Is Drunk Driving Not Dangerous?

The issue of cell phone use while driving seems to be a hot button with just about everyone. Those who are stuck behind someone doing 5 under the limit while on the phone are firmly in the camp that it using a cell phone while driving should be illegal. Those using a cell phone while bored on the freeway, or answering a quick call from the spouse, point out that no one has died, there hasn’t been any screeching tires, and therefore it’s pretty harmless.

Those of us who use headsets smugly claim that with a hand’s free kit, using a car phone is no more dangerous than chatting with a passenger. Or is it?

But my favorite part of the story is this:

To put the risk into some context, the researchers note that you’re about as likely to get into an accident while talking on a cell phone as if you were legally drunk. Since most of us wouldn’t drive drunk, why do we so willingly put aside similar risk and talk on the phone? Because while the relative risk is significant, the absolute risk of death or serious injury from such an accident remains small.

If we assume that an accident is an accident, and there isn’t greater damage or injury because of the cause of the accident, something isn’t right here.

We clobber drunk drivers with horrendous fines and various other penalties. We treat them as social outcasts, and generally portray them as one step removed from freewheeling killers on a spree. If you drive after drinking, you are such a hazard to everyone that if you call the police to report a suspected drunk driver they will act on it.

People who use cell phones are an annoyance, and we struggle to pass laws that mostly go unenforced. We do it all the time – I probably couldn’t drive a block without seeing someone on the phone. I chuckle thinking about how the 911 operator would react if I called to report a cell phone driver.

But the risk from either activity is apparently the same. Why aren’t the penalties the same?

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