In the years since the introduction of smartphones, distracted driving has become an increasingly serious public safety concern. Drivers have always eaten at the wheel or gotten distracted by passengers, but now they have something else in their cars constantly demanding their attention.
People struggle to set their phones down even for the duration of their commute to work. While many motorists do the right thing and avoid digital distraction, many others succumb to the temptation of message alerts. Someone with a phone in their hands might travel a significant distance without looking up at the road. These distracted drivers can cause major collisions and put others in the hospital. Are distracted drivers a serious safety risk, or has the media exaggerated the extent of the issue?
Distraction causes thousands of traffic deaths annually
When looking at crash statistics, the threat of distracted driving is hard to ignore. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recorded 42,929 traffic deaths in 2021, and 3,522 of them were the result of distracted driving. That is an increase over 2020’s 3,142 reported distraction-related deaths.
That breaks down to roughly 10 distracted driving deaths every day, the vast majority of which people could probably prevent. Overall, there were far fewer distraction-related deaths than fatalities caused by intoxication or speeding. The NHTSA reported 13,384 deaths related to drunk drivers and 12,330 in incidents involving excess speed.
Still, more than 8.2% of the traffic fatalities in 2021 involved distraction. Realistically, far more crashes likely involved distraction as a complicating factor. It can be quite difficult for investigators to conclusively prove distracted driving unless it involves mobile device use.
While distracted driving is not the single most pressing safety issue on the roads, it is a major contributor to traffic fatalities, as well as injuries and property damage. Those who notice signs of distraction in others may want to give those drivers as much space as possible.
If an injury victim believes that distraction contributed to a crash, then it is generally wise to share those suspicions with the police officers investigating. It is sometimes possible to hold distracted drivers accountable for causing collisions when people can prove that distraction was a causative factor.