The percentages are low, consider all those solo drivers using the car pool lanes.
Lots of studies have been done, and it is well documented that like getting into an accident without your seatbelt on, driving while talking on the phone is dangerous.2 Your brain is distracted, hands-free or not, but unlike the seatbelt analogy, it doesn't just put the user at risk, it puts everyone around them at risk too. So why are so many people doing it anyway? While I don’t know why, I did want to know who.
A quick survey of friends and workmates reveal the obvious, men always think it's women, and women think it's men.
I decided to find out.
Materials and Method
To avoid unfair race bias of a particular neighborhood, race was not recorded on city streets, but only on highways. I assumed that everyone takes the freeway and that this would be unbiased. The sex of drivers was always recorded.
Additionally, the phone being used had to be visually confirmed. This may sound obvious, but you would not believe the number of people that hold their ears (really) or hold their faces while driving and this looks a lot like they are on the phone. This is also why only five people were seen texting. Due to where most people hold their phones while they text, I could almost never see the devices while they text, but I did not want to break my method rules, even if I was reasonably sure that is what they were doing.
Results and Discussion
Out of the 150 people spotted on the phone or texting, 91 were men and 59 were women.
Chart 1: Male vs. Female
The Alameda County census3 was checked and for 2006 there were 720,386 males and 737,040 females in Alameda County.Table 1
With the split of male to female being basically equal in Alameda County, this does show that men tend to use their cell phones without hands-free devices more often than women.
Part 2: Race
Looking at race, white folks were spotted twice as often as anyone else.
If you analyze Table 4, and Graph 1, they show that while whites are the majority being seen on cell phones, they are also the majority race in Alameda County. Whites, blacks and Indians mostly fall in line with being seen on their cell phones where they fall in the census count. Asians and Latinos fell significantly below their census numbers.
Part 3: Race and Sex Factors
Additionally, when you look at the individual race break down, men are consistently seen breaking the law more often than women.
Part 4: Highway Direction
Because I travel West and South while going to work in the morning and North and East while coming home from work, highway direction indicates that people are making more phone calls in their cars in the afternoons going home than they are going to work. Clearly someone somewhere in the bay area is always talking on the phone when driving and it is only when I am driving that I can record my data. However, the marked increase in the number of drivers seen while driving home is significant.
Part 5: Hands-Free Devices
I started to ask my friends that do ignore the hands-free law, why they don’t feel it necessary to use a hands-free device. This is what I heard:
Which leads me to the fine. California DMV states:
Violating these new laws is an infraction. A violator is subject to a base fine of $20 for the first offense and not more than $50 for each subsequent offense.
However, with the addition of penalty assessments, the total amount can be more than triple the base fine.
A recent article in MercuryNews.com4, as well as personal contacts have indicated that fines can reach amounts as high as $125 to $150. In this case, you could buy yourself a very nice hands-free device. In fact, hands-free device prices vary from $7.00 (an earbud with a wire) to $150.00 (the most high tech, Bluetooth, sound-canceling thing on the market), so you can buy yourself the very best in hands-free technology for the price of the actual ticket. This of course does not take away the hassle of charging and keeping your device, but it might just keep you from getting pulled over or keep you out of an accident.
I believe the data also indicates that in relation to their population numbers, Asians and Latinos are using cell phones less. So, in general, a larger portion of their populations are attempting to follow the law, assuming that everyone is using the freeway.
The effect of the census numbers in my cell phone data is interesting but ultimately does not matter. In the end there are more white people in Alameda County and they have been using their cell phones and breaking the hands-free law more.
The CHP did its first one-day crackdown against hand held cell phone usage. It will be interesting to do another study in another 6 months to see if crackdowns like this one have any effect at all.
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