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San Diego Businesses Join Fight Against Distracted Driving

December 5, 2013 1:18 p.m.

GUESTS:

Dr. Linda Hill, professor, Department of Family and Preventative Medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine, TREDS program director

Steve Bloch, Ph.D., Senior Research Associate, Automobile Club of Southern California

Related Story: Chula Vista Police Cracking Down On Distracted Drivers

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ALISON ST. JOHN: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Alison St. John in for Maureen Cavanaugh. How many times have you been driving down the road and then notice next to you someone not just talking into thin air but actually texting on the phone or on the lap? A recent survey from UC San Diego research and education for driving safety programs found 83% of adults report texting, talking, or using applications while driving. There's a new education projects called just to drive take action against distraction and to talk about this is Linda Hill and also on the phone we have Doctor Stephen Bloch. Thank you for being with us. So to start with Doctor Hill, your report came with a specific number of people who report using mobile phones, what are the numbers that you found?

LINDA HILL: Our most recent survey was for middle-aged adults and we found that 83% use phones while driving. There is no question that distracted driving is an addictive behavior. 91% of adults have smartphones, I was surprised to find that the statistic that at any point 6 billion texts are sent in the United States.

ALISON ST. JOHN: That's not a number just for people on the road though, right?

LINDA HILL: No. But it does show how that behavior carries over into the car. It's so much a part of our life.

ALISON ST. JOHN: As a researcher with the auto clubs, you have been on the ground survey devices while driving and for the past five years, since the law went to the fact, tell us of the divers you've seen using cell phones?

STEVE BLOCH: We have been doing a survey for the law to go into effect and that is a port. Important. Through the course of the past 5 to 5 and half years, we have done line surveys looking about 4000 people per survey, and what is intriguing about that is we found that California's 2000 only law appeared to have been effective in reducing behavior of cell phone use over the past five years with a big reduction in handheld cell phone use down to about 50% percent. But there's a probably of run into that the reduction has held true for texting. It is a more difficult thing to enforce and we found that texting on the road has increased dramatically and in fact it is more than double what it was before the law went into effect and it is about ten times what was after the facts law first went into effect. Right after it went into effect, it's creeping back up again.

ALISON ST. JOHN: How did you do that survey?

STEVE BLOCH: We actually went out on the road and when to stop signs and two red lights and stood there and observed what people were doing inside the vehicle and took it down and calculated that.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Why is texting more difficult to enforce?

STEVE BLOCH: Because people hold their devices below the window or the steering wheel and is very difficult for police officers to see that, and as a result enforcement rates are very low on texting, they increased dramatically but police officers simply cannot see them texting and what happens is it's mostly motorcycle officers who fine people for texting.

ALISON ST. JOHN: So people texting without looking down or does it seem like it should be possible to see if someone is texting into the lap, but apparently not? Unless they see the device. Tell us how you're seeing the use of smartphones in distracted driving, how does that compare to someone who is drunk?

LINDA HILL: When you compare the person who is speaking on the phone, to somebody who has a blood alcohol concentration, those are the same for speaking. But one talk about texting, the crash risk goes up twenty-three times. It's not hard to understand. When we're driving at 60 miles an hour, we go 88 feet a second. The average texts takes 4.5 seconds to write, if you try, it took the over five seconds. You imagine that the person has had their head down more on their texting. It's like driving blind.

ALISON ST. JOHN: It is amazing how people won't pay attention to the road for more than ten seconds, what you think needs to be done?

LINDA HILL: We know that you have to have the knowledge and what we did find in our surveys, we found that people who thought that texting was high risk, they were less likely to engage in it. But knowledge is not enough when you're dealing with an addictive behavior. We're giving practical tips. I think you people recognize that we're addicted to instant communication that we can do things that put the phone out of the way, we can turn our phones off and put a message on the voicemail say that we don't answer the phone on we are in the car, we can put in the trunk, we can get an app that blocks incoming calls or texts.

ALISON ST. JOHN: These are all great suggestions, though Steve has a story that might help encourage and motivate people to consider taking some of these actions of what texting could lead to, would you please share that? I know that you have had experience of the San Diego woman who actually ended up running over a relative because of texting.

STEVE BLOCH: There is an activist in the San Diego area and she actually had an experience where her child who is six years old was killed in a distracted driving crash and the person who was driving that car was her sister. And while one reacts to that in horror, imagine being that sister having to live but that that she had come to terms with with it very well and far better than most people can. And this is about life and this is something that is simply going to have to be dealt with.

