Part two of two safe driving holiday articles.
Last week, we reported on “The Saga of Young Joe,” a vibrant 23-year-old who lost his life in an alcohol related single car accident in his ’70 Dodge Challenger R/T.
This week, we follow up with how Joe also became a statistic in the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) new group of fatalities and crashes directly related to cell phone and texting use behind the wheel.
Because Joe was answering his smart phone when he “missed” making that sharp curve at high speed, he’ll add to the new statistic that involves vehicle deaths related to distracted drivers (cell phone, texting, etc.). This new statistic centering on cell phone use and texting while driving causes somewhere near 20 percent of all accidents reported, not just the fatal ones.
The NHTSA’s “distraction-affected crashes” data is very upsetting. The organization lists “distracted driving” as any driver the texts, uses a cell or smart phone, eats and drinks, grooms oneself, reads, uses a navigation system, watches a video or adjusts a car stereo system.
NHTSA also stresses that sending and receiving text messages requires visual, manual and cognitive attention, and is by far the most alarming distraction drivers engage in on a regular basis.
Further, NHTSA informs us that an estimated 71 percent of teens and young people say they have composed/sent SMS messages while driving and 78 percent of teens and young adults say they have read an SMS message while driving. Today, every driver on the road has probably seen people texting and weaving on the road while driving. It is also important to realize that texting is here to stay as people communicate daily with smart phones in this modern era. Currently, Distraction.gov estimates that every month close to 170 billion text messages are sent in the U.S., Guam and Puerto Rico and this figure is expected to rise.
According to NHTSA, distraction-related deaths (3,450 fatalities) decreased by 2.2 percent in 2016, something we can applaud. However, nearly 396,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver, which is an increase from the estimated 387,000 people injured the prior year (2015). As sobering as these numbers are, expect the numbers to go higher when the 2017 numbers are released next December as more and more young drivers join the driver database already addicted to smartphones.
Additionally, NHTSA information indicates that driver distraction continues to be a significant problem given the difficulty of proof and a driver’s reluctance to admit texting/phone distractions, lack of witnesses, or death of the driver. NHTSA believes the actual number of distracted crashes could be much higher than the estimated 396,000-plus injured in distraction-affected crashes the last few years.
The U.S. Department of Transportation is also leading the effort to stop texting and cell phone use behind the wheel. Since 2009, several national distracted driving seminars have been held resulting in banning texting and cell phone use for commercial drivers and encouraging states to adopt even tougher laws.
According to the NHTSA, the age group that produces the highest number of distracted drivers is the under-20 age group, where 16 percent of all drivers younger than 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported to have been distracted while driving. Of those drivers involved in fatal crashes who were reportedly distracted, the 30- to 39-year-olds surprisingly had the highest proportion of cell phone involvement.
Here are more disturbing facts about distracting driving:
1. 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 blindfolded.
2. Ten percent of all drivers 15- to 19-years-old involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crashes. This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted at the time of the crash.
3. At any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving, a number that has held steady since 2010. Experts feel this number will rise.
4. More than half (53 percent) of all adult cell phone owners have been on the giving or receiving end of a distracted walking encounter.
5. Drivers in their 20’s make up 28 percent of the distracted drivers in fatal crashes. Experts feel this number will rise as more teens receive their driver license.
In summary, distracted/texting while driving is now just as serious as driving while intoxicated. More and more campaigns, starting in grade school, must be implemented to help curb the obsession with the modern day smartphone. Educators are urged to contact the NHTSA as campaigns and videos are available to address the problem before students receive their driver permits.
Further, this writer again calls on all auto manufacturers to eliminate options that can take a driver’s eyes off the road, like touch screen video/stereo displays and cumbersome to operate climate and navigation systems.
Drive safely and have a very happy New Year. Thanks to the NHTSA and Distraction.gov for important statistics and estimates for this yearly holiday season column.
— Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now and other Gatehouse Media publications.
Cars We Remember: The Saga of Young Joe: Distracted driving
Part two of two safe driving holiday articles.