[Image: Scott Frederick Starrett]


I hosted a conference and co-wrote the report for a summit of experts on the TOP TRANSPORTATION & ENERGY ISSUES FACING THE NATION* sponsored by The University of Kansas Transportation Research Institute (KU TRI), presented by The Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics and theUniversity of Kansas School of Engineering, and funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation Research and Innovation Technology Administration & Federal Highway Administration.

Our main point was that America has tried many times to create a national transportation policy over the last century, with the latest and most comprehensive attempt in 2000-2001. None of these ventures was conceived or executed at the presidential level save possibly President Eisenhower’s “National Defense Highway System.” Now humankind confronts interrelated crises of energy and transportation in a rapidly changing world where we must deal with spiking petroleum prices, decaying bridges, growing congestion in all modes, an aging and inattentive driver population, a shortage of adequately trained transportation engineers, and the diverse ramifications of global climate change. The next president and next Congress of the United States of America will need to tackle each of these challenges immediately. Their decisions will affect the fate of the species and the planet.

The summit then identified (a) a “top 9” list (see below) of the most pressing problems facing the nation and (b) a range of options for government and industry to consider. Some of the items on the menu of options reflected disagreement on courses of action, but everyone agreed that for each of these crises, America needs to take some actions immediately.










The issue that was most obviously related to online social-interactive media and new technological gadgetry was DRIVER DISTRACTION.

What we found was that despite the many safety features and improvements in modern vehicular transport and roadways, about ten times more Americans die each year in car accidents than have been killed in the entire Iraq war. Many causes of roadway mayhem, such as drunk driving, are well publicized. But impairment due to alcohol or drugs is actually a subset of a much larger problem that is becoming a crisis that can affect the lives of any of us and cost the country immense sums in accidents and damage: driver distraction. A wave of research conducted at KU and other universities shows that our gadgets are, when used while driving, killing us.


Some numbers:

— Cell phone distraction—which likely is severely under-measured or recorded—officially causes some 2,600 deaths and 330,000 injuries in the United States each year. Driver distraction from other factors, both long-standing (children in the car) and recent (video screens in the driver’s view) are also a factor in roadway accidents. For example, cell phone users have been found to be 5.36 times more likely to get in an accident than undistracted drivers. The risk is about the same as for drivers with a 0.08% blood-alcohol level. In other words, the distractions associated with talking on a cell phone while driving are as or more debilitating than driving legally drunk.

— Talking on a cell phone while driving a car reduces attention in younger adults so that they have an average increase in accident risk of between 200 and 700%. The act of driving while talking on a cell phone is a classic example of a dual task. While on a cell phone, especially in the initial minutes of a conversation, a driver will be almost completely unaware of surrounding traffic.

— Driver distraction due to communications devices can be broken into two components: physical distraction and cognitive distraction. The physical distraction of holding the phone while driving has been shown to have very little effect on driving performance. Cognitive distractions, on the other hand—caused by the conversation rather than the physical factors—have been found to be the primary source of driver distraction. Even with these findings, drivers and legislators tend to focus primarily on physical distraction.

— Younger, inexperienced drivers are of great concern since they are high adopters of new electronic communication gadgets—with near 100% adoption rate in some samples—and have a higher existing risk of accidents. (In a KU study now underway, some 90% of teen drivers say they text and drive.)

–Right now, state laws restricting cell phone use are scattershot and their effectiveness has been called into question.

–Moreover, the aging Baby Boomer population, which will be entering the senior driving ranks over the next 20 years, are also regular cell phoners.

There are obvious legal, ethical, and social issues that arise from these phenomena. At some point we have to ask about whether we need to pass more laws or rather to educate people to be more responsible–or both.


Download REPORT.



* David D. Perlmutter, Ph.D., Ming-Heng Wang, Ph.D., Steven D. Schrock, Ph.D., P.E. “TOP TRANSPORTATION & ENERGY ISSUES FACING THE NATION.” Organized and Hosted by The University of Kansas Transportation Research Institute (KU TRI). Presented by The Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics & the University of Kansas School of Engineering. Funded by U.S. Department of Transportation Research and Innovation Technology Administration & Federal Highway Administration. Grant #DT0S59-06-G-0047.

