Here's a great example of the law of unintended consequences, from USA Today: "Laws banning texting while driving actually may prompt a slight increase in road crashes, research out today shows." From the article:
Researchers at the Highway Loss Data Institute compared rates of collision insurance claims in four states — California, Louisiana, Minnesota and Washington — before and after they enacted texting bans. Crash rates rose in three of the states after bans were enacted.
The Highway Loss group theorizes that drivers try to evade police by lowering their phones when texting, increasing the risk by taking their eyes even further from the road and for a longer time.
It seems vaguely reminiscent of that classic New York Times article reporting that as bicycle helmets became more widely used, serious head injuries by cyclists increased.
I don't see how checking email while driving is much worse than fiddling with the radio or the air conditioner or talking to the person in the passenger seat or reading the roadside billboards. But the whole situation is a great example of how incentives work in journalism. The New York Times won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for its series Driven to Distraction about the supposed dangers of texting while driving. The guy at USA Today, Larry Copeland, who wrote the article about how the laws the Times got passed don't actually work is just going to get some praise from me, which is worth $10,000 less than a Pulitzer Prize. And the chances of the Pulitzer Board taking the Pulitzer back from the Times reporter for having whipped everyone up into a frenzy for which the cure is worse than the supposed problem are about 0%.
Update: Prize for the best comment on this post that is entered while behind the wheel of a car. Seriously, a lot of the commenters seem to think that texting while driving is more dangerous than talking on a cellphone, listening to the radio, drinking coffee, or adjusting the air conditioning. It seems to me there is a difference between taking a quick peek at the phone to see if there are any urgent emails while driving, on one hand, and actually typing a message, on the other hand. But in most cases it's better to regulate outputs than inputs. Regulating speeding or swerving or reckless driving may work better than trying to regulate other factors, like how much sleep a driver had the night before or how much of a hurry he or she is in to get where he is going or what he or she can or can't do with his phone while driving.
Another Update: Welcome Instapundit readers! Please consider bookmarking us, subscribing to our RSS feed, or signing up for our free daily mailing list. You can also follow us on Twitter or Facebook.