Browsed by
Category: distracted driving

State’s distracted driving campaign now includes unmarked patrol cars, task force

State’s distracted driving campaign now includes unmarked patrol cars, task force

distract-newcarpresser

New unmarked Oregon State Police car unveiled at a press conference in Salem yesterday.
(Photo: ODOT)

The Oregon Department of Transportation is ramping up its attack on distracted driving.

“Our goal is to change cultural norms when it comes to distracted driving.”
— Matt Garrett, Director of ODOT

At a press conference yesterday ODOT Director Matt Garrett said the agency will tackle what he called an epidemic, “Through sustained education, enforcement, and policy initiatives.” He added that his goal is nothing less than to “change cultural norms when it comes to distracted driving.”

To do that Garrett announcd a new task force that will be made up of representatives from ODOT, Oregon State Police, AAA Oregon/Idaho, public health agencies, the courts, emergency service providers, academia and the media. (We’ve requested a list of names and more information on the task force but ODOT says it’s still preliminary and details are yet to be finalized.)

Beyond the task force and marketing efforts the most encouraging news is that the Oregon State Police are now using a fleet of 40 new unmarked patrol cars “to observe and document distracted driving.” Yesterday OSP announced they’ve already notched a 37 percent increase in enforcement. OSP Captain Dave Anderson said they’re focusing on five specific behaviors: speed, occupant safety (seat belt use), lane usage, impaired driving and distracted driving.







Behind Anderson and Garrett as they spoke to media in Salem yesterday was a wrecked OSP patrol car that was rear-ended by a distracted driver last year and a big road sign that read: “U drive, u text, u pay.”

The efforts come after a marked increase in fatal traffic crashes last year when road deaths spiked 20 percent. That rise far outpaced vehicle miles traveled which, according to ODOT economists, was only up 5.4 percent. ODOT believes that by far the largest contributing factor to this increase is human error.

ODOT has completed a survey and commissioned a study on distracted driving in Oregon. Their data shows between 2010 and 2014 distracted driving was at least partly to blame for a crash every 2.5 hours an injury every three hours. A whopping 75 percent of people admitted driving distracted in a recent AAA survey. 83 percent of respondents to that survey agreed that the problem is on the rise and feel that, “stronger laws, better use of technology, and increased awareness,” are how we should fight it.

While we’re on the topic, have you seen the brillian anti-distracted driving campaign video from New Zealand? Watch it below…

Wonder if ODOT could get this to run on TV and the web here in Oregon?

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

BikePortland can’t survive without subscribers. It’s just $10 per month and you can sign up in a few minutes.

The post State’s distracted driving campaign now includes unmarked patrol cars, task force appeared first on BikePortland.org.

Ask BikePortland: Is there a right way to confront someone who’s texting and driving?

Ask BikePortland: Is there a right way to confront someone who’s texting and driving?

She could be behind you!

What to say?
(Photo: Raymond Clarke Images)

Welcome to the latest installment of our Ask BikePortland column. Read past articles here.

BikePortland reader Kim sent us a query that will be familiar to many people on the road, no matter their vehicle.

Today on my commute I observed a driver veering into the bike lane ahead of me. As I cautiously overtook the driver, I noticed her head skewed with a downward gaze and a cellphone in her right hand, actively texting. I felt anger at this dangerous behavior and yelled (loud enough to penetrate the rolled up windows) “Don’t do that!” and motioned to put the phone down. The driver was startled and didn’t know that someone was observing her.

I continued on, both irritated by the driver behavior and conflicted by having to be either passive or a scold. I’m sure this happens to others… it happens to me on a semi-regular basis.

I wonder if there is a story here. About driving and riding rules regarding distracted driving and how to address them on the fly, if at all. Traffic police don’t seem able to address this adequately. And mobile communications users multitasking seem to be increasing, with an attitude that it is ok.

