Episode 89: Distracted to Death 


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Russ Mitchell: Driving a car is the main task. To be safe, it requires a hundred percent of a person’s attention all the time. Most people—including myself—are not paying attention a hundred percent of the time. The more technology that goes into the car, the more distraction there is, so things just are getting worse and worse.

Doug Gordon: This is the war on cars. I’m Doug Gordon. So in 2021, an estimated 42,915 people died in traffic crashes. That’s according to an estimate from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and that is the highest total in 16 years. We’ve talked a lot on the podcast about the reasons behind this public health crisis, and among the chief offenders obviously, is road design. With US roads prioritizing speed and traffic flow over safety—especially the safety of people outside of vehicles. There’s also the size of our cars and our trucks, with drivers waging a war of mutually assured destruction in ever larger SUVs and pickups with high, flat-front profiles, large blind spots and weights that make crashing at high speeds really dangerous. And again, especially for people who are not armored up inside personal tanks.

Doug: But then there’s this sort of macabre cherry on top of this violent sundae: distraction. If you drive, if you own a car, you know that today’s vehicles are loaded with screens. The idea of using a knob or a dial to change the radio or adjust your AC is about as quaint as getting up from the couch to change the channel on a TV set. And to do all the things you need to do in a car, you often have to access menus and submenus on flat touch screens, and that often means taking your eyes off the road.

Doug: There’s a kind of weird push-pull between automakers and tech companies and drivers, since the automakers and the tech companies will just say, “Hey, we’re only satisfying customer demand in a world that is increasingly tethered to smartphones.” Here’s Emily Schubert. She is Apple’s senior manager for car experience engineering, announcing the latest version of CarPlay, which seamlessly integrates iOS into the dashboard of automobiles.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Emily Schubert: Our users love CarPlay. It gives them an easy way to use apps in the car using the familiar UI from their iPhone. But cars have changed a lot, with larger-sized screens and more of them throughout the car. There’s an opportunity for iPhone to play an even more important role. We’ve been working with automakers to reinvent the in-car experience across all of the driver’s screens.]

Doug: So I don’t know about you, but when I think about what the in-car experience should be, the thing I land on is safely piloting your multi-ton metal box without killing anyone. It’s actually hard to estimate just how many traffic fatalities are caused by distraction—that’s something we’ll get to in a moment. But it’s clear that the human brain is simply not up to the complicated task of operating a motor vehicle, paying attention to all of the potential threats on the road, and dealing with the practically cinematic level of distraction that now comes standard in most cars.

Doug: To make sense of it all, I spoke with Russ Mitchell, a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times who covers the auto industry, and he has a particular focus on EVs, driverless cars and vehicle safety. Earlier this month, he published a story on the deadly consequences of automakers and tech companies loading cars with apps, with touchscreens, with infotainment, which one researcher called “A candy store of distraction.” I spoke to Russ about his reporting, the auto industry’s response, what it would take to rein all this in, and why you should never talk on the phone—even hands-free—when you’re behind the wheel of a car. You’ll hear my interview with Russ Mitchell after the break.

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Doug: Russ Mitchell, welcome to The War on Cars.

Russ Mitchell: Glad to be here.

Doug: So, Russ, I want to start where your article starts, and it starts in the late 1980s with pilots of Apache attack helicopters. Could you explain this for us?

Russ Mitchell: Yeah. I interviewed a researcher named David Strayer at the University of Utah. He’s a cognitive psychologist, and one of his earlier research projects was the Apache helicopter, which has, if people don’t know, it’s the Army’s main attack helicopter. It’s equipped with missiles, and it goes up ahead of troops. So they’ve gone through several iterations in design on that helicopter. And at this particular point, they wanted some research done into pilot confusion or potential pilot confusion in the cockpit. Lots of different controls, at that time mostly analog, but some digital. And they wanted to know what kind of a cognitive load, which is the amount of information going through the brain and the ability to handle that information. They wanted more information about the way the cockpits were going.

