Lightning, lottery winners, and texting crashes

a) It is well known that most people are poor at evaluating and ranking relative risk (e.g., https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-inertia-trap/201303/why-are-people-bad-evaluating-risks).

b) Your insurance company looks at data to evaluate what is risky behavior. All data. Not just the data that confirms a bias. If they don’t, they don’t stay in business.


Amen. If the National Safety Council is to be believed, cell phone use while driving is involved in some 1.6 million accidents annually in the US. I don’t want to be in any of them. Even the nonfatal ones can hurt people and mess up their cars.

Anecdotally, I can hardly make it through my commute anymore without at least taking defensive driving precautions, if not outright evasive action, for this reason.

The other thing about accidents that involve texting (and, pretty much, cell phone use) while driving is that the number could so easily be reduced to zero.

And we haven’t even started in on pedestrians who have their heads down on a device and their brains in cyberspace while in the proximity of moving vehicles…


“b) Your insurance company looks at data to evaluate what is risky behavior.”

Evaluating data is expected and a requirement of the industry to develop actuarial tables in order to set rates and estimate risk.

Publishing articles that basically give drivers a green flag to engage in unsafe driving practices, that is not expected nor does it help keep them in business. Quite the opposite.

Well after surviving a lighting strike, not playing the lottery, peoples cheap ass tires, driving their cars/trucks while texting/talking on the phone/watching movies I will be damn lucky to survive the 800 mile trip home from SC to MI this next week!
Yes I have been lucky enough to survive a lighting strike.
In my younger days I worked at a Goodyear tire store. In my many duties there I replaced /repaired tires on everything from fork lifts, cars, trucks, over the road tractors, loaded farm tractor tires and anything else that held air and/or calcium chloride. In those years I saw some very alarming things. Everything from a live 30.6 gun shell stuck through the shoulder of a pickup tire
( that was fun removing) to a man driving into the store with four (4) temporary spares on his car.
The worst thing though was having a customer coming in asking us to put air in a tire that he/she had been running half flat for God only knows how long. Now anybody can jump up on a soap box and exercise their lungs but if you take into consideration cheap tires that have had the air pressure maintained are more than likely safer than the most expensive tires fun half flat for for 10/20/30 miles and so on.
I have been lucky enough not to have a tire explode on a customers vehicle bringing it (the tire,tires) up to operating pressure. I have witnessed too many times an inexperienced person add air to a tire that should be removed and recycled. The worst incidents was a kid working in the fast lube in the dealership that I worked at. He was checking the air on a 1 ton w/duel rear wheels. While he was adding air to a inside rear tire the tire blew up like a bomb. This kid was about 6ft tall 180lbs. it through him back 10 ft into a wall. He got a trip to the hospital w/ blown ear drums and a concussion.
Until there is there is a major campaign to educate the public to the dangers of under inflated tires like the seat belt campaign and such any tire can be a bad tire.
So go ahead and rip me apart with your wit and snide remarks, I have worked on all kind of cars all of my life, I started at 6 yrs old handing my mother tools while she adjusted the valve clearances on her '61 Plymouth. I’m in my mid 50’s and I have witnessed all kinds of stupid crap on our nations highways. Way too many times I have had to drive defensively to avoid the idiot next to me running over in my lane while exercising his/her God given right to text while driving, and how did I know what was going on in the car next to me? They usually have their phone in their lap not watching the road. One time in Florida while driving in the middle lane a guy came up behind me so fast that he almost hit me trying not to, in the mean time he hit the guard rail on the left shoulder then shot over in front of me and another car running off the right side of the road stuffing his car into the ditch, dirt flying everywhere. I’m not the smartest man out in the world but I and my wife have seen enough crap out on the open road traveling 41 of the 50 states to write a book. Do your best.
Happy New Year!