So should we road users speak up? And, if so, what is the right, or sensible approach? Is there a middle ground between passive acceptance of scofflaw behavior and complete road rage?

– Advertisement –


I can’t pretend to have any answers on this one, except that I’ve never confronted a stranger in this situation myself. When it comes up occasionally among friends I’ll admit that there was a time when used to text behind the wheel myself before I realized that I shouldn’t do it anymore. In my case, the knowledge that I’d be escaping the constant temptation to do this was a big part of my relief on the day I sold my car.

We all know operating a vehicle while distracted by devices (or food or pets or makeup) is wrong and dangerous (don’t we?). But when we’re unexpectedly confronted by strangers about our sins, it’s easy for us to shut down, tune out or dig in our heels. When the confrontation is coming from someone on a bike — who is, sadly, often going to be falsely seen as having a feeling of smugness or superiority — that might make the message even harder to accept.

But it’s also impossible to accept a message that you never hear in the first place. If we don’t call the unacceptable behaviors around us unacceptable, who will?

What advice would you offer Kim and others in this situation?


The post Ask BikePortland: Is there a right way to confront someone who’s texting and driving? appeared first on BikePortland.org.

Governor Kitzhaber, top legislators raise awareness of distracted driving

Governor Kitzhaber, top legislators raise awareness of distracted driving

pledge-lead

Pledging to drive without distractions, from left to right: Senate Democratic Leader Diane Rosenbaum (D-Portland), Senator Jackie Winters (R-Salem), AT&T Oregon President George Granger, House Democratic Leader Val Hoyle (D-Eugene), House Republican Leader Mike McLane (R-Powell Butte), Speaker of the House Tina Kotek (D-Portland), Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli.
(Photo: AT&T)

Distracted driving is one of the largest public health crises in America today, and Oregon is not immune to its impacts. According to ODOT crash data, 93 people died on Oregon roads between 2006 and 2011 and there were over 18,000 collisions due to distracted driving. If you like to ride a bike, this issue is of immense importance given that you ride just a few feet away from people driving multi-ton steel vehicles.

Yesterday at the state capitol in Salem, legislators attended an event to raise awareness of the issue and even Governor Kitzhaber has gotten involved by declaring this coming Friday, September 19th, “Distraction-Free Driving Day” in Oregon.

pledgekotek

House Speaker Tina Kotek.
(Photo: AT&T)

In a lobby of the capitol building, several top members of the Oregon House and Senate added their names to the over 5 million Americans who have already taken AT&T’s “It can wait” pledge. According to an AT&T spokesperson who was at yesterday’s event, the legislators included: Senate President Peter Courtney, Sen. Diane Rosenbaum, Sen. Ted Ferrioli, Sen. Jackie Winters, House Speaker Tina Kotek, Rep. Val Hoyle and Rep. Mike McLane, Rep. Shemia Fagan and Rep. Barbara Smith Warner.

The communications giant has launched the initiative to encourage people to not text and drive. Part of the campaign encourages people to text “#X” before they get into their car to let friends know they are driving and won’t respond to messages.

Last week, AT&T brought a driving and texting simulator to the Capitol and legislators tried it out for the media. According to the Salem Statesman-Journal, Senator Courtney had quite the experience trying to drive and use his phone at the same time: “It was terrible. I was hitting cars. I was running red lights,” Courtney told the paper. “You start to move off the road, and you don’t even realize it.”

In a proclamation issued a few days ago, Governor Kitzhaber issued an official state proclamation deeming September 19th Distraction-Free Driving Day.

pledgeproclamation

Here’s the text of the proclamation:

WHEREAS: The State of Oregon holds the health and safety of its citizens as a paramount concern; and

WHEREAS: Distracted driving occurs when drivers engage in activities that divert their attention from the road and their primary task of driving — such as texting, talking on a cell phone, interacting with passengers, listening to loud music, and reading; and

WHEREAS: Texting, because it distracts the driver’s visual manual, and cognitive abilities, is especially dangerous for the driver and others on the roadways; and

WHEREAS: Between 2006 and 2011, 18,146 vehicle crashes occurred in Oregon as a result of distracted driving, resulting in 15,356 injuries and 93 deaths; and

WHEREAS: The Oregon Legislature has taken several steps over the past five years to prohibit and discourage the use of handheld devices while driving.

