Last week, we updated our yearly report on “The Saga of young Joe,” a vibrant 25-year-old who lost his life in an alcohol related single car accident in his ’67 Dodge Coronet R/T.
This week, we follow up with how Joe also became a statistic in the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) group of fatalities filed under “distracted driving.” Because Joe was answering his smart phone when he “missed” making a sharp curve at high speed, he adds another name to a category of accidents that has grown to over 20-percent of all accidents reported, both fatal and non-fatal.
Sadly, these numbers are rising as the youth demographic, already addicted to cell phones and texting, receive their driver licenses each year.
The NHTSA’s “distraction-affected crashes” data is still very troubling. The organization lists “distracted driving” as any driver that texts, uses a cell or smart phone or eats and drinks while driving. Other forms of distraction include excessive talking to passengers, grooming one’s self, or even adjusting car stereo systems.
However, NHTSA 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 says more than an estimated 70-percent of teens and young people admit they have composed/sent text messages while driving and 78-percent of teens and young adults say they have read messages while driving. Every driver on the road today surely encounters drivers weaving on the road while using their cell phones.
Clearly texting is here to stay as people communicate via these modern multi-task cell phones daily. Currently, government stats include that every month some 170-billion text messages are sent in the US, Guam and Puerto Rico and territories. This figure is expected to rise.
According to NHTSA, more than 400,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in 2018. As sobering as these numbers are, expect numbers to go higher when the 2019 stats are released as more and more young drivers join the driver database.
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 400,000-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. Starting back in 2009, numerous national distracted driving summits have and are being held resulting in the ban of texting and cell phone use for commercial drivers.
According to NHTSA, the age group that produces the highest number of distracted drivers is, not surprisingly, the under-20 age group where 16 percent of all drivers younger than 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported to have been distracted.
Here are some additional facts and recommendations 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 distracted at the time of the crash. (NHTSA)
3. At any given daylight moment across America, approximately 685,000 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 and most recent stats found that that 3,166 were killed in distracted driving accidents for a 12-month period.
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, IE: like walking into oncoming traffic at intersections or into a decorative water pond in the center of a shopping mall. (PEW Research)
5. The National Safety Council (NSC) claims that distracted driving is the leading cause of fatal crashes, and 40 percent of all workplace fatalities involved transportation incidents (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).
6. Teens can be the best messengers with their peers, so we encourage them to speak up when they see a friend driving while distracted. Have friends sign a pledge to never drive distracted, to become involved in their local Students Against Destructive Decisions chapter, and to share messages on social media that remind their friends, family, and neighbors not to make the deadly choice to drive distracted. (NHTSA)
In summary, texting while driving is now just as serious as driving while intoxicated. More and more campaigns, starting in grade school, should be implemented to help curb the phone addictions. Educators are urged to contact the NHTSA as campaigns and videos are available to address the problem before students receive their driver permits.
Drive safely and have a very happy Christmas holiday season and New Year. Thanks NHTSA, NSC and Pew Research for important statistics and estimates for this yearly safe driving column.
(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist who welcomes reader input at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, Pa. 18840 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)