Doug: What were their findings with all of the stuff that was going into the cockpit of the Apache?

Russ Mitchell: Well, Strayer’s findings—now Strayer, he was a contractor. He didn’t come up with the ultimate conclusion or solution, but his research showed that the more disparate forms of information that are being presented leads to more distraction, more confusion on the part of the pilot, which should be kind of naturally assumed. But a lot of science is proving things that people think they know already, and showing whether that’s true or false. And in this case, it was true.

Doug: So basically your piece starts out with Strayer’s research and, you know, he’s looking into the most elite Apache helicopter pilots. They’re not strangers to all sorts of distraction in and out of the vehicle that they are operating. And yet we have loaded our cars, passenger cars, with much more than even these pilots were trained to deal with, with deadly consequences.

Russ Mitchell: Right. And one thing that I didn’t really get into deeply in the story, but I’ll talk about here, the mission of the Army for their helicopter pilots is to keep them alert, yes. To keep them focused, yes. Also to keep them alive. The mission of the smartphone companies and the car companies is to sell the cars, sell the phones and to sell them information that’s traveling on the data channels through those phones. So their mission is revenue. They’re not gonna go out of their way to kill people for sure, but I would submit that is not their number one priority.

Doug: And you write in the piece—and I was gonna ask this as a question, but you’ve essentially answered it—you said, “The makers of smart phones and automobiles have largely ignored the research of Strayer and others.” And I wrote a big “Why?” But more of a sort of rhetorical “Why.”

Russ Mitchell: Well, ignored in a sense that they may well have looked at the research and rejected it or, you know, cherry-picked it. So when I say “Ignored,” what I mean is they don’t seem to have implemented the learnings into the infotainment systems. Why? The reason is that it’s good revenue for them. It sells more cars. Consumers like it. They can tell or imply to consumers and others that it’s safer than fiddling with your phone, so it benefits them greatly.

Russ Mitchell: I have a modern car and I have a 20-year-old car, and my 20-year-old car has almost no distractions, and you can focus on driving. That’s what the car is there for. But we’re in this weird transition period where robots are taking over our cars. At some point the robots will be driving the cars. We’ll be able to, you know, pay all the money we want to pay to these companies for infotainment with no danger because the robot’s actually driving the car. But we’re right in between those two periods, and the drivers are kind of the victims of that transition.

Doug: It’s interesting that you talk about owning an older car as well, because I recently rented a car, a Volkswagen Jetta, for a quick trip I had to make. And I was really blown away by the level of distraction in the car. I hadn’t been in a car in quite some time. I don’t own a car. And, you know, I grew up with the kind of car, much like your 20-year-old car, that has knobs that you can turn if you need to adjust the air conditioning, if you need to tune the radio. Maybe it has steering wheel controls where you can do those things.

Russ Mitchell: Right.

Doug: But my phone was picked up by Bluetooth, and basically I had to voice control almost everything or flip through touchscreens. And I was amazed by how long it took to just do something as basic as adjust the temperature in the car. It took quite a lot of time. And the thing that really bugged me was my phone would pop up warnings that basically would say “It looks like you’re driving. Are you driving?” And it was as simple as pressing “No, I’m not.” Lying, right? And just being able to adjust everything.

Russ Mitchell: Yeah, but if you go to court, the lawyers will bring that up and show that you were lying.

Doug: I will never do that again. If the lawyers are listening and I get into a crash, I will never do that again.

Russ Mitchell: No, but seriously, all those warnings there that people just don’t read, they just—you hit the “Confirm” button. If you sue the car companies because they threw too much distraction at you, the lawyers say that you confirmed that you are a hundred percent responsible for the car, and it will likely absolve them of any legal liability.

Doug: So along those lines, there are some astounding facts in your piece. You write that reported fatalities due to distracted driving have remained flat for the last 10 years—about 3,000 to 4,000 a year. But you write that we should probably take those statistics with a very large grain of salt.