NOW, THEREFORE:
I John A. Kitzhaber, M.D., Governor of the State of Oregon, hereby proclaim September 19, 2014 to be Distraction-Free Driving Day in Oregon and encourage all Oregonians to join in this observance.

Those “actions” Kitzhaber refers to are bills passed by the legislature to punish people who use devices while driving. The latest was Senate Bill 9, which passed in 2013 and bumped the cell phone use infraction up from a Class D traffic violation (with a base fine of $110 and maximum of $250) to a Class C violation (with a base fine of $260 and a maximum of $1,000). In addition to higher fines, SB 9 allowed ODOT to spend $123,000 on highway signage reminding drivers of the consequences.

In testimony in support of that bill back in 2013, Senator Courtney said he believes distracted driving is just as serious as drunk driving. “As such, there should be a very serious consequence,” he testified, “My intention with this bill is to achieve the same attitude towards texting and driving as there currently is towards drinking and driving.”

Oregon has a long ways to to go before our driving and traffic culture sees cell phone use in the same light as drinking and driving. Beyond proclamations and photo-ops, what we need is more money for enforcement. We also need ODOT and the state to do more to protect road users — especially vulnerable ones like bicycle riders — from momentary lapses of attention. More physically protected bicycle lanes and off-highway bicycle pathways should be seen as a key part of the solution.

The post Governor Kitzhaber, top legislators raise awareness of distracted driving appeared first on BikePortland.org.

Governor Kitzhaber, top legislators raise awareness of distracted driving

Governor Kitzhaber, top legislators raise awareness of distracted driving

pledge-lead

Pledging to drive without distractions, from left to right: Senate Democratic Leader Diane Rosenbaum (D-Portland), Senator Jackie Winters (R-Salem), AT&T Oregon President George Granger, House Democratic Leader Val Hoyle (D-Eugene), House Republican Leader Mike McLane (R-Powell Butte), Speaker of the House Tina Kotek (D-Portland), Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli.
(Photo: AT&T)

Distracted driving is one of the largest public health crises in America today, and Oregon is not immune to its impacts. According to ODOT crash data, 93 people died on Oregon roads between 2006 and 2011 and there were over 18,000 collisions due to distracted driving. If you like to ride a bike, this issue is of immense importance given that you ride just a few feet away from people driving multi-ton steel vehicles.

Yesterday at the state capitol in Salem, legislators attended an event to raise awareness of the issue and even Governor Kitzhaber has gotten involved by declaring this coming Friday, September 19th, “Distraction-Free Driving Day” in Oregon.

pledgekotek

House Speaker Tina Kotek.
(Photo: AT&T)

In a lobby of the capitol building, several top members of the Oregon House and Senate added their names to the over 5 million Americans who have already taken AT&T’s “It can wait” pledge. According to an AT&T spokesperson who was at yesterday’s event, the legislators included: Senate President Peter Courtney, Sen. Diane Rosenbaum, Sen. Ted Ferrioli, Sen. Jackie Winters, House Speaker Tina Kotek, Rep. Val Hoyle and Rep. Mike McLane, Rep. Shemia Fagan and Rep. Barbara Smith Warner.

The communications giant has launched the initiative to encourage people to not text and drive. Part of the campaign encourages people to text “#X” before they get into their car to let friends know they are driving and won’t respond to messages.

Last week, AT&T brought a driving and texting simulator to the Capitol and legislators tried it out for the media. According to the Salem Statesman-Journal, Senator Courtney had quite the experience trying to drive and use his phone at the same time: “It was terrible. I was hitting cars. I was running red lights,” Courtney told the paper. “You start to move off the road, and you don’t even realize it.”