Originally posted January 27, 2009 at PolicyByBlog

Original Comments Here

One Comment

  • admin

    Original Reader Comments (31)

    I think that as a dual task driver, I am easily distracted. I am always texting and talknig on the phone. In Chicago they passed a no cell phone while driving law, but it was not enforced very heavily. Recently they have been enforcing the law more, which I think has decreased my usage of the phone while driving. I think that more laws with higher fines should be passed, while it’s easy to get distracted, it’s that much easier to get in an accident because of that distraction.
    January 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermegs527

    Sadly enough, I do believe this problem will get worse and more severe before it gets better. Cell phones are the newest distraction while driving and as shown above cause extreme risk for accidents. I think it is interesting to note that new 16-year-old drivers are most comfortable with using cell phones but probably least comfortable on the road. Sometimes I can’t even believe the young age of a person pulled up next to me at a stop light, let along to see them texting. I think it is important for the legislature to examine this problem and try to find a solution. I do not think a solution will be making it illegal to text and drive but then again I would not be surprised if state by state this idea is adopted. Educating teenagers and all drivers is an important aspect of improving the safety of those on the roads. This problem could become even more fatal than drunk driving as the addiction continues.
    February 2, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterte6506

    The fact that struck me most was the information regarding cognitive distraction. I know that in some places they have outlawed talking and text messaging on a cell phone while driving but this clearly doesn’t solve the problem since headsets and blue tooth devices are so readily available. I feel like this will be an ongoing issue in the future because even if they outlawed talking on any device while driving most of the ear pieces and headsets would be undetectable to the naked eye.
    February 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDuke44

    Driver distraction is and probably always will be an issue in this country. We have been trained since birth to do as many things at once as we possibly can. Our days are so busy, multi-tasking is necessary to get things done. It’s no wonder people cannot drive anywhere without talking or texting on their cell phones. We’re all about instant gratification and constant enterainment. This is not to say that this country’s doomed. Many people are recognizing how our culture can be dangerous (literally). California has already instituted a law that only hands-free phones can be used while driving. This could help, but most of the distraction comes from the talking and not from the holding of the phone. I think the real issue is that things are moving so quickly here, people have a hard time sitting by themselves in the car for a few minutes. We need to learn how to be still and think for ourselves.
    February 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSongbomb21

    This issue has already been tackled in some European countries. For instance, while in Spain a group of us rented a car and one of the first things stressed on the contract was no use of phones while operating the vehicle. America needs to adopt some of these restrictions ASAP. It can only get worse with the next generation of young drivers who have been raised up in a communication oriented world, even more so than us. I have noticed myself picking up my cell phone and not paying attention to my surroundings for well over a minute and that frightens me. As good as a driver one thinks he/she is with a cell phone, it still presents a danger. Actions must be taken.
    February 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMikeJohn1013

    I think cell phone usage is a big distraction while driving, but I am also guilty of talking or texting while driving. Instead of passing more laws that may or may not be enforced properly, drivers should be educated about the risks. Until I read this article I did not know about the similarities between driving drunk and driving while using a cell phone. If people we able to put statistics to these “rumors” of how distracting cell phone usage can actually be, they may think twice before picking up their phone. Distracted driving is not an issue that will go away quickly, there will always be a new gadget to “make your life easier” in the car. People need to be educated about the risks and maybe they will drive a little more carefully.
    February 3, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersenior.09

    Sadly, cell phones are a tremendous distraction while driving. For instance, I am from Omaha and driving back and forth for holidays can sometimes be tiring. I admit I get bored and I will use my phone, but what I have noticed is as soon as I finish up my phone call, I cannot remember how far I drove and I cannot remember when I was driving. It’s scary to know that I lost my memory and was not aware of the traffic around me because I was too busy talking on the phone. I defiantly think there will be more and more accidents in the future due to technology whether it be cell phone usage or switching songs on an ipod, handling electronics while driving is a major distraction!
    February 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbosco

