Which Bay Area Drivers Arenít Using Hands-Free Devices?

By Susan Cockerham

Summary:
From the months of March 2009 to July 2009, I surveyed the Bay Area roads for drivers that did not use hands-free devices while driving.  A total of 150 drivers were seen either talking on their cellular telephones or texting.  The sex of the driver, the race of the driver and the highway the driver was seen on was recorded.  This paper summarizes these results.

Introduction
Only a year on the books and the California hands-free cell phone law is virtually ignored.  I see people everywhere and every day driving and talking on their cell phones. There seems to be three types of people; those who do not use a cell phone in the car at all, those who use a hands-free device, and those who don’t.  I was wondering why so many people seem not to care if there is a law?  Is it because they think the ticket is so cheap?1  Is it that their chances of getting caught are so low?

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
A data collection form was created.  To ensure ease of use, as I would be driving while recording my findings, and this in itself is a distracting activity, it was designed to be as simple and concise as possible.  The form consisted of columns of different categories and lists so I could just circle my data.  The form recorded sex, race and highway.

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

Part 1: Sex

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
 
Census

%
Phone Count
%

male

720,386

49%

91

61%

female

737,040

51%

59

39%

Total

1,457,426

150

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. 



Table 3
Count
white
black
asian
indian
latino
other
Total

Total

49  
19  
11  
4  
11  
11  
105

Total %

47%  
18%
10%
4%
10%
10%
Census
666,814
189,538
357,939
63,892
312,426
-
1,457,426
Census %
46%
13%
25%
4%
21%
-

Graph 1



Table 4

 

Counted %

Census %

Difference

White

47%

46%

+1%

Black

18%

13%

+5%

Asian

10%

25%

-15%

Indian

4%

4%

0%

Latino

10%

21%

-11%

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.

Graph 1



Table 2

Count

white

black

asian

indian

latino

other

Total

male

29

11

6

4

8

8

65

female

20

8

5

0

3

3

39

Total

49

19

11

4

11

11

105

 


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.

Chart 4



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:

  • Hands-free devices break too easily
  • They need to be charged, can lose their charge or be forgotten when it is time for a charge
  • They are easily lost
  • They are hard to communicate with
  • The good ones are expensive, certainly more expensive than the $20 fine the DMV advertises

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.

Conclusions:
I think that the data is a pretty good indication of who is breaking the hands-free law.  It is my conclusion from the data, and from area that I drive daily that the majority is white men while they drive home from work.

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.

Honorable mentions:
There are a clearly 150 anonymous people that I have to thank for breaking the law and being part of this study.  Most of those people are just people that drove along and boringly talked on their phones.  However, three of those people I would like to mention:

  1. One man was driving in the car pool lane and driving very slowly.  I was driving directly behind him and it looked like he was alone and that he might be texting.  He was not driving very fast and was not keeping up with traffic in the HOV lane.  He then began to drive so slowly that he was driving slower than the commute traffic.  This is VERY slowly.  It was then that I could get out from behind him and pass him, see that he was solo in the HOV lane and see that he was definitely texting as well.
  2. A woman that I saw did something that I thought was not intentionally clever, but clever nonetheless.  She had a hands-free device in her left ear, and was texting while driving.  Good show for the cops, but still allows her to text. Fascinating.
  3. Another woman was talking on the phone while checking another device.  All while driving.

 Reference:
1 http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/olin/07_olin/txt/07olin09.htm
2 http://www.slate.com/id/2223277/
3 http://www.bayareacensus.ca.gov/counties/AlamedaCounty.htm
4 http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_12700199

for comments write: sue_cellphone90@yahoo.com

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