Russ Mitchell: Huge grain of salt. The way they collect these statistics is through accident reports or crash reports. And different jurisdictions have different ways of collecting that information. They try to standardize them across municipalities and states, but they’re not totally consistent. Some are on paper, some are digital. And by and large as a checkbox, was the driver using the phone, for instance. There’s nothing for infotainment at all. So somebody could be using infotainment, and the question might never come up. If the question does come up, “What were you doing while you were driving?” “Oh, I was using my phone,” or “I was distracted,” or whatever, that depends on either a police officer seeing you using your phone while you were driving—which is hard to do since you don’t really need to hold it in your hand anymore, or it’s the word of the driver.

Russ Mitchell: And most human beings would at least think about whether they want to lie to the police about this or not. And many of them, I would submit, are likely to lie to the police. The police didn’t see them using their phone. They know that if they were using the phone, they’re in a heap of trouble. So they’ll say, “No, I wasn’t using my phone.” How many people are lying to the police? That’s unknown.

Doug: And so there’s a poll that you cite by Nationwide Insurance that shows that its agents believe that 50 percent of all crashes involve some form of distracted driving, something that has likely gotten a lot worse as this technology has, quote-unquote, “improved,” if we can call it that in this context. But I thought—another thing that I thought was really interesting is how much Americans are aware of how big a problem this is. And you write that 98 percent of people polled told advocates for highway and auto safety that they’re “extremely or very concerned” about distracted driving as a safety issue, yet we have a situation where the majority of drivers are doing it anyway.

Russ Mitchell: Well, it’s everybody else’s fault, right? It’s not mine.

Doug: Right. Right. Everybody is an above average driver, right?

Russ Mitchell: Exactly. Yeah. I can drive using my phone, but that idiot at the light that isn’t pulling forward because he doesn’t notice the light change, it’s that guy. And that’s the guy that’s gonna get in a crash, not me.

Doug: Yeah. I gotta say that these stats, even though I was somewhat aware of them, and they kind of intuitively make sense, really made me feel like, I thank God that I never have to drive, rarely have to drive. Because when I just saw that, you know, 43 percent of people said they watched cell phone videos while they are driving, and more than a third said they “always or often drive while engaged in a video chat,” which in our age of Zoom feels like a thing that I guess, yeah, is happening more often. But man, that was the scariest paragraph of, I think, your entire piece.

Russ Mitchell: This didn’t make it into the story for reasons not worth going into, but there’s a likelihood—I mean, we couldn’t prove this, so—and the stats weren’t quite there and we couldn’t really talk about why the stats aren’t there, but there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence from people who run companies that track commercial drivers that since the pandemic, more and more people are depending on Zoom and other forms of connection for business meetings, and a lot of those business meetings happen in the car. So it’s likely, I would say, that the pandemic work from home, all of that has pushed people into watching videos. They may not be watching <i>Harry Potter</i>, but they may well be on a video conversation with their boss, which their boss is expecting them to attend.

Doug: So I want to back up a little bit. How did this story kind of get into your head, and how did it become a thing that you pitched to your editors at the Times?

Russ Mitchell: My editor is very interested in the subject, and it just kind of—you know, we talk about different stories all the time, and we would share anecdotes about distracted driving. And I would say that, you know, I’m not perfect. I really do try not to use my phone or the infotainment system. One thing we didn’t talk about a little bit earlier, which I should have jumped in on, this research is showing people using individual apps, like comparing voice with haptic finger controls, et cetera. But you mentioned the confusion when you rented that car. The research, as far as I can tell, does not get into the distraction that’s caused by one app not working with another. So it’s like, “Oh, man, I got CarPlay in here, but the music’s not coming out. Well, what is it? It’s—is it the car?” So I have to go through this submenu and have to find the sound screen on my infotainment system just to troubleshoot, to see whether it’s a car problem, not a CarPlay problem. So when I run into those kinds of problems, I pull to the side of the road and do it. My guess is that there are other people that don’t do that.

