Chicago Traffic Deaths up in 2017; is it because of distracted driving or just a blip?


The Chicago Tribune has a front page story today by Mary Wisniewski about the rise in Chicago traffic deaths in 2017, 133 compared to 113 in 2016, an 18 per cent increase.

The article blames distracted driving, distracted pedestrians, low gas prices, a better economy, higher speeds and alcohol use.

But …

The story also notes that the average death toll from 2011 to 2015 was 126.2.  So why is Ms. Wisniewski comparing 2017 to one unusually low year instead of comparing it to the entire decade, which would provide a more useful comparison?  Indeed, when you combine the 2016 and 2017 death tolls and divide them by 2, you get an average of 123 — still lower than the 2011-15 average.  Maybe 2016 was just an outlier.

Comparing 2011-2015 to 2016-17, the numbers are virtually identical, within the margin of error.  But that wouldn’t be front-page worthy.

My concern is that someone in the state legislature will see the front-page headline and assume that there is a crisis when there isn’t a crisis.  This is how bad laws get enacted.

Setting the wrong example: Cop caught playing video poker while driving in snowstorm

This video has been making the rounds on youtube and facebook. It shows a Bolingbrook, IL police officer driving his squad car in the middle of a snowstorm, while playing video poker.  Talk about distracted driving!

According to the Chicago Tribune, the officer has been identified by Bolingbrook Police and an investigation is underway.

(I suppose I should remind everyone that videotaping the police is still technically a Class 1 felony in Illinois, although several lower courts have ruled that the law is unconstitutional).

Gov signs cell phone while driving ban, goes into effect Jan 1

From the Chicago Tribune:

Illinois drivers will have to peel the cell phones away from their ears under legislation Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law Friday that bans the use of hand-held devices behind the wheel.

Motorists could still gab and drive if they use hands-free technology to conduct their conversations. Otherwise they’ll need to pull off the road to make a call or face fines starting at $75.  The law takes effect Jan. 1.

“Too many Illinois families have suffered because of accidents that could have been prevented,” Quinn said in a statement. “Anyone driving a car should be careful, responsive and alert behind the wheel.”

Quinn’s signature means Illinois will join the ranks of about a dozen other states with similar restrictions and will allow drivers to operate under a uniform ban instead of a confusing patchwork of local laws that vary from town to town. Illinois already prohibits texting while driving.

Violators will be fined $75 for a first offense, but could pay as much as $150 for repeat offenses as well as face a moving violation on their driving record. Three moving violations within a year could lead to a driver’s license being suspended.

Drivers still could legally make calls on hand-held phones in the case of an emergency…

Meanwhile, Quinn also signed a measure into law that would increase penalties for drivers who injure or kills others in crashes caused by the use of a cell phone or other electronic device.

Distracted motorists who harm other drivers would face a Class A misdemeanor, which could result in fines up to $2,500 and less than a year of jail time. Drivers involved in fatal accidents could be charged with a Class 4 felony, which carries fines up to $25,000 and up to three years of jail time.  That measure also goes into effect Jan. 1.

Watch a documentary about texting while driving by Werner Herzog

If you haven’t seen this already, “From One Second to the Next” is a powerful documentary about texting and driving by director Werner Herzog, commissioned by AT&T.  The documentary focuses on four accidents that occurred as a result of distracted driving.

For another point of view on this subject, here is a link to a story about a study which indicates that cellphone use does not cause more car crashes.  Here is part of their article:

“Using a cellphone while driving may be distracting, but it does not lead to higher crash risk in the setting we examined,” said Saurabh Bhargava, assistant professor of social and decision sciences in CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “While our findings may strike many as counterintuitive, our results are precise enough to statistically call into question the effects typically found in the academic literature. Our study differs from most prior work in that it leverages a naturally occurring experiment in a real-world context.”…

Additionally, the researchers analyzed the effects of legislation banning cellphone use, enacted in several states, and similarly found that the legislation had no effect on the crash rate. “One thought is that drivers may compensate for the distraction of cellphone use by selectively deciding when to make a call or consciously driving more carefully during a call,” Bhargava said. “This is one of a few explanations that could explain why laboratory studies have shown different results. The implications for policymakers considering bans depend on what is actually driving this lack of an effect. For example, if drivers do compensate for distraction, then penalizing cellphone use as a secondary rather than a primary offense could make sense. In the least, this study and others like it, suggest we should revisit the presumption that talking on a cellphone while driving is as dangerous as widely perceived.” Pathania, a fellow in the London School of Economics Managerial Economics and Strategy group, added a cautionary note. “Our study focused solely on talking on one’s cellphone. We did not, for example, analyze the effects of texting or Internet browsing, which has become much more popular in recent years. It is certainly possible that these activities pose a real hazard.”
Note: I had seen the Herzog documentary in various places on the web, but it was Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish blog that connected it with the study on use of cellphones while driving.