In a proclamation issued a few days ago, Governor Kitzhaber issued an official state proclamation deeming September 19th Distraction-Free Driving Day.

pledgeproclamation

Here’s the text of the proclamation:

WHEREAS: The State of Oregon holds the health and safety of its citizens as a paramount concern; and

WHEREAS: Distracted driving occurs when drivers engage in activities that divert their attention from the road and their primary task of driving — such as texting, talking on a cell phone, interacting with passengers, listening to loud music, and reading; and

WHEREAS: Texting, because it distracts the driver’s visual manual, and cognitive abilities, is especially dangerous for the driver and others on the roadways; and

WHEREAS: Between 2006 and 2011, 18,146 vehicle crashes occurred in Oregon as a result of distracted driving, resulting in 15,356 injuries and 93 deaths; and

WHEREAS: The Oregon Legislature has taken several steps over the past five years to prohibit and discourage the use of handheld devices while driving.

NOW, THEREFORE:
I John A. Kitzhaber, M.D., Governor of the State of Oregon, hereby proclaim September 19, 2014 to be Distraction-Free Driving Day in Oregon and encourage all Oregonians to join in this observance.

Those “actions” Kitzhaber refers to are bills passed by the legislature to punish people who use devices while driving. The latest was Senate Bill 9, which passed in 2013 and bumped the cell phone use infraction up from a Class D traffic violation (with a base fine of $110 and maximum of $250) to a Class C violation (with a base fine of $260 and a maximum of $1,000). In addition to higher fines, SB 9 allowed ODOT to spend $123,000 on highway signage reminding drivers of the consequences.

In testimony in support of that bill back in 2013, Senator Courtney said he believes distracted driving is just as serious as drunk driving. “As such, there should be a very serious consequence,” he testified, “My intention with this bill is to achieve the same attitude towards texting and driving as there currently is towards drinking and driving.”

Oregon has a long ways to to go before our driving and traffic culture sees cell phone use in the same light as drinking and driving. Beyond proclamations and photo-ops, what we need is more money for enforcement. We also need ODOT and the state to do more to protect road users — especially vulnerable ones like bicycle riders — from momentary lapses of attention. More physically protected bicycle lanes and off-highway bicycle pathways should be seen as a key part of the solution.

The post Governor Kitzhaber, top legislators raise awareness of distracted driving appeared first on BikePortland.org.

Thoughts on distracted driving and walking headlines

Thoughts on distracted driving and walking headlines

Poster from Distraction.gov campaign.

One of the things I spend time on everyday is monitoring headlines. I liken this part of my job to a military intelligence officer listening to “chatter” from satellites and other broadcast signals. It’s fascinating to watch various memes and issues go from a tiny whisper to a roar in a matter of hours. Another thing I try to watch for is how the same issue is spun in different ways.

In the past day or so, distracted driving has been on my mind (it actually never leaves my mind) and I’ve noticed several interesting headlines about it. Then this morning, a major regional transit agency put out a message about “distracted walking”. With all this chatter, I figured it was time to talk about this issue again.

In his most recent column titled, How do we curb our careless obsession with cell phones in cars? Oregonian columnist Steve Duin made it clear that he is concerned about this dangerous epidemic. In his piece, Duin points to the toothless penalties the currently exist in Oregon law for people caught using phones while driving. He also points out the vast gap in severity of punishment between drunk driving and distracted driving, event though it could be argued that, “the latter is far more hazardous to your judgment and reaction times”. Not only that, I’d add, but unfortunately distracted driving is far more common and socially accepted than drunk driving.

Duin’s column is good and I’m glad he’s concerned about this issue. As he points out though, enforcement and “tougher” laws isn’t making much of a dent in this dangerous activity. We need a change in culture where respect for the safety of other people is greater than the selfish habit of checking a phone when attention should be kept on the road. And since culture change takes so long, we can only hope that new technology helps the problem and that cities and states get serious about creating more physically protected bike lanes.

