Dialing and Death in the Car

The Cell Industry’s Timeless Response

As reported by The New York Times’ excellent health columnist Tara Parker-Pope, all use of cellular telephones while operating an automobile — in both “hands-free” and hands-on forms — is as dangerous as drunk driving, research announced today shows. That means many thousands of people in the USA and around the world are being killed each year by the public’s continuing toleration of this ubiquitous practice.

The cellular telephone industry’s response? It’s well worth reading in its entirety:

Safe Driving- Everyone’s Responsibility
January 12, 2009 8:50 AM
Posted By: John Walls, Vice President, Public Affairs, CTIA – The Wireless Association®
Related Categories: Wireless & Safety

This morning the National Safety Council announced it now supports a total ban of cell phone use while operating a vehicle. There is no question that irresponsible use of a wireless device is on the long list of potential driving distractions, including the NHTSA documented number one driver distraction of drowsiness. The industry agrees with the National Safety Council and numerous other well-regarded safety organizations on several safety issues, such as bans on text messaging while driving and restricting cellular use by teen or inexperienced drivers. But when looking at the implications of a total ban, it’s important to look at all of the situations that can occur and consider the ramifications of a total prohibition.

For example, should a mom or dad be prevented from taking a call from their 14 year old daughter, telling them the movie she was at ended a lot earlier than expected, and that she and her friends were out front waiting for a ride home? Or that their young son was at a different entrance to the mall or the school with his friends, and they wanted to tell their parent there had been change of plans and they were somewhere else? How many times a day in the country do you think a businessperson needs to let a client know they’re running a few minutes behind for that important meeting, and that a call, dialed sensibly and kept brief, could inform the client and maybe save a deal and certainly soothe any hard feelings from a misunderstanding. Calls to or from day care, the school nurse, your boss… there’s a long list of very real scenarios that illustrate practical needs to responsibly make or take a brief call.

We believe that safe, sensible, and limited use of a cell phone when you’re behind the wheel is possible. There are certainly inappropriate times to make or take a call, and your number one driving priority is always operating the vehicle safely. The fact of the matter is there are numerous well-known and proven driving distractions, and addressing just one of them (and one that by many accounts is significantly down the list) could very well lead to a false sense of security for drivers. There are reckless and inattentive driving statutes on the books in all of the states, and law enforcement officers have the discretion to enforce those as they see fit. We completely support that action…. If someone is driving irresponsibly because of cell phone use, they ought to be cited for that. And under current law, they can be.

The industry also has a long-standing commitment to a public service announcement campaign regarding safe driving, and that includes a new set of radio ads which we offered to co-brand, at no cost to them, with state chapters of the Governor’s Highway Safety Association. We are also proud of the fact that nearly 300,000 calls are made every day to 911, via a cellphone. The devices are perhaps the greatest safety tool we have today, and as I said earlier, there are a multitude of scenarios where responsible, sensible, safe, and brief use is possible and should be a part of any discussion.

As you can see, this is a true classic of capitalist obfuscation, obstruction, and excuse-making.

Shall we parse the highlighted phrases and their actual meanings?

“irresponsible use”: The problem here is the users, not the makers. (Note: This is every heroin dealer’s defense. It is also every corporate capitalist’s.)

“long list of potential driving distractions”: Automobile travel is multiply dangerous. So why are you picking on us?

“number one driver distraction of drowsiness”: Sure, we kill, but we aren’t the number one killer.

“it’s important to look at all of the situations that can occur and consider the ramifications”: Here comes our best argument.

Best Argument #1: “their 14 year-old daughter”: If you ban cellular phoning while driving, your daughter is more likely to be abducted, raped, …. (Note: Threats have been a classic vehicle of overclass coercion, throughout history. They remain in force, partially as a core device in big business marketing campaigns. Death threats like this one are rare, but certainly not unpredented. Think of long-running Michelin tire imagery, or Florida orange growers’ ads.)

Best Argument #2: “save a deal”: Business deals are more important than automotive fatalities.
“We believe”: Science is awholly-owned tool of corporate enterprise; we reserve the right to reject it as mere opinion, whenever it isn’t to our liking.

“your number one driving priority”: We repeat — the problem is you and your priorities, not us and ours.

“a false sense of security”: Now we’re just getting Orwellian on your ass. To wit, if we eliminated cell phone calling from cars, you idiots might get cocky and drive even worse! That’s right, cell phone calling actually makes driving safer, by scaring them with some healthy dangers.

