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Think before you text: Distracted driving deaths rise nearly 10%, report says

Posted By: Elizabeth Lester | March 1, 2021

By Erik Bascome | tbascome@siadvance.com Updated Feb 26, 2021; Posted Feb 26, 2021

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- You might want to think twice about answering that text next time you're behind the wheel.

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) recently released a new report titled Using Electronic Devices While Driving: Legislation and Enforcement Implications, detailing the rising number of deaths related to distracted driving and encouraging states to enact stricter laws to prevent such actions.

Distracted driving, which often takes a back seat to alcohol- and drug-impaired driving when discussing dangerous roadway behavior, has become a major issue on U.S. roadways in recent years.

In 2019, crashes involving a distracted driver killed 3,142 Americans, nearly a 10% increase over the 2,841 people killed in such crashes in 2018, according to the report.

And those instances only account for situations in which it could be confirmed that a driver was distracted at the time of the crash, meaning the actual total is likely much higher.

"Driver distraction is likely underreported as a cause in crashes; therefore, fatalities caused by distracted driving may be much greater," according to the report.

Researchers have found that each text you send behind the wheel significantly increases your chances of being involved in a crash.

Overall crash rates increase by 8.3% and severe crash rates increase by 6.5% for every text sent per hour of driving, according to the report.

"It takes about 5 seconds, on average, to read or send a text. In that time span, with your eyes on your device and not on the road, a vehicle traveling at 55 miles per hour will cover the length of a football field," according to the report.

On average, drivers were found to send about 1.6 texts per hour while driving, though rates increased significantly as age decreased.

Younger drivers were found to send more texts, on average, than their older counterparts, with drivers aged 16 through 19 sending an average of 2.9 texts per hour of driving, and drivers aged 20 through 29 sending an average of 2.6 texts per hour of driving.

While all 50 states currently have existing laws in place to prevent distracted driving, these laws vary in nature and enforcement level, with researchers now urging states to enact stricter laws and conduct additional outreach efforts to prevent the dangerous driving behavior.

"Despite the prevalence of distracted driving laws, the use of electronic devices while driving still remains an issue," according to the report.

Through a detailed analysis of existing distracted driving laws in all 50 states, researchers found that the most effective laws and public safety campaigns shared four common elements: clear statutory language; penalties and fines similar to other traffic violations; a combination of high-visibility enforcement and targeted outreach campaigns, and coalition-building efforts.

To help states step up their respective distracted driving efforts, researchers developed various resources including model legislation for lawmakers, ideas for public safety campaigns and presentations for police officers on the need for increased enforcement.

"Overall, the materials developed for this project were designed to promote knowledge and awareness and serve as the basis for a toolkit on electronic device use legislation, education, and enforcement," according to the report.

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