2015 was probably the deadliest year on American roads since 2008.
That’s according to a mid-quarter report from the National Safety Council, which estimates 38,300 people were killed in car accidents last year.
The NSC said a stronger economy and lower unemployment are probably at the heart of the trend. Lower gas prices (28 percent down from 2014) were surely a major factor. All in all, cumulative travel was up 3.5 percent last year.
By the way, motorists in the South Atlantic region racked up more miles than anyone except Westerners. You just have to drive farther 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. I kind of like where they went with it: More driving doesn’t cause accidents; more distracted driving does.
Image / Intel Free Press
Cell phones are the culprit 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 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 see someone alive – via an en route video chat?
Other frightening findings:
- 27 % of people who shoot videos behind the wheel think they can do it safely while driving.
- 30 % of driving Tweeters “do it all the time.”
- 22 % who access social networks while driving say they do it because they are addicted to it.
On that last note, consider that the TV reporter asked one Reno policeman if talking on a cell and driving might someday become as “not cool” as drinking and driving.
“Hopefully not,” he answered, “especially with … the advances in technology with automobiles having the integrated Bluetooth.”
That could simply be a bleak interpretation of the situation we are now facing.
Driving and talking on the phone is so entrenched in our culture that the technology is built 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 galloping 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 the horse is out of the barn. For the time being, we’re left with just trying to get a bridle on it.