Doug: I had exactly this problem with Maps because I didn’t know where I was going. So I had to follow Google Maps, and it kept showing up on the screen and then not showing up on the car screen. And I had that same question: is this the car’s problem? Is this my phone’s problem? And I did pull over to figure it out, and I did figure it out. But I think that if I were behind the wheel of a car more regularly, I might have probably made a much worse choice.

Russ Mitchell: Yeah, probably so. Because you become adjusted to the system well enough that you know probably or perhaps where to go to find that information, and yet you still have to scroll through everything in order to find it. So you may have the false sense of confidence to—yeah, I actually have to consciously pull to the side of the road, like, tell myself to do it. Because I know how to do it, so it would be easy enough for me to just do it. And sometimes I do. Sometimes it’s like, “Man, I have to—you know, there’s this message coming in. I have to.” And I shouldn’t, but I do. There’s all kinds of people on the roads that are saying to themselves, “I shouldn’t do this, but I’m gonna do it,” or not even thinking anymore about whether they should or shouldn’t.

Doug: Well, we spend so much time in our cars, I feel like after a while you have to stop thinking about it. And that really is the problem with our car-dominated society.

Russ Mitchell: Yeah.

Doug: So you did reach out to multiple automakers. What did you hear or what didn’t you hear from them in response to this story?

Russ Mitchell: Some of them just said they don’t want to talk about it. Toyota said—one of the quotes, which we didn’t put in the story was “We prefer not to participate.” [laughs] Which, you know, it was honest. A couple other companies—I don’t remember which were which right now so I’m not gonna name them, but a couple other big companies just would say they’re gonna set me up with an executive, and then it would never happen. You know, the executive was unavailable on this date. Let’s set it up again. Unavailable on that date. And eventually, this one company, they said, “Well, he’s not going to be available until September.”

Doug: [laughs]

Russ Mitchell: So Google actually talked to me, but when I brought up the cognitive dissonance on voice, that seemed to baffle the guy. To me, he clearly had not even considered the idea that voice might be just as bad or worse than some other forms of driver distraction. But at least they did talk to me. Apple? Apple’s usual—Apple’s public relations is basically: they decide what information they’re gonna put out, they write it out, they send it to you and that’s it. They almost never talk. They almost never have a conversation. They’re not willing to be challenged.

Doug: You have a—we’ll get to Apple in a moment. You have a quote from Apple about their CarPlay system, which a spokesperson called “The smarter, safer way to use an iPhone in the car.”

Russ Mitchell: Yeah.

Doug: But they provided no details as to what exactly makes it smarter or safer.

Russ Mitchell: As far as I can tell, there’s no basis for it. And if there were a basis for it, they would tell me. But they don’t want to get caught in situations where, you know—so part of the problem and one reason I like working with the Los Angeles Times is that we really try—we want to be fair. We want to let these companies give us the information that they want to convey, but we don’t want to be bamboozled by their public relations bullshit, basically.

Doug: Right.

Russ Mitchell: And there are a lot of publications out there—maybe most publications—that will just take that PR information from Apple and repeat it as if, well, that’s their side of the story. With no challenge. So I do my best to make clear that these companies are not really answering the questions that we want to know answers to.

Doug: And that’s something I really appreciated about your piece, that you didn’t just let the quotes kind of lie where they are, and you really followed up on them, even to answer the question that I as a reader would have of, like, “Well, what does that mean? That’s just PR mumbo jumbo.”

Russ Mitchell: Yeah, it is. Yeah. You know, if I’m asking you about their finances or something, I mean, it’s a private company, whatever. This is, like, public safety information. This is a subject, this is technologies that are leading to people dying. I have to say, in fairness, that they’re also adding safety technologies that really do make a difference. So let me—I’m not anti-technology. The story’s not anti-technology. Blind spot warnings? Great.

