The situation on our roads is becoming dire. Last year, statistics showed that traffic deaths had increased by 8 percent nationwide. That was the largest increase in 50 years. This year, we found out that 2016 also saw a steep increase, roughly 6 percent greater than the previous year. For the first time since the Great Recession, traffic deaths topped 40,000.
Explaining this increase isn’t easy. From the perspective of economists, it is to be expected. Unemployment is down so people have more income, which makes them more likely to log more miles in their vehicles. But an economic explanation alone isn’t enough to understand what is really happening here.
The Smartphone’s Role in Traffic Fatalities
As several safety advocates point out, there are other factors at play, most notably including American’s increasing reliance on handheld technology. More than two-thirds of Americans own a smartphone, and nearly half of those smartphone owners say they can’t imagine life without their mobile device. Over 80 percent of smartphone users say they keep their device next to them at all waking hours of the day, and well over half report checking their phones multiple times every hour.
We are a nation dependent on mobile devices in a way that we’ve never seen before. We use our phones to shop, to communicate with others, to read the news, to check the weather and to track our exercise and food intake. It’s really a never-ending list.
Smartphones, in and of themselves, are not directly hurting people (unless they explode in our pockets, of course. But that’s another story). It’s our constant need to use them that is causing some serious problems. Drivers have a hard time resisting the lure of their phones when behind the wheel of their car.
Just one little look at an incoming text, maybe a quick reply, that’s all.
Oh, and what about that work email I sent? I should probably just see if I’ve heard back from my boss about the big project.
For the millions of Americans dependent on a smartphone, these thoughts are very difficult to resist when driving. Even if a driver has heard repeatedly that the average time it takes to view a text could amount to 100 yards travelled without looking at the road, even if they know that sending one text could increase their crash risk by 23 times, it still isn’t enough to convince them that they should put their phone away while driving.
Unfortunately, it’s only after being involved in a distracted driving vehicle crash that many drivers will see the light. At that point, it might be too late. There’s no way of knowing exactly how many crashes are caused by distraction, but the percentage is significant. Some experts put the figure at 20 to 30 percent, a conservative estimate. Others, like AAA, estimate that among teen drivers, distraction plays a role in close to two-thirds of crashes.
There is hope that technology will save us from technology. Smartphone apps are available that could curb a driver’s use of their mobile device. But these apps are not mandatory yet. Autonomous vehicles also offer the potential to significantly reduce distraction-related traffic deaths, but they are far from ready to take the wheel.
Until the day comes that the same innovative minds that brought us the smartphone can come up with a solution to the problem these devices have created, it will be up to us to do the right thing. None of us wants to see a third straight year of record breaking traffic death statistics. Let’s hope we can learn from the mistakes of so many distracted drivers and make our roads safer in 2017.
If you or your loved one has been injured in a vehicle accident caused by a negligent driver, perhaps someone who was distracted by their cell phone, the attorneys at the Mann Law Firm can help. To review your circumstances and discuss available legal options, call us at (478) 742-3381 for a free consultation to discuss your options.