Ticketing the smartphone scapegoat

For decades, the most haphazardly slapped-together thing produced in America was cars.

My dad bought a Datsun pickup in the 1970s and it got more than a few strange looks. Why would anyone buy anything made in Japan? They bombed Pearl Harbor!

To tell you the truth, 10-year-old me was a little embarrassed and apologetic. I didn't feel that way long. My Ford Mustang was cool and had a great 8-track player, but my sister's Honda ran forever on a tank of gas, rarely required a mechanic and had this fantastic new technology called cassettes.

Comparing the two cars wasn't fair. I submerged my car in a pond, which created problems Detroit engineers hadn't had the foresight to envision. I tried rewiring the electrical panel but one day a glowing hot penny I'd used to replace a fuse came flying out from under the dashboard and landed atop a bare foot. I still remember the sizzle and how close I came to hitting a tree.

Speaking of distracted driving, check out Georgia's newest anti-texting law. It basically says holding your phone while driving is all a cop needs to write a $300 ticket.

Using a phone while driving is, of course, more dangerous than paying attention to the road. But even lawmakers admit the new law is designed to boost the 2010 law's conviction rates .

They also say it will save lives.  One legislator said the new law will save 300 people a year , which would be a miracle since "distracted driving" was cited in only 72 fatal wrecks in Georgia in 2015, according to the latest data available on the  Georgia Governor's Office of Highway Safety website.

How were the 72 drivers distracted? No one bothered to write that bit of useful info down, it seems. Drivers may have been distracted by their radio, a conversation with a passenger, a screaming child, practicing "selfies" in the mirror, food, hot pennies on their foot.

But the legislative scapegoat of the day is phones. Almost everyone says there are more accidents now because people are staring at screens instead of the road.

If saying something made it true I'd be as rich as my wife thought I was when she agreed to get married.

The Georgia Department of Transportation tracks traffic fatalities with a handy chart which indicates, as smartphones became more popular, accidents and fatalities dropped.

The DOT data begins in 2008, the year after the iPhone was introduced. There were 1,508 Georgia traffic fatalities in 2008. The number plunged 14 percent in 2009, the year before Georgia's first anti-texting law was passed. As smartphones became more popular, the numbers kept going down until 2015.

There were 1,549 fatalities in 2017, a 2.7 percent increase over 2008 numbers.

Did people start texting in 2015? No.

So what changed? Even the experts don't know for certain.

Maybe the Great Recession made roads safer? Unemployment and gas prices were high. People weren't taking a lot of unnecessary trips.

As the economy improved, the rate of accidents increased, but not as much as fatalities because automakers, unlike lawmakers, have gotten better at what they do.

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