Doug: And there’s lane departure warnings, and there’s all kinds of stuff going into cars these days that do make a difference. Absolutely. You know, I wanted to get to something that you were mentioning earlier. We were talking a little bit about the idea that the conventional wisdom, and it seemed to even have baffled people that you spoke to, is that the physical act of holding the phone to your ear or operating the phone, pressing buttons is the problem. But in fact, it’s the talking on the phone, and it’s the summoning Siri to play your next song or adjust the air conditioning that’s the problem, partially because of what’s happening in the brain, partially because of the lag time between issuing the command and that command being activated.

Doug: You mentioned that that baffled even someone at Google. And I think it really baffles the average driver as well, partially because we have these laws that say sort of like hands-free? Okay. But if you’re using your phone, no, you’ve got to put it down or you’ll get a ticket if you’re handling it. How much did that factor into the conversations that you had, other than obviously with the Google rep?

Russ Mitchell: Well, let me say that just to be clear, that holding your phone and manipulating it, that’s a problem, too.

Doug: That is a problem as well, yes.

Russ Mitchell: And it could be a serious problem. And I should also say just—I would encourage people that are really interested in this to read some of Strayer’s papers. They’re on the website at University of Utah. That some activities are safer than others. So if your system is set up properly and you can say “Play X song,” that may cause far less cognitive distraction than actually having a conversation. And in fact, I didn’t get into this at all, you’ve got having a conversation with a fellow passenger is also very distracting, but the hypothesis is that it doesn’t cause nearly as many accidents or crashes because you’ve got four eyes on the road instead of two eyes on the road. So, you know, if you’re having a conversation and something’s happening, you got somebody else there going, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa!”

Doug: No, that’s a hugely important point, I think. People ask that question all the time: well, why isn’t it a problem to have a conversation with the person in the driver’s seat or the kid in the back seat?

Russ Mitchell: It is. It is.

Doug: It is more distracting than not having the conversation, but it is less distracting than talking on the phone or using some other form of communication, for sure. Absolutely.

Russ Mitchell: Exactly. Exactly. Well said.

Doug: There’s a part where you talk to someone from Honda, and they feel actually like they’re doing sort of the Lord’s work here making things less distracting. By putting all this effort into infotainment systems, they really feel that they are putting less distraction into the car, less to fiddle with. That if you can all just make it voice activated, you’re sort of killing two birds with one stone. You’re satisfying the consumer who wants this stuff in the car, and you are making it less likely that they will harm themselves or others while they’re using it. But I sensed throughout your piece a healthy amount of skepticism that this was the right approach for them.

Russ Mitchell: Well, I believe that most of these people are trying to make their systems as safe as possible, but that’s a lot different from making them safe. I’m sure many of them think that they’re saving lives. And the auto companies, they’re making this transition into electric cars. It’s very expensive. They need as much revenue as they can get to do that. It’s a very low-margin business. So I can understand their need to look for new revenue streams, keep their cars technologically appealing to consumers. So they have those pressures, so I can understand their motivations. But somebody needs to point out that there’s more to the story than just providing a—as Strayer put it—a candy store of distraction.

Doug: It also seems like there is—and you point this out in the piece, that it’s an uphill battle in some ways, because the fact that these things are in the cars leads drivers to think that they’re safe. Like, the car companies wouldn’t put this in here if it was going to lead to my death, so therefore, it must be an okay thing to be in the car.

Russ Mitchell: Yeah. And that’s where having been a reporter for decades, it’s like, “What? You have that much trust?” But I think it’s true. I was driving with my family. It was—we were in a traffic jam, and luckily it wasn’t very serious, but I got bumped from the back and it caused slight damage, but nothing serious. But I got out of the car and I said to the driver, “You were on your phone, weren’t you?” And he said, “No, no.” I said, “Come on, you were on your phone.” He goes “No, no, no, no. I was using my navigation.” As if that was okay.

