Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Posts Tagged ‘cell phones

Cell phones on transit

with 16 comments

This has been a peeve of mine for some time – and this post was inspired by this recent piece in the New York Times. Quiet cars are not new – they have been so designated on West Coast Express for some time – and in Britain some railway coaches are fitted with special glass so that cell phones cannot be used. But here, in Vancouver, the Canada Line was opened with a special “leaky cable” so that cell phone calls would continue once the train plunged below Cambie Street.

It is of course about civility – or rather, these days, its absence. People on cell phones seem to be unaware – or unconcerned  – that everyone else is eavesdropping, unwillingly, on half the conversation. Some young people also like to talk in exaggeratedly loud voices in the hopes of offending others in ear shot. Nothing new about that: in Paris in the late 19th century the decadents loved to “Épater la bourgeoisie”. But really I think it is mostly that modern sensibility is that the individual can do as they like – and need not concern themselves about the impact they have on others. Especially if that includes conspicuous consumption: there is a market advantage that corporations can profit from, and that is all that they can care about – that is established in civil law and seems to overrule all else.

I do not want to hear what you have to say to whoever it is you have to call. Or who calls you. It is mostly trivial – and could easily have waited. Every public event I attend is always preceded now with a public announcement to turn off pagers and cell phones – yet there are always a few who ignore that. They consider themselves far too important to be cut off for even a moment. They would never think that maybe a text – or a voice mail – might do just as well. That it does not have to be instantaneous. That there are some moments in life when interruption is not welcome. That the people who look over your shoulder at a party to see if someone more interesting has just arrived are simply being rude.

Why does our transit system encourage such boorishness? Probably because of some corporate deal making that fed a new source of revenue their way. We cannot be allowed to know that, of course. “Privacy” does mean the individual can be left in peace: it means that a corporation can conceal anything it likes in the name of commercial confidentiality. Because that matters. Individuals – or even society as whole – do not.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 8, 2010 at 8:22 pm

Posted in transit

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Do distracted drivers bother you?

with 4 comments

I have lost count of the number of times recently I have had to take avoiding action because of the behaviour of other drivers. Some of it of course is simply because of aggressive driving – the sort of people who overtake on the wrong side, cut in front of the line at the last moment or simply ignore signals. But increasing is it noticeable that the offending driver is holding a cell phone – and often gesticulating with the other hand. People who talk on the phone behave as though the person on the other end of the call can see them. This is bizarre  behaviour even when not driving.

Kash Heed, the new Solicitor General, and former police officer seems ready to do something. There is a consultation process that started yesterday and runs until August 7.

The Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles (OSMV) recently conducted an extensive review of distracted driving research. The link to the full distracted driving discussion paper can be found below. The following is a summary of some of the research in this paper:

  • Evidence shows that driver distraction, of all types, is associated with approximately 25 per cent of crashes and results in a significant cost to society in terms of tragic loss of life, serious injuries and resulting monetary costs. Activities such as talking on a cell phone and manipulating electronic devices require significant amounts of attention being diverted away from driving tasks.
  • In both simulated and real driving environments, the use of electronic devices has been shown to result in crashes and near misses. Drivers fail to process approximately 50 per cent of the visual information in their driving environment when they are using electronic communication devices. Evidence also concludes that there is no difference between the level of driver distraction associated with hands-free and hand-held cell phone use.
  • Talking to a passenger in the vehicle versus talking to someone through electronic means does not cause the same level of distraction. Reasons for the difference include: the passenger is aware of the driving situation; the passenger can serve as an additional look-out for hazards; the passenger can adjust speech, tone and conversation to the driving environment; and cell phone conversations suppress brain activity necessary for attention to perceptual input.
  • There is no evidence that listening to the radio or a book on tape degrades driving performance.
  • If you want to you can download the whole discussion paper or you can respond to the following discussion questions

    1. Do you think government should pass additional laws restricting the use of electronic devices while driving, or should emphasis be placed on increased public education and awareness and the enforcement of existing laws governing driver distraction (e.g. “Driving Without Due Care and Attention”)?
    2. Which electronic devices should be considered under this framework?
    3. Should hands-free devices be treated the same or differently as hand-held devices?
    4. What would be the appropriate penalties for drivers disobeying such a law (e.g. failure to wear a seatbelt is a fine of $167)?
    5. Should any proposed laws apply to all drivers, or only specific categories of drivers (i.e., new drivers)?
    6. Should exemptions be provided to any class of drivers (i.e., emergency responders, professional drivers, etc.)

    You can submit your responses to the form on line, mail or fax.

    It seems to me that the current arrangement is not doing enough –  as 117 people die each year in B.C., and another 1,400 are hospitalized, from traffic crashes linked to distractions such as the use of cell phones or MP3 players while driving. But distractions are nothing new – and will continue even if new legislation is introduced. I interviewed OPP officers as part of a study I did back when cell phones were rare and the size of a house brick. They had a long list of things people did while driving just before collisions including eating and drinking (of course) smoking – it is the by product that’s the problem – spilling hot coffee in the lap and setting hair or a beard on fire being somewhat more distracting than struggling to open the plastic rap on a gas station sandwich. Applying make up and changing a pair of tights while driving at high speed on the 401 seemed to be pretty frequent in accident reports too.

