Distracted Driving Criminals: Shutterbugs

We have repeatedly covered the national texting while driving epidemic, highlighting the huge public safety concern that it presents. Some research has found that those who text behind the wheel can travel some 100 300 yards — the length of a football field — without looking at the road.

But Stacey Higginbotham of Gigaom has pointed out something perhaps even worse: taking photos while driving.

Everyone talks about texting while driving, but what about something I think may be even more distracting: “snapping while driving,” as in taking photographs? In the last few weeks, I’ve twice been behind cars (a truck in one case) whose drivers have whipped out smartphones and taken pictures while at a light or stop sign. Austin is a picturesque city, but I was still surprised to look over on my way to an event on Wednesday evening and see the driver to my right aiming a camera phone at her right, while in moving traffic.

The photographic proof is all over the web, with my colleague Kevin sending me evidence of his own guilt on this matter. From pictures of rainbows taken while driving to photos of famous landmarks, I have to ask why people take such a risk.

Why indeed?

photographer black and white

Be sure to pull over and turn off the car before taking photos.

One Way the Fed Could Have Mitigated the Housing Bubble? By Talking About It

Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research’s blog “Beat the Press” has some thoughts on what the Federal Reserve could have done to help ease the economic collapse that occurred after the housing market fell apart.

One of the most simple and obvious ways that central banks can combat a bubble: talk. During the run-up of the housing bubble, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan repeatedly said that everything was fine in the housing market, as did Ben Bernanke, who was a governor at the Fed for most of the period. This helped undermine the case of those who were warning of the bubble.

By contrast, if Greenspan had explicitly warned of the bubble and documented its existance and potential dangers with extensive research from the Fed staff, it may have been effective in containing its growth. The financial industry cannot simply ignore research from the Fed and there was no serious response to the evidence that the Fed could have presented.

There is no reason the Fed and other central banks cannot use the full capabilities of their research staff to attempt to counter dangerous financial bubbles. There is a virtually costless strategy with enormous potential payoffs.

I’m not an economist, but it sounds like a decent idea.


The Gulf is Not the Only Place Experiencing an Oil Spill: UPDATE

[Updated with video]

With eyes and media attention still focused on the Gulf of Mexico and the largest oil spill in U.S. history, it’s no wonder little attention has been paid to, what some are calling, possibly the largest oil spill in the Midwest.

A 30-inch pipeline burst earlier this week and spilled some 800,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River, which flows into the enormous Lake Michigan. The spill has reached 35 miles of the river and left animals and plants in and along the river coated with oil.

The owner of the pipeline, Enbridge Energy Partners, responded to the leak by placing 28,000 feet of boom and more than 300 clean-up workers at the site. Governor Jennifer M. Granholm criticized Enbridge officials, however, claiming there are too few workers on site for the size of the spill and that the oil had reached farther than previously known.

Other officials also questioned Enbridge’s response. Representative Mark Schauer, a Michigan Democrat, said he was angry that it took Enbridge several hours on Monday to report the leak after it was discovered. He said he feared that the leak may have started earlier on Sunday and that the amount of oil in the river could be much more than the company’s estimate.

The Environmental Protection Agency is involved and recently released a statement that the spill may have exceeded one million gallons. With Lake Michigan only 80 miles downstream from the spill, many are fearing the worst, including Gov. Granholm.

Granholm warned of a “tragedy of historic proportions” if the oil reaches Lake Michigan. “The last thing any of us want to see is a smaller version of what has happened in the Gulf,” Granholm said Wednesday. “From my perspective the response has been anemic.”

Enbridge’s President and CEO Patrick D. Daniel has taken responsibility for the spill, claiming, “This is our mess. We’re going to clean it up.” Hopefully that happens before the oil spreads to the Great Lakes.

Here’s a video of yet another oil disaster: