After years of steady decline, traffic deaths rose in 2015 by a startling 9 percent, according to data recently released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The NHTSA noted that from 2000 to 2014, traffic fatalities declined by more than 22 percent. The recent rise was a key topic at the group’s annual summit, where they discussed suspected causes of the increase and ways to increase safety. Safety officials discussed a number of factors that they believe contributed to the increase in fatal accidents, including economic growth, lower gas prices, the persistence of drunk driving, drowsy driving, and more. One slightly newer and significant factor is distracted driving—which NHTSA officials say accounted for 10 percent of all crash fatalities in 2014.
Distracted Driving Comes in Many Forms
Distracted driving is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as driving while doing another activity that takes one’s attention away from driving. The CDC estimates that 8 people are killed and over 1,000 injured every day in accidents involving distracted drivers. Common distractions while driving include:
Talking on a cell phone or to a passenger
Using a navigation system
Changing the radio station or adjusting a music device
These activities typically take away the driver’s focus in three main areas: visual, manual and cognitive. This means the driver takes his eyes off the road, his hands off the wheel, and his mind off the task of driving. Any one of these types of distractions increases the risk of an accident for those on the road. Drivers are not able to see or respond to road conditions and traffic in an appropriate and timely manner.
Researchers have compared the distracted driver with a drunk driver. A 2006 study stated that when it comes to traffic safety, the impairments that accompany drinking and using a cell phone are similar. Even new hands-free devices touted to improve safety carry distraction risks. A University of Utah study found that distractions persisted, and in some case even grew, with the use of these devices.
Distracted Driving Is a Serious Concern for Illinois and Missouri Drivers
In 2012, the Missouri State Highway Patrol attributed nearly 22,500 accidents to driver inattention. Lawmakers are currently considering enacting a ban on texting for all drivers; currently, only commercial drivers and drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited.
Illinois already has legislated cell phone use behind the wheel. Drivers are not permitted to text or talk on a handheld cell phone while driving in the state. Some safety experts question whether these bans have a positive effect on driver behavior and the number of those who comply with the bans, especially among younger drivers.
April Is Distracted Driving Awareness Month Across the Nation
The National Safety Council (NSC) has named April as Distracted Driving Awareness month and is encouraging drivers of all ages to take the Focused Driver Challenge and pledge to drive cell phone free. The NSC is also offering tip sheets, webinars, posters, and infographics that can be shared. This campaign will be run at the same time the NHTSA is launching a nationwide law enforcement focus week on distracted driving. Piloted in California and Delaware, police issued over 16,000 tickets and saw a reduction in cell phone use while driving by 1.5 percent in each state. A series of new ads will highlight the serious consequences of inattentive driving, as well. Officials in Illinois and Missouri also encourage drivers to take steps to avoid distraction, including:
Keep both hands on the wheel.
Don’t text and drive.
Adjust the radio, seat position, and climate control before departing.
Pull over to a safe place if you need to use your cell phone.
Limit talking while driving, even to car passengers.
If you are upset or angry, wait until you have cooled off to drive.
Speak up if you are a passenger and your driver is engaging in risky behaviors.
Distractions can come in many forms, though the growing prevalence of smartphone use contributes significantly to distracted driving. If you or someone you love has suffered injuries in an accident with a distracted driver, you may be entitled to compensation. Call the experienced personal injury lawyers at the Tapella & Eberspacher Law Firm at (217) 394-5885 to learn more about your rights and schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.