Data from the National Safety Council estimates that as many as 40,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2016, marking a 6-percent increase over 2015, and a 14-percent increase over 2014. This is the most dramatic two-year escalation since 1964. An estimated 4.6 million additional roadway users were seriously injured in 2016, a cost to society of about $432 billion.
“Traffic deaths are rising at an unacceptable rate, and we need to use every tool at our disposal to get on a path to saving lives,” said Maureen Vogel, media relations manager for the National Safety Council. “We saw a 3-percent increase in miles driven last year but a 6-percent increase in fatalities, which means something other than an improved economy is at play.”
It’s not just young people who are distracted while driving. A survey from the Training, Research and Education for Driving Safety (TREDS) program at University of California San Diego School of Medicine found older adults are driving distracted less than their younger counterparts, but are still engaging in this dangerous behavior.
Of those senior drivers who have a cellphone, 60 percent of them speak on the phone while behind the wheel, and seniors with a skewed sense of their multi-tasking abilities are most likely to engage in this behavior.
The survey found 75 percent of seniors felt they are capable of using a hands-free device while driving. Twenty-seven percent drove children younger than age 11 in the last month, and out of those drivers, 42 percent talked on the phone while on the road.
Distracted driving is downright dangerous no matter what age group is driving. The SmartDrive Distracted Driving Snapshot reports the most distracted drivers are 36 percent more likely to be involved in a near collision than all other drivers. This number jumps dramatically — to 88 percent — for drivers most distracted by a mobile device. A recent study by Cambridge Mobile Telematics found more than 50 percent of crashes occurred after the driver had used his or her phone.
The Berry family of Texas knows the impact of distracted driving first-hand. As Josh and Robin Berry and their three young children headed home from vacation in 2011, a distracted driver hit their minivan head-on. The crash killed Josh and Robin and paralyzed their two sons. The children, Peter, Aaron, and Willa Berry, have since been in the care of their aunt and uncle, and they along with their cousins, Noah and Misha, have started the organization One Life is Enough (OLIE), to help fight distracted driving.
“No one should have to face the preventable, yet life-threatening consequences of a distracted driving collision,” said Matt Berry, the children’s uncle and guardian.
GEICO insurance warns that all distractions are like blindfolds in which drivers could miss pedestrians, traffic signals, road hazards, and emergency vehicles. Distractions can include texting, programming GPS, changing playlists, eating, talking, personal grooming, anger, or even helping a child.
Complaining to distracted drivers is important. Liberty Mutual and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) tell everyone to ask the driver to stop their distracted behavior. According to a recent study by SADD and Liberty Mutual Insurance 95 percent of teens say they would stop engaging in dangerous or distracting behaviors while driving if a passenger asked them to. This percentage comes from a sample of students who admitted to engaging in dangerous behaviors while driving.
Dr. Gene Beresin, senior advisor on adolescent psychiatry with SADD and executive director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital suggests parents can help their teens to stay safe.
“Technology got us into the distracted driving mess, and technology has the potential to get us out of it,” suggests Vogel at the NSC, “NSC supports integrating advanced driver assistance systems, including automatic emergency braking, into all vehicles.”
Texting is so dangerous, lawmakers in New York proposed that police officers use the “Textalyzer” (breathalyzer for texting). When a crash happens law enforcement would use it to check for recent activity on the drivers’ phones in the accident. Failure to hand over a phone could lead to similar consequences of refusing a Breathalyzer, such as the suspension of a driver’s license. To provide privacy, the Textalyzer would not give police access to the content of any emails or text messages.
No matter what action you take to stay focused while driving. “No kind of distraction is worth a life,” concludes Vogel.