woman talking on the phone

A frightening trend is occurring across the country – a steep increase in injuries and deaths caused by distracted driving accidents. In a recent report described as one of the most comprehensive examinations to date of how to reduce distracted driving, the Governors Highway Safety Administration says an estimated 3,142 people lost their lives in the U.S. due to distracted driving in 2020 alone.

The true numbers are likely much higher due to underreporting of distraction among drivers, the GHSA says. That’s because most drivers do not admit that they were talking on the phone or somehow distracted at the time of a collision.

Fatal Crashes Increased in S.C in 2021

In South Carolina, the S.C. Department of Public Safety says more people died in fatal crashes in South Carolina in 2021 than in the previous two years. The SCDPS daily traffic fatality count cites 805 fatal crashes and 863 people killed in 2021, an increase over 2020 by 99 crashes and 97 deaths. In both 2020 and 2019, there were fewer fatal accidents and deaths than in the previous year.

The 805 fatal crashes in 2021 equate to 2.2 a day. As of this writing, September 27, there had been 706 fatal traffic accidents in South Carolina in 2022 and 766 deaths. Those 706 fatal crashes as of the 207th day of the year equate to 3.8 fatalities a day – a significant increase.

The 2020 edition of the South Carolina Traffic Collision Fact Book, the most recent edition of the annual report available, shows an increase in traffic fatalities from 2011-2020, but declines in collisions overall, suspected serious injuries, and vehicle miles traveled.

Master Trooper Brian Lee of the S.C. Highway Patrol told WBTW there have been more fatalities because there is more traffic on South Carolina roads and highways. “More people are getting their license,” he said – a fact supported by the 2020 Traffic Collision Fact Book’s tables of ten-year trends.

Defining Distracted Driving

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines distracted driving as any activity that diverts the vehicle operator’s attention from driving. Distracted drivers pose a safety hazard to others sharing the road.

The three forms of distraction — manual, visual, and cognitive — are often interrelated and involve a wide range of activities in addition to cell phone use, the GHSA says in Directing Drivers’ Attention: A State Highway Safety Office Roadmap for Combating Distracted Driving.

Much of the focus is on the risks of using cell phones and other wireless communication devices behind the wheel. The prevalence of mobile phones in the last decade has focused more attention on the danger of distracted driving.

The GHSA lists 17 common driver distractions and how they distract drivers:

Mind off of driving which occurs during any distracting activity:

  • Talking with passengers
  • Using a hands-free cell phone
  • Using voice-activated features
  • Daydreaming

Eyes off the road:

  • Reading roadside billboards
  • Checking yourself in the mirror
  • Gawking at crash scenes

Hands off the wheel:

  • Personal grooming
  • Reading maps/newspapers
  • Reaching for objects in the car
  • Attending to passengers or pets
  • Texting while driving
  • Eating
  • Drinking
  • Using a hand-held cell phone
  • Manipulating vehicle instruments
  • Changing music

In addition to the 3,142 people in the U.S. who died in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2020 (slightly more than 8% of all fatal crashes), an additional 424,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers (15%).

In all, 15% of police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2020 listed distraction as a factor, according to the GHSA.

National progress on preventing distracted driving crashes appears to be stagnant, the GHSA says. Between 2011 and 2019, the percentage of distraction-affected crashes has consistently hovered around 14% and the percentage of those crashes involving cell phones was approximately 7%.

Are Distracted Driving Fatalities Increasing in South Carolina?

The 2020 South Carolina Traffic Collision Fact Book shows only eight fatal collisions for which the primary contributing factor is listed as “Distracted/Inattentive.” For each of “On Cell Phone” and “Texting,” there were zero fatalities in 2020.

Most fatalities in 2020 were primarily due to “Driver Under the Influence” (213) and “Driving Too Fast for Conditions” (205). There were 34 more fatal crashes listed under “Exceeded Authorized Speed Limit.”

In 2019, there were seven fatal collisions attributed to “Distracted/Inattentive,” zero due to “On Cell Phone” and one attributed to “Texting.” The figures were exactly the same for 2018.

The 2020 Traffic Facts report says there were in total:

  • 7,427 collisions attributed to “Distracted/Inattention”
  • 53 collisions attributed to “On Cell Phone”
  • 80 collisions attributed to “Texting.”

The 2020-2024 South Carolina Strategic Highway Safety Plan: Project Zero says:

“From 2014 to 2018, an average of 58 people lost their lives each year in distracted driving collisions in South Carolina.” It says that “it is widely believed that the actual number of fatal and serious injury crashes related to distraction is much higher than is currently captured on the collision report.”

It says further, “Between 2014 and 2018, 1,976 people died or were seriously injured in a total of 1,670 distracted driving collisions” – an average of 334 per year.

The number of reported accidents may fluctuate from year to year. But distracted driving while on a cell phone is a contributing factor to many preventable accidents each year in South Carolina. After a serious accident, our attorneys may be able to obtain the cell phone records of a suspected distracted driver to determine whether the driver was talking on the phone when a collision occurred.

Schedule a Free Case Review with Our South Carolina Car Accidents Lawyers

If you or a loved one has been seriously injured in a South Carolina auto accident and you suspect distracted driving was at play, you can depend on the car accident lawyers at Joye Law Firm to fight for all of the compensation you’re legally owed.

Call Joye Law Firm at (888) 324-3100 or fill out our free online case evaluation form.

About the Author

Mark Joye is the Head of the Litigation Department at the Joye Law Firm. A Board-Certified Trial Advocate with nearly 30 years of litigation experience, he currently serves on the Board of Governors for the American Association for Justice and is a past president of the South Carolina Association for Justice. In a recent trial, Joye headed a trial team that secured $17 million for a family killed in a tractor-trailer accident.

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