driving is really about freedom. It's a culture of freedom. And we don't want to restrict our freedom. But I think what we have to realize is that driving is one riskiest things we do, and that the benefits we get for certain behaviors, like texting or being in contact with folks while we're driving, are far outweighed by the risks. And we need to think about that as we're thinking about laws and education.
ROBERTSThat's going to have to be the last word. That's Paul Atchley from University of Kansas. Also, Charlie Klauer from Virginia Tech is with us on the phone. With me in the studio: Jonathan Adkins from the Governors Highway Safety Association, Ashley Halsey of The Washington Post. I also want to thank Michelle Kuckelman from AT&T, who was with us earlier. And by the way, you can watch the Werner Hertzog video. I recommend it. It's right there on our website, drshow.org.
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts, sitting today for Diane. She's on vacation getting a voice treatment, will be back in mid-September. Thanks so much for spending a part of your morning with us.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced is Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Casey Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn and Danielle Knight. The engineer is Erin Stamper. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones.
Most Recent Shows
Kate Mulgrew, who stars as "Red" in the Netflix TV series "Orange Is The New Black", opens up in a new memoir about her complicated family and the baby she gave away for adoption as a young woman.
On the 100th anniversary of the publication of Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken," a discussion about why the poem and poet are well-loved but misunderstood.
"My Brilliant Friend" by Elena Ferrante is the first of the mysterious Italian author's Neapolitan novels. The series tells the story of a life-long friendship between two working class girls in Naples. Critics have called Ferrante “one of the greatest novelists of our time.” Yet nobody knows her true identity. Join Diane and her guests for a discussion of “My Brilliant Friend.”