Distracted driving is "Pure Death"

No. Pure death is a bullet to the head. Drinking cyanide.

Distracted driving is highly diluted death. I know because I know of millions of people who are not dead yet and probably never will be.

They say it is as bad as drunk driving, another activity that is wildly overrated as deadly. Though I assiduously avoid it, my few experiences with staggering home in a car have resulted in zero deaths. My old friend and desperate alcoholic Al Spinnabella only drove drunk. To the best of my knowledge, he never killed or hurt himself or anyone else.

To be clear, I do not drive drunk and I do not text while driving. Both clearly increase risk for little reward.

But, talking on the phone is almost as bad. I do that all the time. I know it increases risk but the reward is high. You might feel that way about listening to music. I do about listening to books.

Everything lives on a spectrum of risk. Driving a car is extremely dangerous compared to watching television. But the reward for driving is high.

I am in favor of analyzing risks so that they can be mitigated but I am not in favor of trying to control behavior. Not only doesn’t it never work but the unintended consequences are usually appalling. Making cars safer has had infinitely more benefit that all of the reductions in blood alcohol level, increases in penalties and social opprobrium put together. It will be the same for distracted driving.

Here’s the other thing. It’s so not-close to “pure death” that people continue to do it. In fact, everyone who’s not a nanny-state advocate knows it's not even terribly dangerous. I have been hearing about this for years and am still alive and so is just about everyone else.

The annual death rate for automobiles is 10.7 per 100k (about 33k per year, less than unintentional poisoning) and the number of people admitted to the hospital for auto injuries is 50 per 100k. To accumulate those injuries and deaths, Americans drove three trillion miles in 2015 (it’s up almost six percent so far for ’16).

Which is to say that 350 million people spent (apparently) all day every day in a car and only .0005 of them (.05%) were hurt more than a sprain (non-hospital injury). Those ~90k that got killed or hospitalized represent 1.2 billion (13.7k/driver, I leave out the fact that not all were drivers) miles of driving. That means that we got over 2.99 trillion miles without death despite all the distracted and drunken driving.

Again, I’m not saying that people should do things in cars to increase the risk to themselves or anyone else. What I’m saying is that the alarm presented on the Diane Rehm show is overblown. I read today that New York is working on an implied consent law that would force you to show your phone to a cop to prove you weren’t texting (the article calls it a ‘textalizer’) in the same way that getting a drivers license obligates you to blow for the cop if they want.

Given the level of hysteria that goodie-goodies are working up, we can imagine (and why not?) roadblocks that check both your drunk status but also your phone.

And all this for activities that I believe with perfect certainty are much less dangerous than having a couple of kids in the car between the ages of two and five. There, of course, the benefit of allowing the risky activity is very high so we don’t care.