Tracking back to the early 2000s, most countries with highly developed traffic systems – like Canada, Australia, South Korea, and the U.K. – have seen steady drops in the annual deaths caused by traffic accidents. In the United States, though, recent trends have gone the wrong way. In fact, America’s vehicle death rate is about three times greater than that of Canada, four times greater than that of Germany, and five times greater than that of Britain.
Starting around 2012, the gradual decline of annual traffic deaths flattened before it started to rise sharply a few years later. Why? The question has troubled traffic safety experts for as long as the trend started to reverse, and their theories have only recently started to solidify.
Leading Suspect: Smartphones
Research into why traffic accidents happen tends to inevitably return to one conclusion: smartphones are distracting. It isn’t just a hunch, either. Data shows that accident rates increased shortly after introducing the first widely popular smartphone, the iPhone in 2007. Before that year, traffic accidents in the U.S. were still dropping considerably year over year, and the vast majority of the population did not have a smartphone. Just around 2010, close to 33% of Americans had a smartphone, and the trend of gradually reducing traffic accidents halted.
The crash data from more years only underscores the connection between smartphone use and traffic accidents, both fatal and unfatal. As smartphones have become more and more popular, the rate of accidents has steadily increased. One of the only years that saw a decrease in traffic accident rates was 2020 due to the sudden decrease in traffic caused by pandemic lockdowns—and even then, some areas still saw a year-over-year increase in crashes.
A smartphone can distract a driver in four distinct ways all at once:
- Visually: Looking at the phone screen for navigation or to read a message takes the driver's eyes off the road.Even a momentary glance at an incoming call or notification can effectively “blind” the driver for several seconds, which could mean traveling the length of a football field while not looking at the road ahead when driving at highway speed.
- Manually: Using a smartphone requires at least one hand, which means one less hand on the steering wheel. Even handless systems often require at least one button press to begin the conversation.
- Auditorily: Conversations or music from a smartphone can drown out important auditory signals from the environment, such as sirens or horns.
- Cognitively: Engaging in a conversation or thinking about a message or email can divert the driver's attention from the task of driving. Multitasking, like trying to drive and use a smartphone simultaneously, makes it harder to focus on either task effectively.
More Pedestrians, Fewer Sidewalks
In some parts of the country, walking and bicycling have become more popular in recent years. At the height of the pandemic, new and used cars both became much more expensive. Gas prices have gone up and have not gone down. Overall, it makes sense that many people want to walk when they can.
The problem is that many cities are not prepared for the increase in pedestrian and cyclist traffic. Without enough sidewalks and bike lanes, the risk of a pedestrian accident or bicycle accident increases around vehicular traffic. If pedestrian accident rates are to drop again, conversations in city halls across the country need to take place to put more focus on sidewalk and bicycle lane construction and design.
Legalized Marijuana Could Be Impairing More Drivers
The decriminalization of recreational marijuana is an arguably important milestone in criminal and social justice. However, every advancement comes at a cost. In this case, research suggests that drivers who are impaired by marijuana can be just as dangerous as those who are intoxicated by alcohol.
A driver who has used marijuana recently may experience:
- Slowed reaction times
- Blurred vision
- Inability to concentrate
Enforcing roadway rules about sober driving can be even more difficult with drug-impaired drivers, too. When a highway patrol officer pulls over a drunk driver, the signs of intoxication may be obvious, like the smell of alcohol on their breath or a bottle of alcohol in the car. However, the signs of drug impairment can be subtle, especially if the driver used a drug several hours before driving.
How Can Traffic Death Rates Go Down?
The key to bringing traffic death rates down nationwide is for all drivers to be more responsible. It is a simple yet important concept to embrace. Roadway safety is everyone’s responsibility. If we all focus on driving more carefully, we can expect to see the rate of traffic deaths drop significantly. To this point, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that at least 10% of all traffic deaths would be entirely preventable if distracted driving ceased altogether. Imagine that if everyone put the smartphone down while driving, thousands of lives would be saved each year, and many more serious, life-changing injuries would never occur.
At Schlesinger Law Offices in South Florida, we are proud to be trusted legal representatives for the wrongfully injured in our state and communities. We have handled countless cases that involved distracted or impaired drivers who caused serious injuries or loss of life. We hope that our representation can secure justice for the injured and convince others to drive more safely.
Why should you pick us for your car accident or wrongful death claim?
- We have recovered more than $165 million in recent settlements and verdicts for product liability clients.
- We have brought successful product liability claims against major defendants, including automakers and Big Tobacco.
- We are a legacy law firm with more than 70 years of practice experience handling all types of injury claims and class action lawsuits.
- We are trial attorneys who are committed to seeing every case to its conclusion, which means litigating and appealing when necessary.
Get legal counsel and guidance today after a crash in South Florida. Dial (954) 467-8800 to arrange a no-cost consultation with our trial attorneys from Schlesinger Law Offices.