The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued two reports last week, one that is encouraging and one that is awfully disturbing. First, the good news:
Our nation's roads and highways and the vehicles we drive on them, apparently are becoming much safer than in years past. In 2010, 32,885 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. and that is the lowest number of fatalties since 1949 when there were 30,246 fatalities.
The 2010 figure represents a 2.9% decline in the number of people killed in 2009. Of course, advances in healthcare and emergency medical treatment undoubtedly contribute to the reduction in fatalities too. Thankfully, the number of alcohol-impaired fatalities also declined, by 4.9% from 2009 to 2010.
Some states may want to give the data further examination. Connecticut, for instance, saw the highest increase in fatalities from 2009 (224) to 2010's total: (319). Michigan, Pennsylvaia and Indiana all had significant increases. Conversely, California saw a 12% reduction, 375 fewer fatalities in 2010 than in 2009. Texas, Kentucky, Florida and Louisiana all had notable decreases.
Nonetheless, the national decrease in fatalities for 2010 is obviously quite encouraging because it occurred despite an estimated increase of nearly 21 billion miles in national vehicle miles traveled.
Now, the bad news: The rate at which Americans texted while driving increased by 50% last year. NHTSA's annual snapshot of driver behavior showed that at any given time, just under 1 percent were texting or using hand-held devices. The actvity increased to 0.9 percent in 2001 from 0.6 percent in 2009. If that doesn't seem like a lot, think of how many cars are on the road with you during your commute! 1 in one hundred is texting and many others are talking on their mobile phones.
In a separate phone survey of 6,000 drivers 18 and older, 18 percent said they've sent text or emails while driving. And among younger drivers, 21 to 24, that number soars to nearly half of them.
Consider this: 35 states have already banned texting while driving and more states are likely to follow. 9 states ban cell phone usage while driving altogether. Add to those legislative measures the comprehensive communications effort that we've all seen or heard at some point... It has included TV and radio public service announcements; billboards; print advertising; social media campaigns... all designed to inform the public of what should be painfully obvious:
That vehicles in motion require attentive, responsible drivers.
And yet, we have not learned. Common sense has become increasingly uncommon.
NHTSA Survey on Distracted Driver Attitudes, Behaviors
What's the answer? Is it that the nation has not yet reached its "tipping point" that will motivate us to change our own risky driving behavior? Are we so self-absorbed that we fail to understand the dangers we expose ourselves to? Why would we think that texting while driving is unsafe if others do it, but it's OK if I do? Are we that vain or simply that stupid? Perhaps Charles Darwin was right and the "survival of the fittest" will prevail.
NHTSA shared this: "While we have a long way to go to address the issue, we’re making some progress. Even as the use of electronic devices has continued to rise, we have not seen the same increase in distracted driving-related crashes. Thus, we believe that we have had some success in preventing crashes involving distracted driving. Distracted driving-related crashes stood steady at 17 percent of all crashes for each of the past 5 years [2006-2010]. For the past two years [2009-2010], the percent of crashes involving the use of a cell phone has remained constant at 5 percent of distraction-related crashes."