Distracted driving: Like trying to catch a runaway train

2015 was likely the deadliest year on U.S. roadways since 2008.

So said the National Safety Council in a mid-quarter report that estimates 38,300 people were killed in car accidents last year.

            A more robust economy and less unemployment are probably at the core of the trend, the NSC said. The lower price of gas (28 percent down from 2014) was undoubtedly a major factor.  Overall, cumulative travel was up 3.5 percent last year.

Image / Intel Free Press

And just to mention in passing, motorists in the South Atlantic region racked up more miles than anybody but the drivers out West. You’ve just got to drive longer to get anywhere out there.

But a TV station on that side of the country looked in a different direction for the cause of the accidents. It’s pretty interesting where they went with that: More driving doesn’t cause accidents; more distracted driving does.

            Cell phones are the villains we should look at hardest, according to a video from KOLO-TV in Reno, Nevada. NSC statistics say texting while driving multiplies the chance of a crash 8 times. Crashes involving texting or talking on a cell phone account for 27 percent of all accidents.

KOLO quoted a survey by AT&T that said 7 out of 10 drivers use smartphones while driving. The stats break their activities down into the usual suspects, plus few new ones:

  • Text (61 %)
  • Email (33 %)
  • Surf the Internet (28 %)
  • Facebook (27 %)
  • Take a selfie/photo (17 %)
  • Twitter (14 %)
  • Instagram (14 %)
  • Shoot a video (12 %)
  • Snapchat (11 %)
  • Video chat (10 %)

Can you imagine knowing you were the last person to talk to someone alive – via an en route video chat?

Other scary statistics:

  • 27 % of people who shoot videos from behind the wheel figure they can do it safely while driving.
  • 30 % of driving Tweeters “do it all the time.”
  • 22 % who access social networks while they drive say they do it because they are addicted to it.

On that last note, consider that the TV reporter asked one Reno police officer if talking on a cell and driving might someday become as “not cool” as drinking and driving.

            “Hopefully not,” he replied, “especially with … the advances in technology with automobiles having the integrated Bluetooth.”

That could simply be a stark interpretation of the reality we are now facing.

            Driving and talking on the phone is so entrenched in our culture that the technology is designed right into our dashboards.  But abundant evidence shows that even hands-free talking isn’t safe.

Public service campaigns and slowly toughening laws are fighting an uphill battle against texting, yet people are barreling headlong into extreme behind-the-wheel behavior such as snapping selfies and video chatting.

At this point, separating drivers from their phones seems close to impossible.

            I hate to say it, but that train has left the station. At this point, we can only hope to stop it before goes completely off the rails.

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