    “Without due car and attention” it seemed to me at the time should have resulted in charges more often, but traffic cops are often reluctant to go to court. Especially when the offender had self incriminated themselves in their reports of what happened  after the officer arrived on the scene. It is that old problem of the officer not actually observing the behaviour.

    I also think that ICBC should take a stand on this kind of claim and take contributory negligence into account. Especially when the other driver does not even put the phone down when you are trying to get their insurance details from them!

    I hope that you will take the time to let  Kash know your thoughts – and I will stop trying to tell you how you should answer!

    Written by Stephen Rees

    July 1, 2009 at 10:30 am

    Posted in Road safety

    Tagged with ,

    Ontario bill would ban cellphone use by drivers

    with 5 comments

    Globe and Mail

    Whether or not BC decides to follow Ontario’s example (and I doubt we will given the way Gordon Campbell dumped photo radar) can I use this space to recommend a course of action to my readerrs. Hang up and drive.

    Remaining focussed on the task of driving is not something that comes naturally. As our confidence as drivers increases we tend to relax behind the wheel. We certainly lose focus, and it is not at all unusual for people to actually doze off while driving. And there are always distractions, both inside and outside the car, that deflect attention. There are good reasons for thinking that hands free cell phone use is not much safer either. I have certianly noticed that there are many people who are incapable of having a phone conversation without using emphatic hand gestures. So the process of being in a conversation can certainly occupy the whole of our brain at that moment, and make us do quite inappropriate things at that moment.

    As for whether the bans actually work, in Newfoundland, statistics show an eight per cent drop in the number of collisions between 2003 and 2005, shortly after the law came into effect.

    An eight per cent drop is certainly worth having, but we would much rather argue – and most of it will be droven by “nanny state” arguments. If we were sensible, we would not need a law. We would just not do it – and I will confess I have done it myself. Even though I know that I can always check the voicemail next time I stop. Very few calls really need to be answered instantly.

    I have had one collision due to distraction too. My old van had a very dodgy cup holder. My ex-wife had used it as an ashtray, and the foam insert that was supposed to hold the cup was weakened by cigarette burns. I had a tall cup in it when I took a bend a bit quickly and got hot coffee on my legs. Now I know you ae supposed to simply grit your teeth and ignore the pain as best you can under such circumstances – but of course I looked down and drifted into the path of the car beside me. This just produced minor damage to both vehicles and no one was hurt. But the woman whose car I hit was on the phone – even while I was trying to exchange details with her – but mostly trying to persuade her to move her vehicle away from a blind bend. If I had wanted to be litigious (and I don’t now and didn’t then) I could have argued that she was equally responsible. After all, if she had been paying attention, there was room for her to avoid me, or even (perish the thought) slow down a little. She also tried to claim personal injury later – but the claim for “whip lash” neck injury in a collision like that did not stand up to much.

    Driving requires all of your attention. Lives are at stake. At higher speeds, the severity of collisions rises exponentially. If you must take or make a call, pull over and stop first. Set a good example, but do not rage impotently at those you see doing stupid things on the road. That is their problem – and your job is to avoid them not seek to punish them. Phones and road rage are not a good combination.

    But also try to minimize distractions inside the car, if you can. The people out there who are your main concern are, in any event, not so much other drivers as those without the protection of a steel encased padded cell.


    I was driving home this morning when i noticed that the driver of the car behind me was talking on his cell phone. When we pulled up at the traffic light, I looked again and noticed that he was wearing eppaulettes on his shirt, and there was an interesting collection of lights across the top of the widshield, inside the car and normally not visible except in low direct sunlight. It was a very ordinary looking grey Oldsmobile – and this was the sort of policeman who wears a white shirt with lots of pips on his eppauletes. So I drove very carefully ay 78km/hr aloing Highway #17.

    It seems very unlikely that Senior Police Officers are keen on a cell phone ban here.

    Written by Stephen Rees

    October 27, 2008 at 8:58 am

    Posted in Road safety

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    Austrian Town Bans Ring Tones on Transit

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    Cellular News

    The Mayor of the Austrian city, Graz has issued a regulation which requires public transport users to switch their mobile phones to silent mode when traveling. Graz Mayor Siegfried Nagl, a member of the centre-right Austrian People’s Party told Austrian television that he is determined to make sure commuters can ride in peace if they wish.

    The ban is toothless though – as there is no fine for infringements.

    The ban was welcomed by Austria’s Green Party, but condemned by the Social Democrats. Local transport authorities had preferred social pressure to curb any problems. According to an opinion poll by the local newspaper, Kleine Zeitung, 68% of the Graz population welcomed the idea.

    Nagl was elected Mayor of Graz in 2003.

    The ban is not toothless – if 68% welcome the idea, and silence their own phones, that is a start. And social disapproval can work on the rest. Most law works through voluntary compliance. Like deciding which side of the road to drive on. Passing an anti idling bylaw works by raising awareness – not by the number of fines issued.

    A good place to start would be to designate cell phone free areas – which is already done on some trains in some places. I suspect (though cannot prove) that a similar thought lies underneath the persistence of the bans on cell phone use on planes and hospitals.

    Written by Stephen Rees

    April 17, 2008 at 10:44 am

    Posted in transit

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