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Fantastic article. Thank you for your efforts.
In Ontario Canada, it is $1000 fine, 3 days car impounded if caught driving while on the phone. To be honest, that does nothing to the addict. Now, if it was $1000 fine and the phone was impounded for a week then that would hit the addict where it counts. Can you picture someone that addicted to their phone not being able to check IG, email, phone, text, face time for an entire week? Forced to actually talk to someone, realize there is a world around them still? I suspect most of the addicts would be drooling in the corner of the room counting the seconds till they could get the phone back.
excellent post, thanks again. I think you would be a interesting fella to sit and share a coffee with. Cheers

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I’m not going to argue with the statistics, but this article comes dangerously close to excusing distracted driving. If the article said something like “You knew distracted driving was a problem but did you know bad tires are an even bigger problem? So fix your tires and get off the damn phone!” I’d be fine with it. But instead he just seems to almost wave away the threats from distracted driving. Even if distracted drivers don’t kill you as often as other things, the article doesn’t account for non-fatal crashes and the inconvenience of having to slow-down for or swerve around distracted drivers doing crazy things.
This is especially odd coming from a car insurance company, one that often posts articles and videos about how great it is that driving a car forces your attention onto the act of driving and away from other things.

On our trip home from a boat ride on the Danube, we were on a bus taking us to the BudaPest airport. Traffic was civilized, but in our eyes slower than we would have gone here in the States. The driver was asked about the speed he was maintaining, and his reply was that infringement on the speed limits would revoke his license to drive, which was his livelihood. He explained that to get his license to drive, as others were required as well, took several years, was extremely costly, and the loss of that license would be financially catastrophic. Violations of the speed laws as well as all other laws regulating vehicles were strictly enforced. My understanding is that Germany, and most other countries in Europe have similar requirements for obtaining driving licences. One of the major problems that I percieve in the USA is the perception that “driving is a right” instead of a privelege granted the individual by the state. So the thought by many who drive (with or without a license) think that they can drive because they can turn the wheel, use the go pedal and brake, as well as turn on the engine. No instruction necessary!! Not to diss the constabulary, but enforcement is lax, and these people mix in with the rest of the driving population, unnoticed until something ugly happens. Seems to me that the European model would serve our motoring public better than what is currently employed. There will be the outcry of poverty on the part of some who don’t have the funds for driving lessons, but have enough to buy a car, which is curious.

I’m not seeing that Mr. Baruth’s comments are endorsing distracted driving, or that tires are not as important as the distracted driving, but his comments on tires sure illuminated me as to why the four Michelin ZX tires on my '84 Vanagon suddenly developed large bulges on the sidewalls, requiring immediate replacement several years ago.


One other thing - A driver should always be driving defensively. Mirrrors are our friends, especially when you have someone behind at 5 feet away from your bumper at 80 mph. Also if we don’t allow at least 2 seconds between ourselves and the car in front, we run the risk of having a car as a hood ornament, and I’ve seen many results of this phenomenom on the side of the road, or being taken away on flatbed wreckers. A driver needs to be completely aware of all that is going on around him/her - the stop/go ahead, the driver that is going to climb into your lane at increased speed and then slow down, and the car approaching from behind at a very fast speed and thinking what needs to be done to continue safely, for just starters.
Truckers have their own licenses (CDL - Commercial Drivers License), and most abide by the guidelines inherent in this particular license, but I’ve seen many that don’t. A pet peeve when I drove is the car that pulls right in front of me leaving only about 10 feet at most between us. If that car had to slow or stop suddenly, my truck would have a new hood ornament. Also trying to maintain safe following distance is harder when this happens. When a truck or truck/trailer is lying on its side on the road or on the shoulder, it’s a good bet that it was caused by the driver of the truck trying to avoid a car driver being stupid.

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The article is based on the “statistic” that 10% of all fatal crashes are caused by a “Distracted Driver”. I call BS.
The implication is that in 90% of all fatal accidents none of the drivers involved was distracted by… talking/dialing on a cell phone, texting, arguing/taking with a passenger, fiddling with the radio, shaving, putting on makeup, reading, dealing with a misbehaving child, driving with a dog on their lap, watching a streaming video, fiddling with the gps/google maps/waze, or simply staring at something other than the road ahead.
My gut tells me that if all drivers involved were focused on the task of driving at all times during the crash envelope, a lot more than 10% of the fatalities would have been avoided.

