Tag Archives: product: cars

The No. 1 Cause of Traffic Fatalities? It’s Not Texting, It’s Driving

I don’t yet have a copy of Matt Richtel’s new book, A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention. Based on his Pulitzer-prize winning reporting for the New York Times, however, I’m afraid it’s unlikely to do justice to the complexity of the relationship between mobile phones and motor vehicle accidents. Worse, I fear it distracts attention from the most important cause of traffic fatalities: driving.

A bad sign

The other day Richtel tweeted a link to this old news article that claims texting causes more fatal accidents for teens than alcohol. The article says some researcher estimates “more than 3,000 annual teen deaths from texting,” but there is no reference to a study or any source for the data used to make the estimate. As I previously noted, that’s not plausible.

In fact, only 2,823 teens teens died in motor vehicle accidents in 2012 (only 2,228 of whom were vehicle occupants). So, I get 7.7 teens per day dying in motor vehicle accidents, regardless of the cause. I’m no Pulitzer-prize winning New York Times journalist, but I reckon that makes this giant factoid on Richtel’s website wrong, which doesn’t bode well for the book:

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In fact, I suspect the 11-per-day meme comes from Mother Jones (or someone they got it from) doing the math wrong on that Newsdaynumber of 3,000 per year and calling it “nearly a dozen” (3,000 is 8.2 per day). And if you Google around looking for this 11-per day statistic, you find sites like textinganddrivingsafety.com, which, like Richtel does in his website video, attributes the statistic to the “Institute for Highway Safety.” I think they mean the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which is the source I used for the 2,823 number above. (The fact that he gets the name wrong suggests he got the statistic second-hand.) IIHS has an extensive page of facts on distracted driving, which doesn’t have any fact like this (they actually express skepticism about inflated claims of cellphone effects).

After I contacted him to complain about that 11-teens-per-day statistic, Richtel pointed out that the page I linked to is run by his publisher, not him, and that he had asked them to “deal with that stat.” I now see that the page includes a footnote that says, “Statistic taken from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Fatality Facts.” I don’t think that’s true, however, since the “Fatality Facts” page for teenagers still shows 2,228 teens (passengers and drivers) killed in 2012. Richtel added in his email to me:

As I’ve written in previous writings, the cell phone industry also takes your position that fatality rates have fallen. It’s a fair question. Many safety advocates point to air bags, anti-lock brakes and wider roads — billions spent on safety — driving down accident rates (although accidents per miles driven is more complex). These advocates say that accidents would’ve fallen far faster without mobile phones and texting. And they point out that rates have fallen far faster in other countries (deaths per 100,000 drivers) that have tougher laws. In fact, the U.S. rates, they say, have fallen less far than most other countries. Thank you for your thoughtful commentary on this. I think it’s a worthy issue for conversation.

I appreciate his response. Now I’ll read the book before complaining about him any more.

The shocking truth

I generally oppose scare-mongering manipulations of data that take advantage of common ignorance. The people selling mobile-phone panic don’t dwell on the fact that the roads are getting safer and safer, and just let you go on assuming they’re getting more and more dangerous. I reviewed all that here, showing the increase in mobile phone subscriptions relative to the decline in traffic accidents, injuries, and deaths.

That doesn’t mean texting and driving isn’t dangerous. I’m sure it is. Cell phone bans may be a good idea, although the evidence that they save lives is mixed. But the overall situation is surely more complicated than TEXTING-WHILE-DRIVING EPIDEMIC suggests. The whole story doesn’t seem right — how can phones be so dangerous, and growing more and more pervasive, while accidents and injuries fall? At the very least, a powerful part of the explanation is being left out. (I wonder if phones displace other distractions, like eating and putting on makeup; or if some people drive more cautiously while they’re using their phones, to compensate for their distraction; or if distracted phone users were simply the worst drivers already.)

Beyond the general complaint about misleading people and abusing our ignorance, however, the texting scare distracts us (I know, it’s ironic) from the giant problem staring us in the face: our addiction to private vehicles itself costs thousands of lives a year (not including the environmental effects).

