US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced recently that the updated traffic fatality data for 2010 indicated that highway deaths are at the lowest levels they have been in six decades. This is apparently due in part to safer roadways and the vast improvements in vehicle safety that have occurred since 1949 – the last time we recorded a similar number of highway deaths.
This is indeed good news, but while vehicle technology and corresponding vehicle safety has changed for the better, distracted driving injuries and fatalities are becoming an increasing problem. Because of this problem, NHTSA recently unveiled a new measure of fatalities related to distracted driving, called “distraction-affected crashes.” This new measure is designed to more closely track those fatalities in which a driver was distracted by dialing a cellphone, texting, or was distracted by an outside person or event. Under the new refined system, the new data released by NHTSA using its refined methodology showed an estimated 3,092 fatalities in distraction-affected crashes in 2010.
NHTSA also recently completed a national survey that highlights the problem:
- Three fourths of survey respondents indicated they answer cellphone calls on most trips.
- Survey respondents acknowledged few situations when they would not use their phone or text – but over one third felt unsafe when riding in vehicles in which the driver is texting and support bans on texting and cellphone use.
So what does all of this mean? Obviously it is a complicated and complex problem that is not fully understood. I think part of the problem is that most drivers assume that they can handle all distracted driving situations, even when the data is clear that is not true. So, be safe and don’t use your cellphone while driving for anything except emergencies. I am reminded of a sign that I saw at a local headstone company – “Put the cellphone down and stop texting – we can wait.” Truer words were never written.