    When driving alone, I probably use my cell phone more than I don’t use my cell phone. I like to catch up with parents, grandparents, and distant friends. I feel that simply talking on the phone with someone does not have a huge impact on how much attention I am paying towards the road and traffic. I figure this, because if I am not on the phone, I am finding a radio station with a great song so that I may use my steering wheel, armrest, and dashboard as a drum-set (especially when “Jungle Love” by the Steve Miller Band comes on, what a great beat!). Both are equally as distracting. However, I have found through personal experience that texting and driving is dangerous, stupid, and most of all irresponsible. As a driver, you are not only responsible for your own well-being, but also the well-being of your passengers and everyone else on the road.
    February 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersunshine

    There is no doubt that cell phones pose a great threat to yourself and others while driving. I text and talk on my phone daily while driving, and I like to think that I am “good’ at it. I’ve never gotten in an accident, but I do notice that I am so focused on my phone that I don’t really pay attention to the cars around me. I think that laws against using cell phones in the car are taking it too far. Drivers, especially young ones, need to be educated on the dangers, and not forbidden to do something they rely upon. As drivers we are constantly making judgments to keep ourselves and those around us safe, and using a cell phone in the car is just another choice you have to make.
    February 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDover

    I believe that driving while talking on cell phones and especially while texting is extremely dangerous. We are known as being a generation that can multitask well, but it is unethical to do so, if you are putting someone’s life at risk. I talk while I drive, and I don’t believe it effects my driving, but texting is another story. Texting requires me to take my eyes off the road and I do believe it’s dangerous. And its not only phones, most cars these days have TV’s, GPS devices, ipods and plenty of other devices that distract drivers. This is definitely an issue the driver consciously needs to think about. Even if harsh rules were passed, it would be hard to enforce.
    February 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjthought87

    I believe that cell phones, especially texting is a huge distraction while driving. It is no surprise to me that using a cell phone while driving can be compared to driving while legally drunk. I have found myself a few times driving down the road texting, not paying any attention at all. When I look back up who knows how far I have traveled. This definitely scares me and I need to work on that. I think that lawmakers should take some sort of action, especially with the new drivers coming along who have been raised in this tech oriented world.
    February 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdaslonka

    I don’t think that texting and driving should be legal in any state. This summer, Minnesota passed a law banning texting and driving for drivers 18 and under. I think this would be a step in the right direction for many states because if new drivers don’t start out texting behind the wheel, perhaps they won’t ever begin to.

    While young drivers make me very nervous, old drivers are worse. I know that in most cases I can answer my phone or make a call without causing an accident, however, when my mom tries to do the same, it is a nightmare. I feel that older generations are less familiar with some of the distractions that cell phones can cause. I am not defending cell phone use in the car, but our generation grew up talking on the phone and driving. My parent’s generation only added cell phones to the driving equation a few years ago and have trouble balancing. This is also something for legislators to consider about banning use for only 18 and under.
    February 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWMJ220

    The physical distraction of texting is greater than talking. Besides, the idea of handsfree headsets also decreases the the physical distraction of talking. Therefore, I find it funny that laws first jumped to ban calling but yet are still waiting to ban texting.

    However, I think banning these specific items is silly. Anyone at any time can be cognitively distracted through personal thoughts. Also, people can be much more physically distracted by eating or smoking. I’ve heard outrageous stats about driving-while-eating accidents. Why do cell phones get the brunt of this?
    February 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdude.hey

    I am 100% guilty. I was even checking my email in my car the other day. I use my phone in the car because I feel that the time in my car, in between my daily obligations, is the only time I have to talk to friends and family in a quiet place. I do think laws need to be enforced. I have read this article and know the consequences, but do not think it will stop me (for long) from texting and emailing while driving. I am curious to know if any other commenter, especially the ones who say no laws- just education, will stop texting and driving now that they are more informed? Laws require us to be responsible citizens and we aren’t being responsible citizens if we are texting and driving.
    February 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKUkris1

    I lived in Los Angeles this summer, and on July 1st it became illegal to drive and talk on your cell phone without a hands free device. I was forced to put my cell on speaker phone and keep it in my lap. I definitely agree with the statement in the blog that cognitive distraction is much more of a problem than physical distraction. It doesn’t matter where you keep your phone, if your brain is engaged in conversation your driving abilities are severely compromised. It’s not just cell phones that impair your driving, IPods and GPS have the same effect. I try to avoid using any technology while I’m driving, but when I need to communicate with someone it’s hard to resist sending a text or making a phone call now and then.
    February 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJayhawk411