Illinois Senate passes bill to ban cell phones while driving

nophoneFrom Doug Finke of the Springfield Journal-Register:

The Illinois Senate Thursday approved a bill that bans the use of hand-held cell phones while driving.

The Senate OK’d the bill on a 34-20 vote. It now goes back to the House, which earlier approved the ban, for approval of an amendment added by the Senate stipulating that a first offense for violating the law is not a moving violation.

House Bill 1247 prohibits the use of hand-held cell phones while driving, although they could still be used if the phone is equipped with a hands-free device. Motorists could also use one-touch dialing and answering if the phone is so equipped.

A violation of the law would result in a $75 fine.

More than 70 local governments already have bans in place on using hand-held cell phones will driving. Eleven states require use of hands-free phones.

“This bill is about making roads safer,” said Sen. John Mulroe, D-Chicago, Senate sponsor of HB 1247. “I’m  concerned with people dying on the roads.”

But opponents argued that the bill is flawed and doesn’t really address the problem of distracted driving.

“I think this is going too far,” said Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford. “It’s going to make a lot of criminals of individuals who are conscientious drivers. We’re not addressing people eating in cars, reading newspapers in cars, adjusting radios in cars.”

Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, agreed. He said people can get equally distracted having a conversation with passengers in the car, or parents can get distracted by children fighting in the back seat.

“Where do we draw the line about where these distractions are?” Murphy said.

Mulroe countered with statistics showing that drivers who use hand-held cell phones are four times more likely to get into serious crashes. Crashes decreased by 17 percent in Evanston after the city banned hand-held cell phones while driving, he said.

The state has already banned texting while driving, and drivers under age 18 are prohibited from using cell phones while driving. Nationally, large truck and bus drivers are prohibited from using phones while driving.

Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, found it curious that use of a hand-held cell phone in a car would be outlawed while truck drivers could still used CB radios that require the use of their hands.

Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, acknowledged he uses a hand-held cell phone in order to talk to constituents while driving around his sprawling, 11 county Senate district.

“I spend a lot of time on the road. I use that time to talk to constituents,” Sullivan said.

But Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, said lawmakers often enact laws after someone dies tragically. This is an opportunity to act proactively, he said.

Springfield-area senators Sullivan, Sam McCann, R-Carlinville, and Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, all voted against the bill. Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, voted in favor of it.

What do you think?

More Teen Deaths from Texting and Driving than Drunk Driving

From The

Teen deaths from texting and driving have outnumbered those from drunk driving. A study conducted by the Cohen Children’s Medical Center in Hyde, New York, revealed that over 3,000 teens deaths per year are associated with texting while driving.

In comparison, researchers found that around 2,700 teens died in accidents attributed to driving drunk. The discrepancy may have something to do with ease of access.

Dr. Andrew Adesman of the Cohen Children’s Center points out that while teens may not drink on a daily basis, they always carry their cell phones. Constant access may make it difficult for teens to ignore text messages and phone calls.

As reported by CBS News, despite education about the dangers, over 50 percent of teens admit texting while driving. Additionally, researchers found that laws against texting while driving have little impact. Fifty-seven percent of the teens surveyed admitted texting and driving, even in states where it is against the law.

The US Department of Transportation and the National Highways Traffic Safety Administration have partnered to present The website offers facts and statistics, along with real stories of lives shattered due to driving while texting or distracted.

According to the site, teen drivers are the most likely to drive while texting or otherwise distracted. Eleven percent of teens involved in fatal accidents were reportedly distracted when they crashed.

Drivers who are using cell phones while driving ate four times more likely to get into an accident. The average text takes 4.6 seconds to send or receive. In 4.6 seconds, the average vehicle, traveling 55 mph, can travel the length of a football field.

As of this month, the Governor’s Highway Safety Association reports that 10 US states, including D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, have prohibited all hand-held cell phone usage while driving.

This story was brought to my attention by Indiana DUI Attorney Gregg Stark.