“law enforcement officers have the discretion to enforce those as they see fit”: Existing laws could cover this problem, so why bother making them explicit? Yes, and billionaires have the perfect right to sleep under bridges.

“If someone is driving irresponsibly because of cell phone use, they ought to be cited for that.” Rather than directing police by making clear and definite laws, let’s pretend our discussion here is enough to accomplish the needed (but not needed) standard.

“long-standing commitment”: We knew about this all along, and took care of the problem long ago.

“a public service announcement campaign regarding safe driving”: Public service advertising is a perfectly good substitute for laws, so why trouble ourselves with law-making?

“300,000 911 calls a day”: Now we’re changing the subject. And, of course, we don’t mention how many of those 911 calls come from inside moving automobiles.

“perhaps the greatest safety tool we have today”: Our product has some legitimate uses, so you shouldn’t be asking any questions about its illegitimate ones.

All this is but the latest airing of the timeless behind-the-scenes voice of capital, which, as it continues to promulgate unsafe products and product uses, has long said to itself and its caretakers:

‘Après moi, le déluge!’ [‘After me, the flood!’] is the watchword of every capitalist and every capitalist nation. Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the laborer, unless under compulsion from society. To outcries about physical and mental degradation, premature death, the torture of overwork, it answers: ‘Ought these to trouble us, since they increase our profits?

Michael Dawson is author of The Consumer Trap: Big Business Marketing in American Life (2004). He is the publisher of the blog The Consumer Trap, which aims to expose capitalism, marketing and market totalitarianism. Read other articles by Michael, or visit Michael's website.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Mike Wasson said on January 15th, 2009 at 3:18pm #

    There are already laws against hitting objects and people with your car. None of the other excuses / distractions are accepted when you violate those laws. However, conversing with passengers and playing the radio aren’t crimes either.

    I’m a licensed pilot. I’m required to listen and talk on a radio while flying, and was tested on that skill.

    The unfortunate fact is that some people can’t control their cars while doing anything more challenging that breathing at the same time. Let’s get them off the roads first.

  2. Michael Dawson said on January 16th, 2009 at 9:49am #

    How do you propose to get the people you don’t like off the roads, Mike? How do you propose to pay for the immense legal and policing efforts that would take? And how would you propose to run the society after 50 percent of drivers are removed from the roads? How are people going to get to work? There’s a a reason dangerous driving is tolerated — automobiles are damned near mandatory, and we’ve built our whole nation to facilitate them.

    This isn’t a game. We are up against it. The clock is ticking.

  3. The Angry Peasant said on January 19th, 2009 at 10:11am #

    I say, leave people the hell alone. Maybe the government could take a crack at that for a change. You never know, it might just work.

  4. Michael Dawson said on January 19th, 2009 at 12:26pm #

    Sure, Angry, excellent idea! Let’s leave people alone, like we did Wall Street! Maybe we could get rid of seat-belts, too, and drunk-driving laws, and Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. That’s be awesome.

  5. The Angry Peasant said on January 19th, 2009 at 1:37pm #

    You’re right, Michael. We need more law and less freedom. Life just isn’t miserable enough in America. Let’s give cops one more reason when they’re tooling around bored to pull people over and harrass them. Never mind the fact that Americans are fleeced for millions of dollars every year for no good reason; let’s add one more thing to the list. Twenty years ago, if someone got pulled over for a blinker being burned out, they’d be told they’ve got a blinker out. Just pointing it out to you. This was back in the day when cops actually served the public to some degree. Now, it’s going to cost them twenty-five dollars for a ticket, which they’re getting for something that isn’t their fault; probably happened while they were driving. But of course, reason and fairness matter nothing any longer in the good ol’ US of A. Then of course there’s fleecing #2 in the process: The court surcharge! This is even more than the damned undeserved ticket. Usually another fifty bucks. Just great for someone having enough of a hard time paying the rent. My girlfriend once was late paying a ticket for a signal being out, and before she knew it she was facing a Class A misdemeanor and a whopping $300 fine. All over having the temerity to drive seventeen feet with a blinker not working. At least it happened in the land of the free, right?

    You see, Michael, the law cares nothing about keeping us safe. They just have a mandate to get our money. It’s just another form of unrepresented taxation. Stop being a sheep and realize that they don’t care about anything other than reducing our liberty and stealing from us. Personally, I’d rather start being free again. The way things are now, we’re only free to be preyed upon. Fuck that.