We have made genuine progress in reducing fatalities due to motor vehicle accidents. In the last few decades, the number of deaths has fallen from more than 50,000 to the low to mid 30,000 range. This has been the result of many factors, from better-designed cars with crumple zones, seat belts, air bags and improved tires, to aggressive drunk driving prevention programs and safer roads.
Yet one type of car accident has bucked this trend. A recent study has found that pedestrian and bicyclist’s deaths have been rising and the cause appears to be distracted drivers. According to the study, in the five years from 2005 to 2010, pedestrian deaths have increased by 50 percent, and bicycle deaths went up 30 percent.
They note that pedestrian deaths increased from 344 to 500 and bicyclist deaths went from 56 to 73. While low in absolute numbers compared to the other deaths resulting from car accidents, the disturbing element here is that they are increasing against a background of a decline in other types of motor vehicle deaths.
Deaths from distracted drivers are increasing in spite of states passing more and more laws restricting or banning use of cellphones and texting in vehicles. There is also the problem of reporting the cause of the accident.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports 3,328 deaths attributed to distracted driving in 2012. This is approximately equal to one-third of the deaths caused by drunken driving, however, it is likely the number deaths caused by distracted driving is unrepresented.
Unlike drunk driving, which produces a measurable blood alcohol content that can be ascertained even in cases where a driver is killed, the cause of a distracted driving accident may not be readily apparent to police investigating the accident scene and some drivers could be inclined to conceal their use of a cellphone.
Source: Medical Daily, “Distracted Drivers Cause Pedestrian Deaths To Rise 50% From Texting, Talking On Phone, Or Eating At The Wheel,” Lecia Bushak, November 30, 2013