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I had a German friend of mine tell me it took about 2-3000 dollars to get his license in Germany and that yes, the licensing tests and road rules were much more strict. Obviously this would not work 100% in the US, but some kind of driver training should happen. Driving is not a right, but in many, many places, mass transit is awful and pedestrian/bicycle measures inadequate. Driving is a necessity for many, and a skill you use your entire life, we should put more thought into it.

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I certainly didn’t read anything that said it is okay to text and drive. I feel he was trying to illustrate that the stats don’t always seem to make sense and are subject to interpretation.

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Yes, we probably should have more advanced new driver training in the US but that training should also be funded by the government through taxes. We designed our country and highway system to darn near guarantee that a car is a required part of being a productive adult. We don’t have anywhere near the public transit as Europe and our population is much more spread out than the population in Europe. We can’t expect financially vulnerable individuals to bear the cost of increased driver training when a car is a requirement to get to work for the vast majority of people.

Edited to add:. We also need to stop punishing people who don’t/can’t pay child support or traffic tickets by taking their license. If they can’t drive, how can they get to work to make those payments? Wage garnishment would be much more effective for those situations. Also, eliminate the reinstatement fee if a license is lost for some reason. Fortunately I haven’t suffered from these issues, but I have seen first hand the impact they have on those who are financially vulnerable.

I didn’t see the author say it’s ok to text and drive either. Mr. Baruth’s articles sometimes require precise reading to fully understand his point and many people don’t take the time read with a critical eye. They just jump to conclusions based on emotion (which the author even warned about in the article!).

Great article, and very thought provoking as was the previous article on tires. In the Pacific NW we have a major tire dealer who sells mostly imported tires. My granddaughter was driving here after Christmas and had a tire go bad. As she has AWD on her Subaru, I knew they would require her to buy 4 new tires. I told her “don’t let them sell you any tires from China”. When she got here, she said the sales person couldn’t tell them where their new tires were made, but “they are the best tires we sell”. I didn’t even go out to see what the brand was, but at least they gave quick service.

I think more money spent on driver training would be a better investment than all of the advertising spent against cell phone use, and I am against any kind of texting while driving, but I don’t think answering a phone call on your phone is much of a risk.

I am old (75) so I learned to drive cars, trucks, and tractors about the age of 10. But, I also had driver training in high school and it corrected some bad habits.

This article is only thought provoking if you believe the ratio of cell phone distractions to total fatalities is even remotely close to accurate. The truth is that our system has a very weak way of determining whether to attribute a crash to cell phone use, or even that it was a partial or major contributor. The real numbers, which are unknown, must be much higher, probably close to the vast majority. Why must? Because we all know it from experience of watching ourselves and others on the road. We all know it, we should all admit it. The sooner the better.

This article is a joke written by a BMX’er and author, not a statistician, or analyst.

If we were allowed to post pictures here I’d share some of the destruction caused by a young woman who hit our church van with my wife as a passenger back in 2015. We live in a small town, everyone knows everyone and everyone’s business. News and juice travel fast because that’s all there is to do here. When this young lady crossed the centerline of a two-lane highway (posted speed limit of 75 mph) while Facebook messaging her friend, it was only a matter of hours before everyone in town knew the root cause of the accident that required 5 care-flight helicopters, included two deaths (including the distracted driver herself), and sent numerous people to the hospital for over two months. The state cops listed the accident as being ‘due to high speeds’ (not illegal speeds mind you). High speed didn’t send the distracted driver’s car over the centerline through a corner, the fact that she was looking down at her phone caused her to not turn the steering wheel soon enough. I don’t for one second believe over 9,000 people died of high speed and none of those had anything to do with phone use. It’s ridiculously naïve. Get real Baruth!

In your previous article you commited a Classical Economics fallacy: The Seen/Unseen fallacy first coined by Frédéric Bastiat.