    I was involved in a study here at KU last year that was researching this very thing. The end results were something like, when you’re on your cell or multi-tasking one has the attention of an elderly person with alzheimer’s. It’s crazy but facts like these and statistics, like the 2,600 who die a year from texting or whatever, don’t matter to people. People walk around with that attitude that shouts “NOT ME!” As if to say “That happens to other people, but I’m better than that. I know what I’m doing.” I agree with a post from above that it will get a lot worse before it ever gets better. On earth while driving and texting we think we are Superman and nothing will happen to us or hurt us. It’s a scary thing to know that people are out there texting, talking and driving and they are just as dangerous as drunk-driver. M.A.T.D. Mothers Against Texting Drivers, is it that absurd?
    February 5, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterfabi.f.babi

    The amount of distraction I have while driving, although I hardly admit to it, is quite great. Like KUKris1 I too feel compelled to use my time in the car as time to catch up with friends and family. I attempted to be safer and use a hands free device only to find it more distracting to put it on while driving than holding up the phone to my ear. And thanks to T9ne I am able to text without looking at my phone, therefore being “less distracted” although all my thoughts are focused on what I’m typing.

    Technology and being connected to the world has become such a strong influence in our everyday lives we can’t even take the time to drive alone or without knowledge of what’s going on around us.
    February 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCiaoBella

    I’ll admit it, I text and drive. It’s a terrible habit that is growing everyday among young drivers (especially teens). I’ve seen numerous cases of young drivers texting while driving only to result in a car accident, some of which are fatal. It’s sad (and scary) to think how many lives could be saved if people just kept their cell phone in their purse or pocket while driving. More than likely, the text can wait until one has arrived at their destination. States all over the U.S. are quickly picking up no cell phone laws — whether it’s in regard to texting or talking. While living in Chicago for two years, the new no cells phones while driving law was enforced and my friends and I still tried to see if we could get away with being on our phones.

    It’s unavoidable. Texting (and talking) while driving is a huge distraction that is causing more problems than its worth.
    February 5, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkew27

    Like everyone else, I text while driving too! It is so distracting, because like someone has previously stated, you stop paying attention to where you have driven or how far you have gone. I have missed certain exits in the past because I was talking on the phone and completely forgot about where I was going. Of course this is a huge problem in our nation today, but we are dumb Americans. It seems that we over-do everything that could potentially kill us (eating, drinking, smoking and now texting). Our nation relies on technology for everything, and if we can’t have it exactly when we want it, we flip out. We need to focus on one thing at a time, but that seems impossible in our world of multi-taskers.
    February 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLMP316

    Reducing the number of accidents cause by cell phones is extremely important. It is ridiculous how the numbers continue to rise. The problem is that it is hard to pass the legislation and even harder to enforce. With the advanced cell phone technology today, people are even answering e-mails while driving. Hands off cell phone usage should be required and texting should be illegal. People need to at the very least be able to look at the road.
    February 5, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbuster

    Essentially it comes down to two choices everyone has to make every time they get on the road.
    First, you have to choose if you can trust the other drivers on the road to know what they are doing, and not swerve into your lane, or run a light because they are busy texting.
    Second, you have to choose whether or not you yourself are safe to drive and text, or talk on the phone, ect.
    These serious decisions are usually made without any thought or concern, when they probably should be.
    February 5, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdugarte

    Like drunk driving, text driving kills and injures people everyday. Drunk driving has been around since the invention of the automobile, so the question needs asking: What has society done to combat drunk driving? Well, it was made illegal, and numerous campaigns continue to send the message that drunk driving is socially irresponsible. The same thing should and probably will happen for text driving. Like drunk driving, text driving will never completely go away. But with more effort and more time, people will soon will soon be wearing shirts that say, “Friends don’t let friends text drive.”

