Distracted driving has been an increasing focus in traffic safety circles in recent years, as the number of people with smartphones has continued to climb, reaching a saturation of 77 percent of all Americans as of last year.
Now, one of the largest studies on distracted driving gives us a clearer picture of just how substantial an impact these devices have on our collective driving habits.
Zendrive, a traffic analytics firm, conducted a three-month analysis of 3 million anonymous drivers who traversed 5.6 billion miles over the course of 570 million trips. What they discovered is that our cell phone use is so much higher than previously estimated. Drivers use their smartphones in 88 out of every 100 trips.
The fact this coincides with car accident fatality statistics that spiked off-the-charts in the last year, the causal connection can't be overlooked. Some 40,000 people died in crashes last year, which is more than at any time in the last five decades. What's more, that's a 14 percent increase just since 2014.
Crashes first of all cost us precious human lives that are never going to be replaced. Beyond that, there are millions more who are seriously injured. In 2016, it was estimated 4.6 million people suffered car accident injuries. The collective cost of these deaths, injuries and property damage rose to $432 billion. That's a 12 percent increase from the year before. That figure includes medical expenses and property damage, as well as losses in wages and productivity, employer and administrative costs.
In Massachusetts, the Boston Globe reports approximately 400 people were killed in car accidents last year, which was a 13 percent increase since the year before. Approximately 1 in 4 drivers in those cases were using their phone just before the crash.
When Zendrive researchers started, they began with the assumption that driving while distracted is dangerous, and using the phone behind the wheel is a distraction no matter what. We also know phone use is pretty difficult to track for traffic homicide investigators. Unless a driver admits to it, distraction as a factor in a crash may go completely undocumented. From an injury lawyer standpoint, that's a problem because use of a phone while driving is a breach of the motorist's duty of care to their passengers and other drivers and road users. So by nailing down the fact that distraction is such a widespread and pervasive issue, it should be one of the first elements your injury attorney explores - at the very least to rule it out.
What this new Zendrive research concludes is that most Americans use their phone every single time they drive. On average, for every one hour of travel, motorists spent 3.5 minutes on their phones. When you consider that just five seconds of looking at your phone while traveling 55 mph causes to blindly cross the distance of a football field, those figures start to add up. Even just taking your eyes off the road for two seconds increases your risk of a crash by 20-fold.
The bottom line is Boston traffic fatalities are preventable. These are not inevitable side effects of using the road. Distracted drivers who kill and maim others must be held to account.