Speaking of infrastructure and creating more urgency from politicians and bureaucrats, Streetsblog analyzed new research that shows people walking and biking are getting hurt and killed at increasing rates due to distracted driving. Here’s an excerpt:

Pedestrian deaths attributable to distracted driving rose from 344 in 2005 to 500 in 2010, significantly faster than overall population growth. Annual bicyclist deaths caused by distracted driving rose from 56 to 73 over the same period. Together pedestrians and bicyclists accounted for about one in 10 traffic fatalities that resulted from distracted driving, researchers found.

Those stats, combined with the obvious reality that can be seen on the roads every day, should be all that elected officials need to prioritize this issue.

The Streetsblog story also quoted one of the study’s authors who said, “Evidence suggests that separating non-motorized travel from motorized travel, through bike lanes or other redevelopment efforts, could greatly reduce deaths.” Reading that, I couldn’t help but think about PBOT’s proposal for a major redesign of SE Foster Road that provides zero protection for bike riders.

TriMet is concerned about rise in “distracted walking.”

And the final headline that I wanted to share this morning comes from our regional public transit agency, TriMet. Within hours of Streetsblog pointing out a rise in carnage caused by distracted driving, TriMet issued a news statement that began with the words, “As concerns about ‘distracted walking’ increase…” The purpose of TriMet’s statement was to share more about the audible turn-warning systems they’ve been testing.

It’s clear from TriMet’s messaging that they are trying to establish a particular narrative around distracted road use. Here’s an excerpt (emphases mine):

This demonstration comes at a time when “distracted walking” is beginning to draw as much attention as distracted driving. A nationwide study by Ohio State University released this summer found that injuries related to using a cell phone while walking more than doubled from 2005 to 2010 and, if trends continue, the number of injuries will double again between 2010 and 2015.

For drivers, including our bus and train operators, distracted walkers have become a common sight in busy pedestrian areas such as downtown Portland. They often are so engrossed in their electronic devices they do not pay attention to the traffic around them. Last year, University of Washington researchers found walkers who were texting were four times less likely to look before crossing streets, stay in crosswalks or obey traffic signals.

No matter what side of the windshield you’re on, what all these headlines tell me — especially when combined with what we all see with our own eyes every single day — is that distracted driving is a major issue. It could be the most urgent and important traffic safety issue we face today. With the absence of former US DOT Secretary Ray LaHood’s all-out assault on distracted driving, I’m worried that our elected officials and transportation leaders have allowed this issue to be put on the back-burner.

Anyone who makes the oft-repeated claim that “safety is our top priority when it comes to transportation” must do more to address distracted driving. When it comes to solutions, we need an all-of-the-above approach because of all the issues I think about, the alarming number of people who take their eyes off the road to use their phones while driving, is the one that concerns me the most.

Complaints about TriMet operators using phones behind the wheel plunge 85%

Complaints about TriMet operators using phones behind the wheel plunge 85%

Riding Portland's urban highways-38

TriMet requires its drivers to keep electronic
devices off and out of sight while working.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

TriMet’s total ban on the use of electronic devices while driving seems to be working, though some of the transit agency’s operators still seem to flout the rule.

The Oregonian’s Joseph Rose opened his notebook Thursday to share a wealth of reporting about TriMet operators’ use of electronic devices, including the results of a public record request showing that the number of complaints received by TriMet about drivers and cell phones fell from 530, in the two years to 2009, to 80, in the two years to 2013.

In 2010, as one of his first orders on the job, General Manager Neil McFarlane began requiring operators to keep their cell phones off and out of site while on duty. Matters came to a head when one passenger captured a video that seemed to show a driver with a history of past incidents reading a Kindle while behind the wheel of a bus on Interstate 5.

