Traffic Fatalities Report: Hands-Free Doesn’t Equal Risk-Free

distracted drivers

The highest increase in traffic deaths in 50 years is being blamed primarily on apps. The last few decades had seen steady reductions in annual traffic fatalities throughout the country. But that progress has quickly been erased.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the first six months of 2016 saw an estimated 17,775 traffic fatalities, which is a jump of 10.4 percent compared to the previous year.

The new risks of distracted driving

When cellphones first became prevalent, the threat posed to traffic safety was primarily caused by drivers who made or took calls, or sent or received text messages while behind the wheel. As a result, manufacturers began producing hands-free devices with the intention of reducing distracted driving. Unfortunately, as the recent upswing in traffic fatalities demonstrates, hands-free does not mean risk-free. Safety experts say that the trend toward incorporating ever more technology into vehicles, from Wi-Fi hotspots to Bluetooth to hands-free apps, is the driving force behind the rise in traffic deaths.

“This is a crisis that needs to be addressed now,” said Mark R. Rosekind of the NHTSA in an interview with The New York Times.

Perhaps even more troubling, some apps appear to support or even encourage their use while users are behind the wheel. Snapchat users can use the app to post photos that record the speed at which they are traveling. Waze gives points to drivers who report accidents and traffic jams via the app. And one of the latest crazes, Pokemon Go, enables drivers to play a virtual game on the highway.

Putting a face on the statistics

A lawsuit filed in Georgia included allegations that a teenage driver involved in a car accident in 2015 was using Snapchat while driving. Court records indicate that the driver was traveling in excess of 100 mph when the car struck the vehicle of an Uber driver. Unsurprisingly, the Uber driver sustained serious injuries.

On October 26, 2016, the Florida Highway Patrol was called out to a crash site near Tampa. The collision killed five people. One of the teenage passengers in one of the vehicles had recorded a Snapchat video that showed the vehicle traveling at 115 mph right before the crash.

Efforts to fight distractions may be more harmful than helpful

New car models being sold today might be said to have more tech than torque. Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, and other manufacturers have their own version of hands-free software systems installed directly in new models. The idea is that the new technology will improve traffic safety by allowing drivers to multitask without taking their hands off the wheel.

“The whole principle is to bring voice recognition to customers so they can keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel,” said Alan Hall, a Ford spokesman.

But is merely keeping one’s hands on the wheel sufficient? Critics say that anything that takes a driver’s mind off the road is a source of distraction and the high-tech vehicles readily allow drivers to make calls, use apps, and dictate texts while they’re merging into traffic, navigating turns, and checking for road signs.

Deborah Hersman is one such critic of the new technology. She is the former chair of the federal National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the current president of the National Safety Council. “It’s the cognitive workload on your brain that’s the problem,” she said.

The personal injury attorneys at The Sanders Firm in New York condemn the reckless use of distracting technology while driving. We have a long, successful track record of fighting for justice on behalf of accident victims and their families.

To arrange a complimentary, no-obligation case review, call 1-800-FAIR-PLAY. Resources