    By the way, I text drive all the time.
    February 5, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterwachashi

    As an avid texter, I find it hard to ignore the sound of my phone, especially my text message alert, no matter how busy I am. This includes driving. As soon as I hear my phone my attention immediately changes from the road to my phone and what I am going to reply. I think that better educating the public would help this problem. I know that I was amazed at some of these statistics and if we could start getting them out, people would be more aware of when they are guilt. Furthermore, I think laws do need to be enacted. The problem will only continue if there is not some repercussions for this behavior. However, when passing these laws, the government needs to make clear whey they are important with the statistics of how much harm cell phone usage and driving can cause.
    February 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJacquelann

    I’m not going to lie, I am a terrible driver and all my electronics only add to the mix. My parents have preached to me ever since I started driving to never talk on the phone in my car, but I don’t listen. It is a scary thought that I could be a safety risk to other people on the road. With so many new electronics it is time for companies to start thinking of new ways to communicate that are safer. Both of my parents cars have the blue tooth so that they never actually have to hold up their phones. The problem is most cars do not have that device, but they all should. I would agree with new laws about electronics in the car(although they would be annoying). I know in New Jersey it is against the law to drive and talk on the phone, so why is that not a law everywhere?
    Although electronics are a big danger to the road, I think the government also needs to pay attention to old people driving because most of them are incapable and have had their licenses since the early 1900s. I think that most of the driving accidents get blamed on teens, but there are many other dangers that the government should worry about as well.
    February 5, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersugar086

    I am guilty of texting while in the car, but I usually text when I am at a stoplight. I think that this is a safer way to do it, but in reality it’s not. Sometimes if a car moves a little bit in front of me and I am busy texting I may think the light has turned and it’s time to hit the gas. Unfortunately that is usually not the case and I end up almost rear ending someone. Texting while driving is a serious problem and I don’t foresee it getting better anytime soon. It would help if the laws were stricter against this issue.
    February 5, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteraimsk09

    I found it very interesting that it is the cognitive distraction rather than the physical distraction. Regardless of what kind of distraction it is, I believe people need to be socially aware of the danger they put themselves and others in when they drive while texting. Trying to enforce a ban on using a phone while driving would be extremely difficult in our social climate. I am not sure if it could be done. I believe it comes down to the individual to make a conscience effort to reduce using cell phones while driving. I feel that putting more efforts towards notifying the public of the dangers of driving while using a phone can help reduce accidents.
    February 5, 2009 | Unregistered Commentergretzky99

    You bring up an interesting point regarding politicians addressing cell phone distraction from a physical standpoint instead of a cognitive one. I believe that while our country has the ability to conduct incisive research for the public on any given issue, we still come up short in the area of creating solutions to address these findings. However, in this case, I can understand the politicians’ dilemma of trying to curb phone conversations on-the-road without regulating Americans right to freedom of speech.

    I say hire ad agencies to pair up with big name think tanks in order to come up with a way to capture the public’s attention to the growing safety concerns of driver distraction. Add in the cooperation of YouTube, Facebook and other OSIMs to create online town hall meetings to accompany these ad strategies and we might have a chance of changing the public’s mind for the better.
    February 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBananagrams

    Awareness about the dangers of using mobile devices and driving is vital. I think it should be publicized more the amount of deaths that occur due to these. Even though my parents bug me about these dangers everyday, I will admit, as a cell phone obsessed young adult, I have been known to text and drive. I am convinced that I am capable of doing this and still being safe. After seeing Seven Pounds, it hit home that accidents can happen easily from this and not only take my life, but the lives of others…all from being irresponsible.
    February 5, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterinot1987

    First of all, I am shocked at the number of cell phone user accidents compared to drunk driving accidents. I will admit that I use my phone while driving, but refuse to drive drunk. Knowing these stats definitely makes me think again about my cell phone use while driving. I strongly believe that something should be done about this. I think most drivers don’t think they will be distracted by their cell phones, but are very quick to judge other people who are driving recklessly due to their phone use.
    February 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterK523

    One of my biggest peeves is people who text while driving. I have had many close calls with people who are texting while turning corners and almost plow into me. I think this is something that will prove hard to regulate just as there have been attempts to enforce wearing a seat belt. I hate that people say they aren’t distracted because the numbers prove otherwise. Sometimes i do talk on my phone but I feel that is a lesser of two evils when you compare it to texting.
    February 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEmily87

    When Britteny Spears kills herself and a kid while texting and driving, we might get some effective laws. Until then, the $130 billion a year cellular phone industry will prevent any meaningful legislation.
    February 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDataLimited

Leave a Reply