To illustrate this, I went through all the trouble of getting data on mobile phone subscriptions by state, to compare with state traffic fatality rates, only to find this: nothing:

cellphones traffic deaths with NEJM.xlsx

What does predict deaths? Driving. This isn’t a joke. Sometimes the obvious answer is obvious because it’s the answer:

cellphones traffic deaths with NEJM.xlsx

If you’re interested, I also put both of these variables in a regression, along with age and sex composition of the states, and the percentage of employed people who drive to work. Only the miles and drive-to-work rates were correlated with vehicle deaths. Mobile phone subscriptions had no effect at all.

Also, pickups?

Failing to find a demographic predictor that accounts for any of the variation after that explained by miles driven, I tried one more thing. I calculated each state’s deviation from the line predicted by miles driven (for example Alaska, where they only drive 6.3 thousand miles per person, is predicted to have 4.5 deaths per 100,000 but they actually have 8.1, putting that state 3.6 points above the line). Taking those numbers and pouring them into the Google correlate tool, I asked what people in those states with higher-than-expected death rates are searching for. And the leading answer is large, American pickup trucks. Among the 100 searches most correlated with this variable, 10 were about Chevy, Dodge, or Ford pickup trucks, like “2008 chevy colorado” (r = .68), shown here:

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I could think of several reasons why places where people are into pickup trucks have more than their predicted share of fatal accidents.

So, to sum up: texting while driving is dangerous and getting more common as driving is getting safer, but driving still kills thousands of Americans every year, making it the umbrella social problem under which texting may be one contributing factor.

I used this analogy before, and the parallel isn’t perfect, but the texting panic reminds me of the 1970s “Crying Indian” ad I used to see when I was watching Saturday morning cartoons. The ad famously pivoted from industrial pollution to littering in the climactic final seconds:

Conclusion: Keep your eye on the ball.

Philip N. Cohen is a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, and writes the blog Family Inequality. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Conspicuous Pollution: Rural White Men Rollin’ Coal

Conspicuous consumption refers to the practice of ostentatiously displaying of high status objects.  Think very expensive purses and watches.  In the last few decades, as concern for the environment has become increasingly en vogue, it has become a marker of status to care for the earth.  Accordingly, people now engage in conspicuous conservation, the ostentatious display of objects that mark a person as eco-friendly.

Driving a Prius and putting solar panels on visible roof lines, even if they aren’t the sunniest, are two well-documented examples.  Those “litter removal sponsored by” signs on freeways are an example we’ve featured, as are these shoes that make it appear that the wearer helped clean up the oil spill in the gulf, even though they didn’t.

Well, welcome to the opposite: conspicuous pollution.

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Elizabeth Kulze, writing at Vocativ, explains:

In small towns across America, manly men are customizing their jacked-up diesel trucks to intentionally emit giant plumes of toxic smoke every time they rev their engines. They call it “rollin’ coal”…

It’s a thing. Google it!

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This is not just a handful of guys.  Kulze links to “an entire subculture” on Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram. “It’s just fun,” one coal roller says. “Just driving and blowing smoke and having a good time.”

It isn’t just fun, though. It’s a way for these men — mostly white, working class, rural men — to send an intrusive and nasty message to people they don’t like. According to this video, that includes Prius drivers, cops, women, tailgaters, and people in vulnerable positions. “City boys” and “liberals” are also targeted:

Kulze reports that it costs anywhere between $1,000 and $5,000 to modify a pickup to do this, which is why the phenomenon resonates with conspicuous consumption and conservation.  It’s an expensive and public way to claim an identity that the owner wants to project.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The Rise of the Flapper

Originally posted in 2009. Re-posted in honor of Women’s History Month; cross-posted at Mental Floss.

Several factors were in play in the 1920s for the emergence of what came to be known as flappers, teenagers and young women who flaunted convention and spent their time pursuing fun instead of settling down to raise children in the prime of their lives. Many entered college or the workforce and felt entitled to make their own decisions about how to live their lives.

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A lot of young men did not return home from World War I, which left an entire cohort of women without enough husbands to go around. The horror of the war (and the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918) also impressed young people with the knowledge that life is short and could end at any moment. Instead of staying home preparing to marry a man who might never come, young women wanted to spend what time they had enjoying all that life had to offer.