TriMet has reminded drivers of this policy in the regular safety trainings that the agency launched in response to a fatal 2010 bus collision in Old Town. It repeated the rules in a memo circulated to operators last month and publicized to the media Thursday.

“In 2012, we disciplined two operators for using personal electronic devices while driving,” TriMet spokeswoman Roberta Altstadt wrote in the news release. “In the first seven months of this year, four operators have been disciplined for using a device behind the wheel.”

Earlier this month, Twitter user Pamela Chapel caught and shared a photo of a TriMet driver she said was texting behind the wheel.

As Rose reports, TriMet’s new 3000 and 3100-series buses (including the one caught by Chapel’s photo) come equipped with cameras and audio microphones pointed at the operator, something the agency has done over the objections of its workers’ union.

“We don’t want them going on fishing expeditions,” union President Bruce Hansen told The Oregonian. “We don’t want them to go looking through whole days of video to find something that the drivers are doing wrong.”

Only “a few” operators are responsible for problems with electronic devices, Hansen said, and it wouldn’t be accurate to paint all operators with that brush.

Last month, a Spanish train operator talking on the phone with railway staff was involved in a high-speed crash that killed 79 people. TriMet cited the example in its Aug. 13 memo to its own staff and in today’s news release.

Complaints about TriMet operators using phones behind the wheel plunge 85%

Complaints about TriMet operators using phones behind the wheel plunge 85%

Riding Portland's urban highways-38

TriMet requires its drivers to keep electronic
devices off and out of sight while working.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

TriMet’s total ban on the use of electronic devices while driving seems to be working, though some of the transit agency’s operators still seem to flout the rule.

The Oregonian’s Joseph Rose opened his notebook Thursday to share a wealth of reporting about TriMet operators’ use of electronic devices, including the results of a public record request showing that the number of complaints received by TriMet about drivers and cell phones fell from 530, in the two years to 2009, to 80, in the two years to 2013.

In 2010, as one of his first orders on the job, General Manager Neil McFarlane began requiring operators to keep their cell phones off and out of sight while on duty. Matters came to a head when one passenger captured a video that seemed to show a driver with a history of past incidents reading a Kindle while behind the wheel of a bus on Interstate 5.

TriMet has reminded drivers of this policy in the regular safety trainings that the agency launched in response to a fatal 2010 bus collision in Old Town. It repeated the rules in a memo circulated to operators last month and publicized to the media Thursday.

“In 2012, we disciplined two operators for using personal electronic devices while driving,” TriMet spokeswoman Roberta Altstadt wrote in the news release. “In the first seven months of this year, four operators have been disciplined for using a device behind the wheel.”

Earlier this month, Twitter user Pamela Chapel caught and shared a photo of a TriMet driver she said was texting behind the wheel.

As Rose reports, TriMet’s new 3000 and 3100-series buses (including the one caught by Chapel’s photo) come equipped with cameras and audio microphones pointed at the operator, something the agency has done over the objections of its workers’ union.

“We don’t want them going on fishing expeditions,” union President Bruce Hansen told The Oregonian. “We don’t want them to go looking through whole days of video to find something that the drivers are doing wrong.”

Only “a few” operators are responsible for problems with electronic devices, Hansen said, and it wouldn’t be accurate to paint all operators with that brush.

Last month, a Spanish train operator talking on the phone with railway staff was involved in a high-speed crash that killed 79 people. TriMet cited the example in its Aug. 13 memo to its own staff and in today’s news release.

Ask BikePortland: What should I do when I see people using phones while driving?

Ask BikePortland: What should I do when I see people using phones while driving?

Should you say something?
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Funny how things work out some times: A reader emailed me a few hours ago wondering what she should do when she sees people using phones while driving. Then a few minutes ago I read a news story about the exact same situation.

