Distracted Driving is being blamed for a rise in traffic fatalities nationwide over the course of the past two years. The U.S. government says 3,477, or about 10 percent, of the more than 35,000 traffic deaths last year, involved distracted drivers. That’s an 8.8 percent increase over 2014. Traffic deaths spiked 10.4 percent in the first six months of 2016 and rose 7.2 percent last year, after years of declining fatality rates.

Largest Increase in Fatalities in 50 Years

The statistics are sobering and frightening. What’s behind the increase? Federal officials blame the use of electronic devices while driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released proposed guidelines to help address the distracted driving epidemic caused by mobile and electronic devices.

The Federal Guidelines are Voluntary

The guidelines address both car manufacturers and electronic device developers. The NHTSA would like for all phones to have a “driver mode” that would be activated by the smartphone user before driving. Right now, that technology does not exist. The NHTSA is seeking public comment, as well as encouraging the development of innovative safety technology for electronic devices.

The NHTSA guidelines state that drivers would still have the ability to make calls, but the capacity to text while driving would be disabled.

“With driver distraction one of the factors behind the rise of traffic fatalities, we are committed to working with the industry to ensure that mobile devices are designed to keep drivers’ eyes where they belong — on the road.” -NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind.

Social Media Behind the Wheel

It’s not just texting that is occurring behind the wheel. According to a study by the National Safety Council, in a study of 2,400 drivers of all ages, “74% said they would use Facebook while driving, and 37% said they would use Twitter while behind the wheel, with YouTube (35%) and Instagram (33%) close behind.”

No Texting and Driving Law in Arizona

Arizona is one of only two states without any state law against texting and driving. Pima County and the City of Tucson have passed texting and driving laws. Driving on I-10 the other day, we observed a driver in the left lane, exceeding the posted speed limit, while texting. The driver put their life and the lives of others at serious risk with this behavior.

Will 2017 be the year that the Arizona legislature finally takes a step towards making our state a safer place to drive? We hope so.

Make a personal commitment to yourself, your family and fellow drivers in 2017 to put your phone down while driving.

Your life may depend on it.