Car crash fatalities are on the rise in the United States. The suspected culprit, according to traffic safety experts: Distracted driving.
Unfortunately, this comes as no surprise considering the general increase of cellphone use and our culture of “need-it-now” information. Compounding the widespread use of smartphones and other devices are lower gas prices and a stronger economy, which inevitably fuel more driving and therefore more traffic fatalities.
Distracted driving is anything that takes away your cognitive, visual, or physical ability to focus on the primary task of driving. When you’re behind the wheel, distractions can pop up everywhere you look. Whether it’s your cell phone, car passengers, other drivers, your car stereo or temperature controls, or even just thinking about your busy day, distractions can compromise your attention and cause a crash in the blink of an eye.
Distractions while driving, of course, have been around far longer than smartphones — in fact, they’ve been around for as long as automobiles have existed. Eating and driving, for example, is one of the most dangerous activities you can engage in behind the wheel; the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that it increases your risk for a crash by 80 percent.
Still, there’s no denying that the advent of smartphones, in-car GPS, and other portable electronic devices have introduced a host of new sources for distraction without alleviating any of the distractions that already existed. With social media, mobile games, and all the information on the world wide web at their fingertips, drivers are feeling more tempted than ever to take their eyes off the road — and they’re causing more crashes as a result.
Troubling Statistics Regarding Distracted Driving
The National Safety Council (NSC) reports that the current upward trend in traffic deaths began in 2014 and shows no signs of decreasing. Nationwide, the NSC reported 17,775 traffic fatalities in the first six months of 2016 — an increase of 10.4% compared to the same period in 2015 and up 18% compared to the same period in 2014. These alarming numbers came after years of declines in the total number of annual traffic deaths.
In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently reported that the United States ranked 17th out of 29 high-income nations for the most traffic deaths per 100,000 people in 2013. The United Kingdom, Canada, Brunei, and the Philippines (just to name a few) have fewer traffic-related fatalities per capita than the United States.
As we discussed back in September, North Carolina doesn’t seem to be an exception to this trend, as state officials reported a 7.4% increase in traffic fatalities in 2015 compared to the previous year.
Robert Gordon, senior vice president for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, told a safety forum late last year that experts in the insurance industry believe that distracted driving is one of the primary causes behind the increase in traffic deaths. They came to this conclusion in part, he said, because traffic fatalities spiked especially sharply in urban areas where congestion is higher and driving speeds are generally slower.
“You look at urban areas where the traffic slows way down and the first thing that half the drivers do, or more than half, is pull out their iPhones and their iPads,” Gordon said. “You start talking to your friends, you check your email, maybe you send a text and that’s a huge problem.”
“Our auto insurance companies feel the biggest cause of the increasing accident frequency is this type of distracted driving,” he added.
Studies Show That More than Half of Drivers May Be Distracted
Even though most drivers are aware of the danger that distracted driving poses, few people realize just how serious and widespread the problem is. According to one recent and highly comprehensive study from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, the average person behind the wheel of a passenger vehicle is distracted more than 50 percent of the time, and 70 percent of crashes involve some degree of distraction as a cause.
Researchers in this study came to this conclusion based on in-car camera footage of more than 3,500 drivers, who were filmed for a period of three years. Not only that, but they also gathered self-reported survey data from the participants, and the results are equally eye-opening:
- 1 in 5 drivers admitted to surfing the internet while driving;
- 1 in 3 sent text messages while driving; and
- 1 in 2 talked on the phone while driving.
Clearly, distracted driving poses a greater and more widespread threat to public safety than most people would ever care to imagine. Until lawmakers and public safety experts find a way to address this ongoing epidemic of distracted driving, traffic fatalities will most likely continue to trend in the wrong direction.
Contact Myers Law Firm
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DHSMV reminds motorists to focus on driving, Florida [press release]. (2016, April 1). Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Retrieved from https://www.flhsmv.gov/pdf/distracted/distracteddrivingpressrelease.pdf
Eating while driving. (n.d.). Decide to Drive. Retrieved from http://www.decidetodrive.org/distracted-driving-dangerous/eating-driving/
Lowy, J. (2016, October 29). Surge in U.S. traffic deaths attributed to cell phone distractions. The Associated Press. Retrieved from http://www.allgov.com/news/controversies/surge-in-us-traffic-deaths-attributed-to-cell-phone-distractions-161029?news=859681
Marshall, A. (2016, March 8). U.S. drivers are distracted more than half the time they’re behind the wheel. CityLab. Retrieved from http://www.citylab.com/commute/2016/03/major-distractions-for-drivers/472656/
Motor vehicle fatalities up 9%; No sign of a decrease in 2016, says National Safety Council. (2016, August 23). National Safety Council. Retrieved from http://www.nsc.org/Connect/NSCNewsReleases/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=134
U.S. traffic deaths jump by 10.4 percent in the first half of 2016. (2016, October 5). The Associated Press. Retrieved from http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/u-s-traffic-deaths-jump-10-4-percent-first-half-n660241