Russ Mitchell: And right, it’s like—you talked about this a little bit earlier, the laws against hand-held cell phones. Okay, the legislators are under pressure to do something about safety. This is a cheap way to do it because you can use your phone without using your hands. Done. Okay, legislators are done. They don’t have to deal with it anymore. But they’ve only addressed a tiny fraction of the problem. And by all these public safety campaigns that show people using their phone, show people texting with their hands, it offers a false sense of what the real problem is. It is a problem to do that, but it’s only a small part of the fuller problem.

Doug: And also, you know, I sometimes say the brain doesn’t know if I’m on the phone talking to my grandmother or if I’m talking to Google Maps asking for the location of the nearest In-N-Out Burger. It’s still sort of the same cognitive work that I have to do when I otherwise should be focused on driving.

Russ Mitchell: Well, I don’t know. They both involve cognitive work, and what’s lighting up in different parts of the brain, you’d have to ask some of the researchers.

Doug: Then again, talking to my grandmother? I love her, but it could be a lot of work. I know everyone’s grandmother’s different. But yeah, there were some very scary statistics in your piece. So basically you wrote that NHTSA issued guidelines on infotainment systems, and they recommended that they be designed so that a driver’s attention is not distracted for more than two seconds out of six. But at 60 miles an hour, two seconds, you would travel about 176 feet.

Russ Mitchell: Yeah.

Doug: That’s a lot of distance to cover in a short amount of time, and can lead to, like you said, someone rear ending you in hopefully just a fender bender. But it could be a lot more serious than that.

Russ Mitchell: Yeah. And NHTSA’s the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is the nation’s top auto safety regulator. And ostensibly, they do a good job of it. But I’ve been baffled over the years at how it works, how much of their inability to deal with some of these safety issues, which go far beyond distracted driving, are just due to inertia and long-standing bureaucracy. How much of it is politics, how much of it is pressure from the auto industry, I have no idea. But when you get, you know, stuff like the two-second rule—which is voluntary, it’s not even required—it shows, you know, again, it’s like showing pictures of somebody with a cell phone in their hand. It’s like, okay, you know, we’re gonna throw out this bone and now we can move on to something else. If safety’s your number one goal then a voluntary two-second rule isn’t gonna get you very far.

Doug: And the scary thing is, to bring it back to Strayer and his research, is that he found that a lot of the actions you report in here require drivers to take their eyes off the road for about 12 seconds or even longer. And, you know, at 60 miles an hour, you could travel two-tenths of a mile or more in 12 seconds.

Russ Mitchell: Yeah. Anybody who drives a car, I mean, this isn’t scientific, but I would submit that anybody who drives a car with these systems knows that the two-second recommendation is ridiculous.

Doug: So you mentioned this earlier. We’re in this weird in-between phase, depending on when you believe autonomous cars are coming. Where, on the one hand, we have technological solutions like lane departure warnings and things like that, that could be applied to cell phone use, that could be applied to all the various screens. I mean, you know, why does my screen need to show me the five-day weather forecast or my calendar, you know, while I’m driving? There are certain things that regulators could say can be on a screen, certain things that can’t.

Russ Mitchell: We can’t leave the drivers off the hook at all. Technically, it would be very easy to cause a phone not to work or an infotainment system not to work while you’re driving a car, okay? But can you imagine the public backlash there would be if people said you can’t make a phone call in your car anymore? I mean, if they did this early, very early on, maybe the public would have accepted it, but I can’t imagine that the public would accept a new law that said you can no longer use your—make phone calls while you’re driving.

Doug: But Europe is doing something about this, at least a little bit.

Russ Mitchell: That’s right. At least a little bit. Carmakers like General Motors and Ford have cameras inside the car, cameras that can look at your eyes. They use computers that look at your eyes to make sure you’re paying attention to the road. Europe is going to recommend that automakers put these in all their cars, these driver monitoring systems. And they’re not required, but you can’t get the top safety score from the governments unless you have these installed in your car. But as we’ve been talking about, these are helpful. When you’re talking about voice and paying attention to the road, you can be looking straight at the road and have both hands on the wheel, but if your mind is distracted by a telephone conversation, you can look at the road and the driver monitoring system will think you’re being safe when actually your mind is elsewhere.

