Traffic deaths jumped 7.2 percent from 2014 to 2015 – 32,675 people were killed in 2014 compared to the 35,092 people who were killed in 2015 according to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report released earlier this year. That year-over-year change marked the largest increase in traffic fatalities since 1966, but it looks like 2016 is ready to set a new record high. According to the NHTSA’s early reports, there was a 10.4 percent increase in traffic deaths in the first half of 2016, an estimated 17,775, compared to the approximately 15,926 who died during that same timeframe in 2015.
This change marks a departure from recent trends in traffic deaths. Crashes claimed the lives of 42,708 people just 10 years ago, 25 percent more fatalities than we see on our roads today. Much of the decline can be attributed to an increased awareness about the importance of seatbelts, law enforcement officials cracking down on driving under the influence and continuously improving safety features in our vehicles. Unfortunately, technological advancements in our mobile phones is likely to blame for this recent increase.
While it’s only one part of the cause of this recent upswing, distracted driving sits near the top of the list for most dangerous activities. The United States Department of Transportation reported that distracted drivers killed 3,179 people in 2014 alone – another 431,000 people or so were injured in accidents caused by a distracted driver. While people have been taking their eyes off the road for far longer than we’ve had access to smartphones, apps like Snapchat and Waze include features that seemingly encourage use during transit.
Waze awards users with points whenever they report traffic jams or accidents, two actions that require far more than a simple touch of a button to complete in the app, and Snapchat includes a filter that displays your current speed on the screen. While this filter isn’t necessarily dangerous on its own, it becomes increasingly so when operated by a reckless driver. We recently reported on a crash currently being investigated by the Florida Highway Patrol where the driver in question was traveling over 115 miles per hour, lost control of their vehicle and drove across the road median before causing a head-on collision with a minivan, claiming the lives of five people including the driver and their passenger and injuring two more.
We know the approximate speed of the vehicle responsible for the crash because the passenger in that car posted a video to their Snapchat Story with the speed filter displaying speeds of over 115 miles per hour minutes before the crash occurred.
An increasing number of new vehicles are able to wirelessly connect to smartphones via cable or Bluetooth which allows drivers to access a variety of hands-free options to do everything from using certain apps to dictating a text. Some companies tap into your phone’s built-in virtual assistant, like Apple’s Siri, while others like Ford, Honda and Mercedes-Benz have designed their own versions. Unfortunately, these technological advancements won’t be enough to properly address the growing issue of distracted driving – that’s going to take changes on the legislative level along the lines of enforcing seatbelt use and preventing people from getting behind the wheel after drinking. The Obama Administration’s Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx commented on the figures released by the NHTSA earlier this year, saying that:
“Despite decades of safety improvements, far too many people are killed on our nation's roads every year. Solving this problem will take teamwork, so we're issuing a call to action and asking researchers, safety experts, data scientists, and the public to analyze the fatality data and help find ways to prevent these tragedies.”
It may take years for these legislative changes to come into play, and it’s not clear whether or not Elaine Chao, the incoming Secretary of Transportation in the Trump Administration holds the same concerns as Foxx. Even if new laws are put in place, they won’t be able to stop every negligent driver from taking their eyes off the road.
At Robert Sparks Attorneys, our Tampa car accident lawyers have spent their careers representing injured victims in court and at the negotiation table in order to secure them the compensation they deserve. If you were seriously injured in a crash caused by a distracted driver, fill out our online form to request a case consultation or call us at (813) 336-3348 to speak with a member of our firm today.