The situation is this: When bicycling, it’s very easy to see inside people’s cars as you ride by. That means people who ride bikes witness an awful lot of people using phones while driving. For anyone that knows the carnage distracted driving accounts for on our streets, this is a disturbing phenomenon. Using a cell phone while driving is both highly dangerous to yourself and those around you, and it also shows blatant disregard of Oregon traffic law. (As an aside, this ease of seeing drivers on cell phones while biking is why I’ve advocated for the police to use bike patrol officers to do cell phone law enforcement stings. So far, they haven’t taken me up on the idea).

Reader Kim I. emailed us wondering what to do (if anything) after witnessing such behavior. Here’s her email:

“I am a daily bike commuter in Portland. Over the last few weeks during my morning or evening commute, I have observed drivers texting on mobile phones as I passed them. It is probably no surprise to you that it evokes anger for me… I am appalled that someone can be so careless. On at least three occasions I have caught the texting drivers’ attention and chided them. Invariably, they smile and blow me off. I find this frustrating (and I feel foolish), yet if I remain a mute witness to this behavior, it is equally frustrating. Is there anything a citizen can do? I wonder if others in the bike community have any suggestions.”

Just an hour or so after reading that email, I came across this story via KOMO News up in Seattle: Police: Driver rams pedestrian for telling her to hang up and drive:

“… a female driver talking on a cellphone intentionally rammed a pedestrian after he signaled for her to hang up and drive Monday afternoon… the victim was crossing Fifth Avenue South and South King Street in the crosswalk around 12:50 p.m. when he indicated to a woman driving a silver Honda Civic that she should hang up her phone… The suspect reacted poorly to being scolded and pulled forward, intentionally ramming the victim with her car, according to the report… The victim told officers the suspect hit him in the knees with her car twice more while laughing and yelling that he wasn’t an officer before driving off.”

So does that answer Kim’s question? Is it better to just stay silent when you see people using phones in their car? I’ve often wondered this myself.

One thing we’ve seen over the years — and what this Seattle incident clearly illustrates — is that trying to communicate with another road user about their behavior is an extremely dicey proposition. It can end up going very well, but it can also end up deteriorating quickly. Emotions rule in these situation and I don’t know of any adults who take kindly to lectures about their behavior from friends and relatives, much less complete strangers.

In the end, I’d urge a compromise between verbal engagement and doing nothing. Perhaps the best thing is to come up with a good hand gesture (not the middle finger) or facial expression that shows your disapproval and gets your point across. Does anyone have other tips? What do you do?

Read more in our Ask BikePortland archives.

Ask BikePortland: What should I do when I see people using phones while driving?

Ask BikePortland: What should I do when I see people using phones while driving?

Should you say something?
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Funny how things work out some times: A reader emailed me a few hours ago wondering what she should do when she sees people using phones while driving. Then a few minutes ago I read a news story about the exact same situation.

The situation is this: When bicycling, it’s very easy to see inside people’s cars as you ride by. That means people who ride bikes witness an awful lot of people using phones while driving. For anyone that knows the carnage distracted driving accounts for on our streets, this is a disturbing phenomenon. Using a cell phone while driving is both highly dangerous to yourself and those around you, and it also shows blatant disregard of Oregon traffic law. (As an aside, this ease of seeing drivers on cell phones while biking is why I’ve advocated for the police to use bike patrol officers to do cell phone law enforcement stings. So far, they haven’t taken me up on the idea).

Reader Kim I. emailed us wondering what to do (if anything) after witnessing such behavior. Here’s her email:

“I am a daily bike commuter in Portland. Over the last few weeks during my morning or evening commute, I have observed drivers texting on mobile phones as I passed them. It is probably no surprise to you that it evokes anger for me… I am appalled that someone can be so careless. On at least three occasions I have caught the texting drivers’ attention and chided them. Invariably, they smile and blow me off. I find this frustrating (and I feel foolish), yet if I remain a mute witness to this behavior, it is equally frustrating. Is there anything a citizen can do? I wonder if others in the bike community have any suggestions.”

