So far, 2015 is shaping up to be the deadliest year since 2007 on our nation’s streets and highways. Traffic fatalities from January through June are up 14 percent so far this year compared to the first six months of 2014, according to the National Safety Council (NSC).
The NSC attributes the spike, which also includes 2.2 million serious injuries in traffic accidents in the first six months of 2015, to a number of factors, including distracted driving and an improving economy that has put more people on the road with lower gas prices and more people commuting to work.
Understanding why more people are dying in car accidents is key to reducing that number and saving lives.
What the Statistics Say
The NSC has reported that 18,600 people died in motor vehicle accidents between January and June 2015, compared to 16,400 deaths during the same period of 2014.
These traffic accidents also take a financial toll. The NSC estimates the cost of the accidents at $152 billion – up 24 percent from the first half of 2014. Those costs include medical expenses, lost wages and productivity, administrative costs, employer expenses and property damage.
The NSC says more people are on the road with cheaper gas prices. Along with the lower gas prices, more people are driving to work each day as the country adds more jobs in an improved economy with fewer people unemployed.
According to a CNN article, the United States added more than 3.2 million jobs between July 2014 and July 2015, an average of 248,000 per month.
In the CNN article, NSC president Deborah Hersman said more people are driving while distracted and using their phones behind the wheel, contributing to the increase in fatal accidents, even though most states ban texting while driving, including South Carolina.
“Americans are addicted to these devices,” Hersman said in the article, which also reported that roadside surveys conducted by the NSC found more Americans are on their phones despite the bans.
The federal government website Distraction.gov reports that in a single recent year, 3,154 people died in car accidents involving distracted drivers, and approximately 424,000 people were injured.
But the real numbers are likely far higher, since it can be difficult to pinpoint distractions as the cause for accidents, in particular fatal accidents.
Different Types of Distractions
Texting is not the only distraction coming from your phone. A new campaign from AT&T, as shown in the video “It Can Wait,” focuses on the dangers of checking social media and the Web while driving, declaring that no email, post or text is worth a life.
The video shows a boy on his bike, a man talking on a hands-free phone in his truck and a woman driving with her child in the back seat. In the climax of the ad, the woman glances down at her phone when it signals a social media notification, resulting in a horrible accident with the truck.
A Huffington Post article reported that the video was inspired by AT&T research discovering that 27 percent of people admit to checking Facebook while driving, and 14 percent say they check Twitter.
“What they consider a pretty innocent look or glance or post is just as significant as a text,” said Michelle Kuckelman, executive director of brand management at AT&T.
Distraction.gov describes distracted driving as “any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving.” Types of distractions listed on the site include:
|Texting||Reading, including maps|
|Using a cell phone or smart phone||Using a navigation system|
|Eating and drinking||Watching a video|
|Talking to passengers||Adjusting a radio, CD player or MP3 player|
The site says texting is the most alarming distraction because it takes the driver’s visual, manual and cognitive attention away from driving. Engaging in social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, reading or writing emails and searching the Web does the same thing.
Distraction.gov reports that five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. When traveling at 55 mph, that’s enough time to cover the length of a football field while essentially blindfolded.
Some popular apps that combine social media and crowdsharing of traffic data are among the new dangers. They too involve visual, manual and cognitive attention, and often for much longer periods of time than it takes to send a text. It’s much safer for such apps to be used by a passenger or when the car is parked.
Joye Law Firm features a game on our website that shows how dangerous it is to text while driving. The “Stay Alive” game simulates distracted driving on your computer, challenging you to drive and text at the same time, right down to the inevitable crash. At the end, the site asks you to sign a pledge to never text while driving.
Tips to Help Keep Your Focus On Driving
Almost everyone has driven while distracted in some way, whether it be eating, changing the radio station or texting and checking social media.
Here are some tips for safe driving while avoiding distractions:
Take your time with driving.
The idea is to keep yourself, your passengers and other motorists safe. Even though it can seem like a good place to get some things done, driving safely is your single mission at the wheel. Focus on the road and the drivers around you.
Use your cell phone for only for emergencies while driving.
It’s safest to pull over to the right shoulder or into a parking lot to make a call. Hands-free devices aren’t much safer because they can still take visual and audio attention away from the task at hand, which can lead to a crash. Avoid social calls on cell phones while driving and never text or check the Web or social media.
If you are tired or drowsy, get off the road.
Drowsiness increases the risk of a crash by nearly four times. If you feel tired, don’t drive. It’s just not worth it.
Limit the number of passengers in the car.
Graduated driver licensing laws in most states limit the number of fellow teens allowed to be in the car with a teenage driver. Even experienced drivers need to make sure they are not distracted by others in the car.
Don’t eat while driving.
Everyone is busy but it’s unsafe to eat a meal while driving. Food spills are a major cause of distraction.
Do your multi-tasking outside the car.
Everyone spends a lot of time in their vehicles, and it may seem like the perfect time to get little things done: calling friends, searching for good music, maybe even text messaging. Resist the urge.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a distracted driving accident, it’s important to seek the advice of an experienced South Carolina personal injury attorney as soon as possible to evaluate your options.