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Movies popularized the image of the fun-loving and free-thinking woman throughout the US and Europe. The 1920 movie The Flapper introduced the term in the United States. The title character, Ginger, was a wayward girl who flouted the rules of society. Played by Olive Thomas, a former Ziegfeld Girl (left), Ginger had so much fun that a generation of lonely young women wanted to be like her. Another role model was stage and screen actress Louise Brooks (right), who also modeled for artists and fashion designers. She was the inspiration for the flapper comic strip Dixie Dugan.

 

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Clara Bow wasn’t the first flapper on screen, but she was certainly a role model for young women of the era. She didn’t play by the rules, and was tabloid fodder for years for her sexual escapades with the biggest movie stars of the time. Bow’s first film was in 1922 and her career peaked in 1927 with the film It. “It” was defined as the sexual allure some girls have and others don’t. Bow’s fans wanted “it”, so they copied her look and behavior.

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The rise of the automobile was another factor in the rise of flapper culture. Cars meant a woman could come and go as she pleased, travel to speakeasys and other entertainment venues, and use the large vehicles of the day for heavy petting or even sex.

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These young women had plenty of opportunities for fun. Although Prohibition drove alcohol underground, that only added to its allure. Postwar prosperity allowed for leisure time and the means to spend that time drinking, dancing, and hanging out with free thinkers.

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Being a flapper wasn’t all about fashion. It was about rebellion. In this article from 1922, a would-be flapper (but still a “nice girl”) explains her lifestyle choices to her parents. Flappers did what society did not expect from young women. They danced to Jazz Age music, they smoked, they wore makeup, they spoke their own language, and they lived for the moment. Flapper fashion followed the lifestyle. Skirts became shorter to make dancing easier. Corsets were discarded in favor of brassieres that bound their breasts, again to make dancing easier. The straight shapeless dresses were easy to make and blurred the line between the rich and everyone else. The look became fashionable because of the lifestyle. The short hair? That was pure rebellion against the older generation’s veneration of long feminine locks.

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The party stopped when the economy crashed and the Great Depression curtailed the night life. Although the flapper lifestyle died along with the Roaring Twenties, the freedoms women tasted in that era weren’t easily given up. They may have gone back to marriage and long hours of toil for little pay, but hemlines stayed above the ankle, and the corset never went back to everyday status. And we’ve been driving cars ever since.

Miss Cellania is a newlywed mother of four, full-time blogger, former radio announcer, and worst of all, a Baby Boomer. In addition to mental_floss, she posts at Neatorama, YesButNoButYes, Geeks Are Sexy, and Miss Cellania. Miss C considers herself an expert on no particular subject at all.

When Did Cars Get Cup Holders?

My best friend’s car has four cup holders in the front seat. FOUR. I would ask what a person does with four cup holders, except I’m too busy feeling jealous.  I drive with a measly two.

Cup holders, or what the US News and World Report quaintly called “crannies for drinking cups” as late as 1989, weren’t considered an automotive necessity until the ’50s.  That was when, reports Bon Appetit, “drive-ins and drive-thru windows became mainstays of American eating.”  Before then, people were expected to stop for food and drink and then be sated.  Can you imagine?

It took a long time, though, for the automobile industry to figure out exactly how to deliver us our cup holders.  First there was a “snack tray for car,” as pictured in a 1950 newspaper ad:

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Companies also sold between the seat inserts that held cups and Cadillac sold a limousine with magnetic cup holders:

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The cup holder as we know it today came to us in 1983 alongside another innovation: the mini van.  The first cup holders “sunk into the plastic of the dashboard” were installed in the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager.  It would be a decade, though, before cup holders came standard in essentially every car.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The U.S. #1 in Early Deaths

The Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council released some damaging numbers this month: Americans ranks startlingly low in life expectancy, compared to 16 other similarly developed countries.  This is especially true for younger Americans. Indeed, among people 55 and under, we rank dead last.  Among those 50-80 years old, our life expectancy is 3rd or 2nd to last.

Sabrina Tavernise at the New York Times reports that the “major contributors” to low life expectancy among younger Americans are high rates of death from guns, car accidents, and drug overdoses.  We also have the highest rate of diabetes and the second-highest death rate from lung and heart disease.

