I'm All for Multitasking but Is This a Good Idea?

On a blog called The Sedulous Pleb, Jim Powell posts video reviews of podcasts he's listened to, sermons he's seen, and the like. When does he make these video reviews? While he's driving! Jim seems like a bright and thoughtful guy; I just hope he's a really, really good driver on top of that.

His review of a recent Freakonomics Radio podcast looks to have been done while he was driving at night:

(HT: J.L.)

Education As Incapacitation: Why Are States Making it Harder to Get a Learner's Permit?

I got in trouble earlier this summer when a teacher caught me surfing the Internet during a “Safe Driving Practices” class I had to attend so that my son could get his Connecticut driver's license. While a parent has to attend for 2 hours, a 16-year-old must attend for a mind-numbing 8 hours before qualifying to take a written test. The mandatory class is part of Connecticut’s graduated driver licensing requirements, which make it (i) harder for a 16 or 17-year-old to get a learner’s permit, (ii) harder to get a license, and (iii) severely limits the kinds of driving you can do with these licenses.

I was surfing the Internet during class, because something the instructor said about accident statistics since the program was rolled out in 2008 seemed defensive – so I started to look up Connecticut statistics online.

Having attended 2 hours of the training, I seriously doubted that the 8-hour classes serve an educational function.  Nonetheless, surfing made me feel somewhat better about having to sit there because I learned that the new requirements are having an impact: they’re deterring young people from getting their licenses. Look, for example, at what happened to the number of 16 and 17-year-olds receiving learner permits in 2008 when the law took effect (which I calculated from this data):

Raising MPG Standards: The Second-best Solution to a Gas Tax Increase

It got surprisingly little press coverage given the degree to which it will affect our lives (thanks, pesky world economic meltdown), but in case you missed it, the Obama administration recently worked out a compromise with the major automakers that will dramatically raise the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards.

The new regulations mandate that the mix of new cars sold in the year 2025 must achieve about 54.5 miles per gallon (though if you read the fine print you’ll see that credits for various other green innovations mean that actual fuel economy will be more like 40 MPG.) For reference, the auto fleet currently on the road gets about 27 MPG. It’s a well-done agreement that will help avoid well-done citizens as global warming accelerates.

Before proceeding, let me note that I am strongly in favor of this policy. The problem of excessive fossil fuel use in transportation is multidimensional: if the issue of global warming doesn’t move you, the thought of Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad using our own hard-earned dollars to tweak our geopolitical noses should.

However, it is worth noting that raising CAFE standards is what political scientists and economists call a “second-best” solution; we could be doing considerably better if we thought all of this through more clearly.

How Common Is Drugged Driving?

From a recent USA Today article by Jonathan Shorman comes an astounding (to me) set of facts about drugs and driving that certainly ought to be considered as part of the conversation about decriminalizing marijuana:*

Researchers examined data on more than 44,000 drivers in single-vehicle crashes who died between 1999 and 2009. They found that 24.9% tested positive for drugs and 37% had blood-alcohol levels in excess of 0.08, the legal limit. Fifty-eight percent had no alcohol in their systems; 5% had less than 0.08. The data were from a government database on traffic fatalities.

Study co-authors Eduardo Romano** and Robert Voas of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in Calverton, Md., say their study is one of the first to show the prevalence of drug use among fatally injured drivers. Among drivers who tested positive for drugs, 22% were positive for marijuana, 22% for stimulants and 9% for narcotics.

What Drives Obesity? An Economist Takedown of The Economist

Is higher obesity due to the rise in driving? Perhaps. It’s an intriguing hypothesis. But our friends at The Economist should know better than to report nonsensical correlations. Here’s the evidence they cite (drawn from this entirely unconvincing research paper published in Transport Policy):

Looks impressive, right? (Well, apart from putting the explanatory variable on the vertical axis.) But before concluding that there’s anything here, let’s try a different variable, instead—my age:

What's Putting the Brakes on the Growth of Driving?

One iron law governed 20th century transportation: driving always increases. But surprisingly, the 2000s appeared to see a halt to that trend. A few theories.