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How We've Underestimated the Prevalence of Distracted Driving

After years of decline, traffic deaths have risen sharply over the past two years. Deaths from auto accidents rose over 14% in those two years. To put that in perspective, that is the largest two-year increase in over 50 years. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2016, an average of 100 people died on America's roadways every single day. That's over 40,000 deaths. The total number of non-fatal accidents are up as well, reaching 6.2 million in 2015. Of those, 1.7 million resulted in injuries.

There are several contributing factors to the recent rise in vehicle crashes in the United States. Safety advocates are starting to realize the effects of distraction on this increase, and we should all pay attention to their concerns.

Why the sharp increase in automobile accidents? Some blame the relatively low gas prices of the past couple of years. NHTSA studies show, however, that miles traveled have risen only about 2.2 percent through the period. Others point to impaired driving, but growth in DUIs has been statistically insignificant. While bicyclist deaths have risen sharply at 12.2 percent, that increase accounts for just 89 additional deaths. The answer seems to lie in another problem area on our roadways: distracted driving.

The Problem of Distracted Driving

A recent article from Bloomberg points out the obvious connection between distracted driving and the increase in auto accident injuries and deaths. The article also addresses how we've drastically underestimated the prevalence of cell phone use and distracted driving.

In the same two-year period when automobile deaths increased by over 14%, the growth of smartphone ownership grew from 75% to 81%. Keep in mind, this is just the growth of smartphones like iPhones, Android phones, and similar devices. It does not include more simple phones. The Bloomberg article does an excellent job of pointing out the disparity between this growth, the massive amount of accidents, injuries and deaths, and the miniscule number of incidents that are reported as cellphone-related.

For example, in 2015, there were a total of 32,166 fatal crashes, resulting in over 40,000 deaths. Driver error was listed as the cause of 57.6% (18,538) of these crashes. Yet only 448, or just 1.4%, were attributed to cell phone use. The article points out that if the numbers are accurate, it would mean that drunk driving is some 23 times more likely to be the cause of a fatal accident than use of a cellphone. Study after study, however, indicates that using a cellphone while driving is almost identical to driving while impaired. Another interesting aspect of the NHTSA numbers is that half of all accidents occur basically while a vehicle is heading straight down a roadway. Drivers will plow into another car or veer off the roadway, striking an object, pedestrian or cyclist.

The numbers simply don't add up -- or even make sense.

To be fair, the problem is not necessarily with the NHTSA. Every state has at least slightly different laws regarding distracted driving and cell phone use. Some drivers will be cited, others will not. Adding to the underreporting problem is the fact that states report accident figures somewhat differently, and identifying cell phone use as a direct cause can be challenging in the field. In many cases, cell phone use may not be proven to be the cause until after a case has been settled or gone to court.

The Distracted Driving and Cell Phone Use Problem in Florida

Only Louisiana has more distracted drivers than Florida. Many blame this on our state's failure to enact more stringent distracted driving laws. The problem this creates is that if you are injured in an automobile accident in Florida due to the negligence of a distracted driver, unless the attending officer has concrete evidence of cell phone use, it likely won't even be mentioned in a police report. This can make it a challenge to hold a culpable party responsible.

It is why you need solid legal representation experienced in automobile and personal injury accidents. You should seek out a team who will be aggressive in obtaining automobile “black box” records and cellphone use data to make your case. In South Florida, that team is Stabinski & Funt, P.A.

As one of South Florida's most respected and oldest law firms, Stabinski & Funt, P.A. has helped many people sort out their legal rights, responsibilities, and remedies for 45 years. We work on a contingency basis, which means that if there is no recovery, there is no fee or cost to you. To learn more about how our firm can help you, contact us for a free consultation by calling (305) 964-8644 or filling out a case evaluation form.

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