The New York Times dialed a wrong number with its story this week alleging that the government (that would be the government of Darth George, Lord of the Crawford), "withheld data on risks of distracted driving." Almost everyone has interpreted that as "withholding data on risks of using cell phones while driving."
But the "withheld" documents posted by the Times say that "at least 25% of crashes are distraction related." Cell phones are only one of the distractions listed. The others: animals (i.e., pets in the vehicle), radio, eating/drinking, smoking, reading, rubber necking, and…children.
As my colleague, Paul McNamara (author of Network World's Buzzblog and the father of 7-year-old triplets), says, "Nothing compares to the dangers of driving around with three kids."
So the real question is: Why isn't anyone doing something about the kids?
Those vigilant folks at the Center for Auto Safety, (a joint creation by Consumers Union and Ralph Nader's Public Citizen), who gave the federal documents to the Times, have been harping on the digital dangers that are distracting drivers for at least two and a half years, as this Bloomberg story documents. Not a word about kids.
But the story offers a clue to the solution of the endemic Kid Distraction Problem: "David Strayer, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and an expert on driver-distraction issues, said … automakers should have to test and prove the safety of their [on-board wireless] devices before marketing them."
Obviously, parents should have to test and prove the safety of their kids before letting them ride in cars. We need action. We need legislation. We need the national Child Registration And Safe Highways Test….
Cox: Excuse me….
Certified CRASH Tester: Yes, sir?
Cox: I'm here to have my two kids tested. We've been waiting for nearly two hours. My son is getting restless and my daughter needs to use the bathroom.
CCRASHT: [knowing smile] All part of the test, sir.
Cox: Oh. I see. Are…are they passing?
CCRASHT: I can't comment on that, sir.
Cox: Well, at least they're not crying.
CCRASHT: We have ways of making them cry, sir. Do you have your paperwork?
Cox: [hands over a thick folder jammed with forms and documents]
CCRASHT: [after a lengthy pause] Your papers appear to be in order, sir. Just a few more questions before we proceed to Phase 2 of the test.
Cox: What more can you ask?
CCRASHT: Have you or anyone else in your family, or any agent acting on your behalf, knowingly and deliberately administered any drugs to the test subject or subjects in the last 6 hours including but not limited to antihistamines, cough syrups, over the counter sleep aids, wine, beer or other alcoholic beverage, narcotics or narcotic derivatives?
Cox: You think I drugged my kids?
CCRASHT: I just read the questions, sir.
Cox: No. Emphatically.
CCRASHT: Have the test subjects been hypnotized at any point in the past six months?
Cox: I wish.
Cox: I can tell you don't have kids. The answer is no.
CCRASHT: Have they been subjected to psychological suasion?
Cox: They've been potty trained. But my wife is still working on getting them to pick up their room.
CCRASHT: That would be "no." Have they been threatened with loss of iPod or wii privileges, beatings, or other forms of intimidation to prepare them for this test?
[small voice from adjacent room]: Don't beat me!
Cox: You. Be quiet!
Cox: I don't intimidate my children. My children intimidate me.
[different small voice from adjacent room]: What's intimidate?
Cox: Google it.
CCRASHT: We're ready for Phase 2.
Cox: What is that?
CCRASHT: We simulate a 3-hour drive to an evil grandparent, strapped into the back seat of a hybrid GM vehicle that lacks any on-board entertainment system.
Cox: [face draining to white] My god, man, you can’' be serious!
CCRASHT: You'll have to join them, sir.
Cox: [struggling violently as two burly Associate CCRASH Testers clamp his arms and wrestle him into the test vehicle] No! You can't do this! Please! HELP!
CCRASHT: I have to say this isn't promising, sir. The female passenger distraction unit, or PDU as we call them, is already registering in the red zone, decibel-wise.
[3 hours later]
CCRASHT: Mr. Cox, the female PDU has failed the federal CRASH Test. We're designating her as an Unfit PDU or UPDU, disqualifying her from traveling in any vehicle for three years. You can appeal this decision, but the appeals process takes…
Cox: Let me guess: three years.
CCRASHT: Yes, sir. You'll receive your official PDU Carrying License by mail within 30 days. The male PDU showed impressive self-control.
Cox: Terror will do that.
CCRASHT: Exactly, sir.
Cox: What do I do with the UPDU…I mean my daughter?
CCRASHT: Here's a list of approved CRASH restraint or enclosures for securing UPDUs on the premises.
Cox: These look like…dog crates.
CCRASHT:: We prefer the term multi-modal enclosures.
Cox: And they're expensive.
CCRASHT:: You can apply for a hardship waiver. Here's the form. If approved, you're eligible to use the Daily Universal Child Truss adhesive.
Cox: Wait a minute. That's not….
CCRASHT: Next, please.
Cox: I have to call my wife.
CCRASHT: Please don't do it while driving, sir. It sets a bad example for the PDUs.