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Cellphone-Related Deaths Behind Wheel in California Down, Dubious Study Claims

While California's cop lobbyists and legislators have claimed texting-while-driving is creating more death than the Grim Reaper in order to justify increasingly needless laws, a new study says cellphone-related traffic deaths are going down.

So which one is it?

This is the classic strategy of overstating death and destruction to back laws, and then saying the laws have been effective in ending such mayhem, if you as us.

The Safe Transportation Research and Education Center (SafeTREC) at UC Berkeley says today (PDF) that "hand-held cell phone driver deaths went down 47 percent" since holding a cellphone to your ear was banned for California drivers in 2008.

Why?

The center says we talk less often in our cars:

40 percent of California drivers reported they talk less (handheld and hands free) since enactment of the hand-held cell phone ban.

The study claims that "bans on hand-held phoning while driving can have big and long-term effects in curbing hand-held cell phone use."

The research notes that convictions for using cellphones behind the wheel went up 22 percent last year versus 2010 and 52 percent versus 2009. At at least $159 per ticket, this sounds like quite a racket, one that you'd want to justify with research.

(Let's stop right here and review: Tickets for cellphone use behind the wheel are up -- way up -- but we're doing it less? The federal government has been screaming about 3,000 distracted-driving accidents in 2010. And -- see below -- texting behind the wheel is up, way up. Discuss).

The data seems to fly in the face of recent national research suggesting that two out of five Americans admits to texting while driving (maybe that's why talk time behind the wheel is down) and three-quarters of all drivers say they'll answer the phone while driving.

Even the federal government's distracted driving website says that "In the month of June 2011, more than 196 billion text messages were sent or received in the US, up nearly 50% from June 2009."

So, eh, none of those were sent from California cars?

On top of all that, the Chicago Tribune noted recently that high-tech cars are becoming distraction machines:

As safety officials fret about drivers taking their eyes off the road to use smartphones, automakers from Detroit to Japan are rolling out vehicles that are becoming virtual iPads on wheels. Next-generation vehicles, safety experts warn, could make multitasking motorists even more of a hazard on the nation's roads.

To summarize: More people are texting, more tickets are being given out for using cellphones behind the wheel, but somehow California's distracted driving laws are working?

Doesn't add up to us.

California officials are saying that while you can legally shift with one hand and steer with the other, you can't hold a phone to your head, but you can talk hands free, and that the difference is life or death? Really?

Maybe people should just pay attention to the road, as was always the case. Maybe we don't need another frigging law in this over-legislated, cop-ass-kissing state.

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@dennisjromero

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djromero@laweekly.com

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@LAWeeklyNews

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