Just an hour or so after reading that email, I came across this story via KOMO News up in Seattle: Police: Driver rams pedestrian for telling her to hang up and drive:

“… a female driver talking on a cellphone intentionally rammed a pedestrian after he signaled for her to hang up and drive Monday afternoon… the victim was crossing Fifth Avenue South and South King Street in the crosswalk around 12:50 p.m. when he indicated to a woman driving a silver Honda Civic that she should hang up her phone… The suspect reacted poorly to being scolded and pulled forward, intentionally ramming the victim with her car, according to the report… The victim told officers the suspect hit him in the knees with her car twice more while laughing and yelling that he wasn’t an officer before driving off.”

So does that answer Kim’s question? Is it better to just stay silent when you see people using phones in their car? I’ve often wondered this myself.

One thing we’ve seen over the years — and what this Seattle incident clearly illustrates — is that trying to communicate with another road user about their behavior is an extremely dicey proposition. It can end up going very well, but it can also end up deteriorating quickly. Emotions rule in these situation and I don’t know of any adults who take kindly to lectures about their behavior from friends and relatives, much less complete strangers.

In the end, I’d urge a compromise between verbal engagement and doing nothing. Perhaps the best thing is to come up with a good hand gesture (not the middle finger) or facial expression that shows your disapproval and gets your point across. Does anyone have other tips? What do you do?

Read more in our Ask BikePortland archives.

Surprise! New driving research shows “hands-free” isn’t safe

Surprise! New driving research shows “hands-free” isn’t safe

Cover of Measuring Cognitive Distraction in the Automobile,
a new report from AAA.

Yesterday the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety dropped a bomb into the national debate about distracted driving. They conducted research and developed a report that shows “significant levels of cognitive distraction” by people who drive while performing various hands-free tasks. The report comes amid a growing trend in the auto-industry to turn cars into smartphones. In fact, on the same day this report came out, Apple made a big announcement about their new operating system, iOS in the Car, which promises to allow users to, “easily and safely make phone calls, access your music, send and receive messages, get directions and more.”

Part of this push is an attempt by automakers to find a way to rekindle the love affair between young people and cars that has built the foundation of their business for decades. Unfortunately, their sales goals are at odds with the health and welfare of millions of Americans and the new in-car technology arms race they are involved in flies in the face of this new safety research by AAA. Here’s an excerpt about the research from AAA’s blog:

Much more troubling, however, is the fact that phone conversations (whether hand-held or hands-free) and voice-based interactions with in-vehicle systems create significant levels of cognitive distraction, as demonstrated by suppressed brain activity, slowed reaction times, missed visual cues, and reduced visual scanning of the driving environment (think tunnel vision). Keep in mind that these degradations were found even though drivers kept their eyes on the road and, with the exception of the hand-held phone task, their hands on the wheel.

Succinctly put: “hands-free” doesn’t mean “risk free.”

Though shipments of these [infotainment] systems are expected to skyrocket in the coming years, use of speech-to-text communications presented the highest level of cognitive distraction of all the tasks we analyzed.

Crash statistics show the importance of this research. Not only are automobile-related crashes one of the leading causes of death and injury in America, but the amount of them caused by driver distraction has reached epidemic proportions. A recent study cited in the AAA report ofund that “inattention” was a factor in 78 percent of all crashes and near crashes. The consequences of all this distracted driving are especially obvious for people who use the road while on a bicycle.

This report has garnered widespread media attention. However, the conventional wisdom is that until there are strong laws (that are actually enforced), the auto industry isn’t likely to change course. For states that care about traffic safety, there’s a clear course of action to consider. Many states have already made using a cell phone while driving illegal; but the next step is to eliminate the exception for hands-free devices. In an editorial back in 2010 we called on the Oregon Legislature to do just that. Hopefully this new research from the AAA will create the political cover needed to finally take that important legal step and put the auto industry on watch to create safer products.