Doug: There’s fascinating research on this, and when I read your piece, my initial thought was the invisible gorilla test, which I don’t know if you’re familiar with. It was a viral video many years ago.

Russ Mitchell: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. No, I know what you mean. Yeah.

Doug: And yeah, for our listeners who don’t know it, I’ll put a link in the show notes. But it’s a video that shows a basketball team, and you’re asked as the viewer to count how many times the team passes the basketball back and forth.

Russ Mitchell: Right.

Doug: And then the video stops, asks you for your total, but then says did you see the gorilla? And there was a person sort of like moonwalking and dancing in a gorilla suit.

Russ Mitchell: Right.

Doug: And most people miss it because your brain is being overloaded with one assignment, so to speak.

Russ Mitchell: Exactly.

Doug: And it cannot pick up the other. And that is exactly how a driver can say—I think a lot of advocates think that it’s bullshit when a driver says, “But I didn’t see that person. That they came out in front of my car.” But I actually think it’s true in many cases. They really believe they didn’t see it because they didn’t.

Russ Mitchell: Right. Yeah, they didn’t recognize it. Their brain—it might be imprinting in their brain somewhere, but it wasn’t recognized.

Doug: Right, exactly. It wasn’t the main task at hand.

Russ Mitchell: Right. Yeah. And driving a car is the main task. To be safe, it requires a hundred percent of a person’s attention all the time. Most people, including myself, are not paying attention a hundred percent of the time. But I try. But the more technology that goes into the car, the more distraction there is, so things just are getting worse and worse.

Doug: Yeah. And I do think there’s a certain level of—there’s something very human about this, especially with technology these days, of nobody stopping to ask, like, what purpose does this serve and who is this for? There’s a big sense of, like, we’re just doing this because we can, and nobody’s really stopping to say, “Well, who does this benefit?” We know who it benefits: the app sellers, the phone makers, the automakers.

Russ Mitchell: It benefits everybody who wants this stuff. It benefits them until they kill somebody.

Doug: Russ Mitchell, thank you for joining me for this interview. The article is fascinating. I suggest everybody read it.

Russ Mitchell: Thanks. Great questions. Great conversation. Very important topic. Thanks for having me on. I really appreciate it.

Doug: Thanks again. That’s it for this episode of The War on Cars. Thanks again to Russ Mitchell for the interview, and for his excellent reporting on distracted driving. I will put a link to his story in the LA Times in the show notes.

Doug: Remember, if you want to help the podcast keep going and keep growing, head over to TheWaronCars.org, click “Support Us” and join today starting at just $3 per month. You’ll get access to exclusive bonus content and other rewards like stickers. Plus, we will send you a handwritten thank-you note. I want to give a special thanks to our top Patreon sponsors: Charley Gee of Human Powered Law in Portland, Oregon, the law office of Vaccaro and White in New York City, Virginia Baker, James Doyle and Martin Mignot.

Doug: We’d also like to recognize our friends at Rad Power Bikes and Cleverhood for their ongoing support. Go to RadPowerBikes.com/waroncars to find out how you can save hundreds on the RadRover 6 Plus and the RadRunner 2 now through July 25. And for 20 percent off everything in the Cleverhood store—including the official War on Cars yellow anorak, visit Cleverhood.com/waroncars and enter code WEATHERPROOF at checkout.

Doug: This episode was edited by Ali Lemer. Our music is by Nathaniel Goodyear. Our logo is by Dani Finkel of Crucial D Designs.

Doug: I’m Doug Gordon, and on behalf of my co-hosts Sarah Goodyear and Aaron Naparstek, this is The War on Cars.