Americans had “the lowest probability over all of surviving to the age of 50.”  The numbers for American men were slightly worse than those for women. Overall, life expectancy for men was 17 out of 17; women came in 16th.  Education and poverty made a difference too, as did the more generous social services provided by the other countries in the study.

What isn’t making a difference?  Apparently our incredible rate of health care spending.

Via Citings and Sightings.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

What Happened to the Oldsmobile?

Cross-posted at Montclair Socioblog.

Try not to think about an Oldsmobile.

I’ve been thinking about Oldsmobile.  I mentioned it in passing in the previous post, and since then I’ve been wondering about “Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile” – the brand’s swan song.  Matthew Yglesias at Slate thinks that the campaign alienated the regular customers, the ones who bought a new Olds every few years, saying to them in effect, “You’re a geezer, an Oldster, and have been for a while – sans youth, sans sex, sans taste, sans everything except your crummy car.”

The tag that completed the famous set-up line was, “The new generation of Olds.”

The target of the campaign was to attract young car buyers, but it missed badly.  Why?  My guess is the futility of negation.  Saying what something is not doesn’t give people a clear picture of what that something actually is.  But that’s not the problem here.  The message was clear, especially with that tag about generations.

The problem is that direct negation can reinforce the idea you are trying to deny – as in the paradoxical command to not think about an elephant. “I am not a crook,” said Richard Nixon in his televised address about Watergate.  It’s his most remembered line, and when he spoke it, the TV screen might as well have had an overlay flashing the words “Game Over.”

If the denial contradicts general perceptions (i.e., the brand), people might not hear it at all, or worse, they might hear the opposite.  Ever since fact-checking went public in a big way a few years ago, we’ve seen corrections to the lies that politicians have told about one another.  But as Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler have shown, corrections can boomerang, especially when they clash with ideas the reader already has.

Can these false or unsubstantiated beliefs about politics be corrected? … Results indicate that corrections frequently fail to reduce misperceptions among the targeted ideological group. We also document several instances of a “backfire effect” in which corrections actually increase misperceptions among the group in question.

By insisting that they weren’t old after all, Oldsmobile might have done more harm than good.

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Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University.  You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

Mocking the Honda Fit “She’s”

The internet is exciting, in part, because it offers people an opportunity to produce as well as consume content.  This is why it’s sometimes called “democratizing”; it spreads around the power to influence our collective conversations.

One reaction to the new Honda Fit She’s illustrates a form of resistance through the production of media content.  The She’s is a 1950s throwback being marketed to women in Japan.  In addition to coming in several shades of pink and the inclusion of a heart in the logo, it has pink stitching inside, windows that cut ultraviolet rays (to prevent wrinkles) and a special air conditioning system designed to improve skin quality (to erase wrinkles).

A website, called IdeasForHonda, has emerged in response.  It mocks Honda’s stereotyping of women with satire, offering its own ideas for what women want. Here are some of the entries:

This is just part of  a wider internet response to the She’s and this type of reaction has prompted companies to make changes.  Recently, for example, Gap pulled a t-shirt with the phrase Manifest Destiny and we’ve posted about successful resistance to the Obama sock monkey, the Pretzel Crisps “You Can Never Be too Thin” ad campaign, Nivea’s “Re-Civilize Yourself” ads, and the Abercrombie push-up bikini for kids.  Here’s to democratization.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Honda Fit She’s and the Dodge La Femme: History Repeating Itself

About a gazillion twitterers and three readers — Andi, Ria, and Jenna B. – have asked us to comment on the new Honda Fit She’s begin marketed in Japan. It’s a car. For ladies. It’s pink.  It reduces wrinkles. The apostrophe in the logo is a little heart. Etc.

My only response to this is: “how very la femme!”  Dodge La Femme that is.

The Dodge La Femme  was sold for two years in the U.S. — 1955 and 1956 — and could be considered a fore mother to the She’s.  We originally posted about it in 2007.

Here is some of the advertising:

Here are some pictures of a restored La Femme:

Pink rosebud patterned upholstery:

It even came with matching accessories!  An umbrella and raincoat:

A compact:

A coin purse:

One of the reasons that the La Femme didn’t sell was because women were, frankly, offended.  Gender politics are different today, and they’re certainly different in Japan than they are in the U.S., so it’ll be fascinating to see how the She’s is received.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.