Saturday, January 30, 2010

that txt can w8 - Texting While Driving Kills

It is becoming more visible these days that texting while driving (TWD) is a highly dangerous habit (yes, addictive practice, habit) and driving while talking on a cell phone is not a lot better. Several states have banned texting while driving and many others allow talking on cell phones while driving only with a hands-free (bluetooth or wired) device.

My first question is what is taking so long to ban texting while driving in the other states. Lawmakers are basically saying, it's OK to do it. Everyday that goes by without a law (and one that has teeth) risks countless lives and is a vote of irresponsibility by lawmakers.

Next, where are the wireless companies on all this? Where are the Public Service Announcements (PSAs)? Go to or and try to find any safety information about TWD or cell phone calls while driving. ATT's message is buried deep in their web page; I could not find anything on Verizon's site. Feels similar to the cigarette companies who are delighted to be making money on a hot trend and look the other way at the dangers. It's not like they have to tell people not to use their product, just stop while driving.

But let's not stop at the wireless carriers. Two hottest devices, iPhone and Blackberry. Where are their warnings and PSAs? I'm OK with promoting hands free devices under the veil of safety, but neither of these sites has visible messages about the dangers of TWD.

We need to pressure them to do the right things:
  • Contact your state senator & representative to enact legislation banning TWD and hands-on phone calls while driving in Massachusetts. (Yes, I've written to mine, including Gov. Patrick.)
  • Contact AT&T & Verizon to create warnings, PSAs and messaging on their web site to do the same
  • Contact Apple, Blackberry, Google, Nokia, Motorola, LG, Samsung to all do the same.

Make these companies use their corporate profits to educate people to act responsibly when driving.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Golden Gate Bridge: The Barrier (Part 2)

Much of this post is borrowed from the recent newsletter of the Golden Gate Bridge Rail Foundation, an organization working to advance research, funding and implementation of a barrier on the GGB as a suicide deterrent.

31 suicides in 2009. Marin County Coroner Ken Holmes recently released his annual count of suicide deaths at the Golden Gate Bridge. "Last year 31 people took their lives at the Golden Gate—completing a decade of tragedy with hundreds of lives lost for want of a proper safety rail or net. This tragedy has now been going on for over 72 years," Holmes stated. This brings the historic total to over 1,300 suicides. Bridge district officials also reported 77 incidents where a suicide attempt was interrupted. These include witness, staff or security personnel intervention and instances where family or friends report a potential suicide and authorities are able to thwart the attempt.

As with other recent years, the 2009 total comes from several sources. These include:
  • 20 bodies recovered by the Coast Guard and delivered to the Marin Coroner.
  • 9 suicides where no body was recovered but the death was witnessed on the Bridge or confirmed by subsequent review of security camera recordings.
  • 2 additional suicides where there is a confirmed disappearance and evidence of a suicide—such as a suicide note or other personal effects—left on or near the Bridge.

The Barrier: Studies to construct a suicide barrier on the bridge have focused on two main projects: raising the current 4' rail on the walkway to 12', and building a net outside the current rail. Either project will cost ~$50 million, and with the current financial problems in CA, funding this will be difficult. Technically, any construction on the GGB is complicated. It is afterall a suspension bridge, it moves and has to withstand winds of up to 100 mph. Anything added can cause the bridge to move dynamically, possibly dramatically and in complex ways so detailed engineering studies are needed to understand the effects of wind, traffic and of course earthquakes. Read more at

In October 2008, the Net alternative was selected by the GGB Board of Directors as being the locally preferred alternative. [Personally, after reading the report, I believe the higher 12' railing would be better. The net design seems to have cantilevers that could be walked on, pranks and daredevils might still jump into the net causing rescuers to be risked to retrieve them.) After much delay, revision and re-revision it appears the EIR (Environmental Impact Report) on the GGB's suicide deterrent will soon surface--perhaps within weeks. The last six months have seen the process drag on--in part due to the furlough-induced staffing problem at CalTrans [the agency responsible for reviewing the EIR]. Once complete, funds needs to be secured for final design and engineering of the net, while also seeking construction funds.

Other references.

Donate to help fund this project:

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Golden Gate Bridge: Fatal Gateway

San Francisco is perhaps my favorite city in the world. And my favorite site is the Golden Gate Bridge. It is an icon of the city. It is the most photographed man-made structure in North America (my photo to the right, too bad it was an overcast day at the Marin Headlands). On our 2007 family vacation to California we walked across the GGB which was a great experience, largely unaware that there is a dark side I never knew about. But it is time to be aware of it and make a change.

Do people jump off the GGB to commit suicide? Of course they do. Many? I didn't think so, but unfortunately, yes. How often do you think? I was shocked to learn that it happens about once every two weeks. That wasn't easy for me to grasp or to accept. The favorite part of my favorite city has an unimaginable dark side. I'm not so naive to think that this never happens, but never at this frequency. A documentary callled The Bridge was filmed in 2004 from the Marin & SF sides every day over the course of a year, looking for jumpers, calling the Bridge authorities when they could, and talking to relatives and friends to find the human story, and the film captures many of the 24 suicides that year. The movie was inspired by a 2003 story in the New Yorker magazine.

Suicide usually happens in a private and hidden place, rarely in such a public location with unwary people so nearby. I think that is the shocking part, everyday people are walking the Bridge and someone they pass could be on their way to their end. It is the public and proximate nature of these suicides that prevent us from just looking away. It is difficult to watch and comprehend, but I'm not one for ignoring the unpleasant. This is life (and death) and ignorance doesn't help anyone.

On our walk across the GGB in 2007 we saw this sign but it just seemed like a necessary warning, like hair dryers are not to be immersed in water. I've seen similar signs on the Bourne & Sagamore Bridges on Cape Cod ("Desperate? Call the Samaritans", the signs say.). I had no idea that I was walking along such a death zone on the GGB.

This numbers are surprising:
  • Number of GGB suicides since it was built in 1937: 1,218 as of Oct 2005 (the first was 10 days after it was opened)
  • Average number per year since opening: 19
  • Largest number in one year: 40 (in 1977)
  • Percentage of suicides that live in the Bay area: 87%
This graphic shows the location of the recorded suicides based on the nearest light pole on the Bridge.

More to come.
Part II: The Barrier