Any activity that diverts a road-user’s full attention from the road ahead as well as the remaining fraction of the full circle of their surroundings constitutes a distraction. And as mundane and as normally non-consequential as any such distracting activity may be, certain adjectives increasingly beg to be said of it like dangerous, illegal and careless.
Cell phone usage for all purposes and in all modes, even hands-free, is one of the most distracting of all such activities, text messaging in particular hitting all the buttons: visually, manually, and cognitively distracting, and thus increasingly inviting condemnation. A texting pedestrian can of course initiate a potentially catastrophic chain of events but usually pedestrians are not as potentially dangerous to others as a cell-phone using vehicle driver.
None of this is “new” news of course but rather a trend of the past decade. Now we are hearing more about the impact of distracted driving on people who have lived nine, ten, twelve years of their lives with the resulting injury and loss. And yet the numbers show that hearing these stories is still not producing widespread behavioural change.
The latest alarming numbers come from the US Department of Transportation [DOT] which recently reported that US highway deaths, having spiked 7.2% to 35,092 in 2015. This is highest annual increase since 1966, and for 2016, based on the 17,700 fatalities recorded in the first six months of the year we may expect to see a 10.4% year to year increase.
While the usual factors are cited: more driving, drunken driving, and speeding, distraction from phones and other “technologically advanced safety gear” devices is “raising fresh concerns” on the heels of the distracted driving data from 2015: 10 percent of the fatal crashes that year or 3,477 deaths seen as involving at least one distracted driver, and from the numbers for 2014: 16 percent of the more than 5.6 million crashes involving distracted driving and of this number—roughly 967,000 distracted-driving crashes, 7 percent or 33,000 injured involving cell phone usage.
Road Rules often cites US DOT statistics because they are current and comprehensive. A recent series on distracted driving in Canada’s National Post newspaper provided an update on the Canadian numbers showing a similar trend. This series reported “distracted driving is believed to be among the leading factors in fatal collisions in Canada.
In a survey two years ago of police and groups that combat distracted driving, 76% said the previous five years of data showed distraction had been responsible for a greater percentage of road fatalities than impaired driving.” It noted, “crashes caused by distracted driving, … result in about 300 fatalities in Canada each year.”
Anecdotal evidence supporting this trend came from Dr. Tarek Razek, a Montreal trauma surgeon who was quoted as saying he now operates daily on people who, moments earlier, were texting and driving: “Over the years, as we’ve seen a decline in patients who come in because of impaired driving, we’re seeing more and more people who were on their phone during a collision. It’s scary.”