Despite safer cars, highway fatalities are on the rise. Blame smartphone apps.
Over the past 40 years, national highway fatalities have been in a steady decline. Today’s cars are safer than ever, driver’s education is widespread, and millions of dollars are invested in safe-driving public service announcements like AT&T’s “It Can Wait” campaign.
However, road safety has taken a turn for the worse. Last year, highway fatalities recorded the largest annual percentage increase in 50 years. In the first six months of 2016 road deaths jumped an astonishing 10.4 percent year over year from 2015, according to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA).
After years of decline, what’s causing an increase in deaths on the highway? The biggest possible culprit? Distracted driving; from smartphone use, texting and the use of apps while driving. 64% of Americans now own a smartphone, up from 58% in early 2014. Usage includes in-car navigation systems and playing music via apps like Pandora, as well as texting. Looking at a smartphone while driving is the new normal.
TrueMotion, a Boston-based company, focused on safe driving, recently conducted a survey among users to find the top apps that drivers are using behind the wheel. The results are utterly frightening. Pokemon Go is the second most used app and Netflix is in the top ten.
Driving a car is one of the most complex tasks a human brain can undertake. Add the utilization of a smartphone into the mix, and the brain goes into cognitive overload. Even the use of a hands-free device can be a distraction, taking your eyes and your attention off the road.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), distracted driving is a serious public safety concern, possibly an epidemic. Today’s youth are getting behind the wheel, using their smartphones indiscriminately. According to a recent NHTSA survey, “20 percent of drivers age 18-20 said texting does not affect their driving, and nearly 30 percent of drivers ages 21-34 said texting has no impact.”
Many states have passed laws banning texting and driving and some ban even the use of handheld devices. Distracted driving calls for education and enforcement, similar to the push against drunk driving years ago. Since 1982, drunk driving fatalities are down 52% overall, and 79% for drivers under age 21, according to the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility.
Ultimately, it will come down to self-control and individuals putting cell phones out of reach, to ensure safe driving for everyone.