E-ZMyth about E-ZPass
Reports about an academic study about the effects of traffic congestion on infant health show how easy it is to put misinformation on a fast track in blog world. Contrary to the Internet buzz, there is no report showing that using E-ZPass will make your baby healthier.
There is a Columbia University report by Janet Currie and Reed Walker that first came to my attention with an email with the intriguing subject line: "Parents with EZ-Pass have healthier babies?" It directed me to the usually reliable InsideCharmCity blog, which briefly reported that the study "finds that parents who use EZPass have healthier babies" and credited the excellent Greater Greater Washington blog.
GGW indeed delivered that message and went on to say that "the researchers used parents with and without E-ZPass as a way to get at the effect of exposing babies to less congestion" and credited the How We Drive blog run by David Vanderbilt, author of the fascinating book "Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)."
Vanderbilt copies the study's abstract and otherwise accurately describes the study, adding the caveat that he hadn't actually read it. If he had, he probably wouldn't have used the misleading headline: "Your Baby and E-ZPass."
Ooops. The study doesn't really deal with your baby and E-ZPass, unless you're a mother who lives within 3 kilometers of a toll plaza in New Jersey or Pennsylvania. It has nothing at all to do with E-ZPass subscribers and their babies. Zip. Zero. Nada. So don't bother to get an E-ZPass to increase your infant's birth weight. Especially if you're only a sporadic user of toll facilities. After all, you have to pay a monthly fee ($1.50) and buy a transponder ($21) for E-ZPass in Maryland now.
What the study does indicate is that by reducing congestion and auto emissions in the vicinity of toll plaza, E-ZPass appears to have reduced the incidence of low birth weight among babies born to mothers who lived within 3 kilometers (a little over 1 mile) of one of those New Jersey or Pennsylvania toll plazas. That's a highly positive development but hardly as strong an inducement to acquire a pass as improving the health of one's own progeny.
I would also point out that any positive effects on birth weight of E-ZPass in Maryland eight would likely be mitigated by the fact that the state has only seven toll plazas and that those it does have tend to be far removed from dense residential areas.