As that article implies, you’re proposing to ban the importation of cheap tires into the USA, and effectively, if that happens, those would disappear almost overnight and be “replaced” by established brands. That’s the “seen” part.

The “unseen” part you fail to look at, (because it’s unseen) is the people who would no longer be able to afford brand new tires. Those will have the incentive of buying used tires in the secondary or black market (which will always exist if there is a demand) or stretch the life of their current tires until they literally blow apart. That’s way more dangerous and would cause way more deaths than using cheap new tires today.

The “solution” you propose in this article, throwing taxpayer money at the bottomless pit problem, like all similar government programs, would be a miserable failure. The law of supply and demand tells us that subsidizing something shoots its demand to the roof, way beyond the supply, therefore increasing its price (that’s the reason why subsidized higher private education is so expensive) and at the same time incentivizing producers to NOT increase production and seek even more protection from competitors… like the chinese tire makers.

And I will also mention that it is immoral to take away by force any choice people make with their own money, specially if it causes even more deaths as I said above.

You enforce a standard of quality.

I live in a jurisdiction that is close to making snow tires a requirement but won’t allow studded tires (studded snow tires wins the safety argument). They say studded tires wear out the roads faster but meanwhile use a brine solution that eats million dollar bridges (and all our vehicles). They could just use sand if they let us choose to stud up —government doesn’t often make sense?

Deciding if China (or some other low-labour cost market) is allowed to import tires meeting that standard is a different matter.

North Americans are addicted to cheap, disposable consumer goods. 1950s household items from water sprinklers to fridges could be rebuilt. My last fridge needed a new door @ 3 years old that cost more to get than buying the same fridge new again. I didn’t buy the same brand the 2nd time.

I agree with the wisdom of your “unseen” points. It applies directly to the EV push as they cost 10-15 grand more than the same car in hybrid form, often even more than the same car in ICE form. Again, some in my jurisdiction think there is wisdom in banning ICE cars and forcing us all to go EV now. The reality is that will drive up demand in the used market and keep old cars around longer until the price of EV is within reach of the masses. So basically the opposite effect of “getting rid of evil tailpipes fast”.


Ha! Data ?!
As an automotive engineer - This is one of my favorite sayings at work:

FACTS do NOT care About YOUR Feelings !

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OK here’s my opinion.
If you’re texting/ staring at your phone while driving, you’re a problem. You’re a danger, and you look stupid. Weaving, jerking the wheel, going way under the speed limit, or over… looking up every few seconds to check out the road? Lame as hell.
A lady in a bmw-750 ran me off the road on a 2 lane road at a sweeping corner, nearly a head on collision, jerking the wheel back towards her lane at the last second as I’m careening off into the gravel heavy on the brakes. She was squarely staring right down at her phone, I saw it all from my higher SUV vantage and, well, because I was watching the road. We were both doing about 35 I’d guess.
If you’re texting/ staring at your phone like 50% of the other folks around you while waiting for a light to turn green, you’re a problem- you take 3+ seconds to go, never taking your eyes off the phone, multiply that by all the folks at the intersection… I’ll honk and you’ll get mad.
Also if you have searing bright non SAE/ DOT approved aftermarket headlights that blind everyone, you’re a jerk and a problem. I’ll flash my brights and you’ll get mad.
Don’t get me started on the guys driving in traffic with light bars/ off road lights on. So cool.

I know I sound like an a-hole, I’m not, just annoyed.

Here’s a suggestion, do an article about non OEM/ DOT approved aftermarket headlights, and see what reaction you get. I read on a forum a guy who wrote something like, “Screw the others who bright me with my 8K nightsplitter low beams in, I’ll sear their retinas with my light bar and if they have a problem I’ve got my 9mm…”

Bravo, Mr. Baruth, both for employing logic and avoiding emotion.

Your article reminds me of a remark by the late Randy Pausch (of “The Last Lecture” internet fame): “The plural of anecdote is not data.”