ALISON ST. JOHN: That is a tragic story. But it was saying there are some people who don't even see texting as being behavior which is hard to imagine, but when you hear a story like that it hits home.

STEVE BLOCH: People are not aware of their own level of distraction. It's embedded cognition. People do not think they are distracted but they are. When he tried to explain it to him, the very human characteristic of the denial and rationalization comes into play. They rationalize their own distraction and denied that there are the real danger of the road is existing.

ALISON ST. JOHN: It makes sense that they would come in denial with this one to pick one excuse for excuses is well I needed to be on the phone because I had some important to take care of, and I think would your education classes are addressing is interesting because they are through employers is that right?

LINDA HILL: Yes we're partnering with employees of comforters companies and agencies who want their employees to be safer and it's a win-win situation, keeps employees safer both on and off work and also with reduces liability.

ALISON ST. JOHN: How are you reaching out to employers who hold these classes?

LINDA HILL: Well employers can contact us at our website. Or call us. We will set up a time to arrange for classes.

ALISON ST. JOHN: If somebody has not really thought of themselves as addictive, you have to invite people to join the class across the board? No one is going to admit to that behavior.

LINDA HILL: Yes, we think that having all the employees together would be the best thing because this is such a ubiquitous behavior that it really affects everybody.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And you also have classes with the automobile club?

STEVE BLOCH: We teach teens and parents teens and parents together in a classical dear to prepare. These kids and their parents to talk to them in working through of the issue of distracted driving. At one point they have to sort cards while distracted and then it while they're not distracted and see the difference.

ALISON ST. JOHN: But it's interesting because I know a lot of parents are worried about their kids using cell phones, and their first expensive driving for teens is driving the parents car is is available to anyone?

STEVE BLOCH: Yes it's available to anyone. We start the class by having the kids rate their parents on a variety of measures and I think the real issue that parents have to do with is that this is not just the teen issue this is an issue that affects everybody and primarily the group of twenty-five to forty-five-year-olds and the parents are serving as role models the parents have to come into the grips with the fact that parents are the role models for these kids.

ALISON ST. JOHN: What would you recommend for a period to do to be a role model for the children?

STEVE BLOCH: The need to explain to the child why that is important and to not text while the kid is the car or use a cell phone if the kid is the car. And these are difficult things because carmakers are pushing entertainment ship's systems and their systems and they are rising dramatically. It's the whole use use of infotainment systems which are becoming more and more into deep vehicles is ways.

ALISON ST. JOHN: We have Google Glass now and one woman was arrested while wearing Google Glass, this is the next generation of distraction. How would you to see that case resolved?

STEVE BLOCH: I'm not sure how the case with the result was all that comment that we do think a lot about the toys that people are adding to their vehicles and to their cell phones and it is virtually an arms race out there with manufacturers and with cell phone developers and we have to make it clear to distraction is unacceptable and it leads to the enormously dangerous activity on the road and we have not really come to grips with that we think that these are risky things but we do not equate with them with risky things that we know that there such as speeding and drunk driving, but they're just as risky.

ALISON ST. JOHN: There is a confusion saying that it's not illegal to talk on the phone with a hands-free device? What is your research between speaking with a hands-free device?

LINDA HILL: There is risk anytime that your mind is distracted, even talking on the phone is increasing your risk of a crash. It is a question of how much risk, as I said, the risk of talking on the phone increases crash risk about 2 to 4 times and texting is twenty-three times, but it's still a risk. Unfortunately hands-free does not lower the risks and because it's still a distraction because the part of our brain that is distracted while driving his lights up less with some of this talking on the phone, and would when they are on the phone, they were paying less attention so we know that just being having a brain engaged elsewhere other than on the road is a bad thing.

ALISON ST. JOHN: So you have not included Google Glass in the research because it's so new. How would you like to see Google Glass, do you think there is legislation needed in order to make sure that Google Glass is not to become the next example of distracted driving?

LINDA HILL: Anytime unfortunately we have our brain or eyes or hands taken away from the task at hand that is a problem and if it takes legislation so be it.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Tells a little bit in a minute here that we have left about the courses that you're offering where people can find out about them.

LINDA HILL: People can contact us at our website and call us. We would be happy to partner with people and I really do, for people who do not have a chance to take the class I want to leave them with the message that just drive and driving is a complex task and it deserves all of our attention.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And Steve tell us one thing right now, what would you say?

STEVE BLOCH: Since the law has been put into effect, we have had 800,000 citations go into effect. Police are out there, they're looking for and please be very careful. Put the cell phone down.

ALISON ST. JOHN: I would like to thank both of my guests for these timely reminders. Thank you for joining us.