Almost everyone is aware that the act of texting while driving can be incredibly dangerous. But a new study pinpoints just how deadly it can be.
Researchers at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth, analyzing nationwide traffic data from the Facility Accident Reporting System, as well as texting records from the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) and CTIA, a wireless telecom industry group, have determined that over 16,000 wrongful deaths can be attributed to car accidents caused by texting while behind the wheel during the years 2002 through 2007.
The researchers calculated that if text messaging had never come into being, there would have been roughly 2000 traffic deaths per year due to distracted driving in that five year span. But, in real life, they increased – from 4611 in 2001 to 5988 in 2007, for a grand total of 16,141 deaths that would probably not have happened if it weren’t for the widespread practice of texting and driving.
A few other startling figures:
The percentage of all traffic deaths caused by distracted driving rose from 11% in 1999 to 16% in 2008 40% of all crashes happened in urban areas in 2008, up from 33% a decade earlier. Only a third of all Americans had a cell phone in 1999. By 2008, 91% did. The average monthly volume of text messages was 1 million in 2002. By 2008, it was 110 million. The researchers suggested, as a solution, making texting while driving a criminal offense and allowing routine examination of cell phone records in car accident investigations, especially when they result in personal injury and wrongful death.
Unfortunately, the result of current laws against texting and driving seem to be having an opposite effect than intended; distracted driving crashes are actually increasing slightly in areas where there is a legal ban on texting and driving, according to another study by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HDLI).
“Texting bans haven’t reduced crashes at all. In a perverse twist, crashes increased in 3 of the 4 states we studied after bans were enacted. It’s an indication that texting bans might even increase the risk of texting for drivers who continue to do so despite the laws,” commented Adrian Lund, president of both HLDI and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Lund also pointed to a possible reason for crashes increasing after a legal ban was put in place – motorists who continued to text and drive, but held their phones lower, so the devices can’t be seen from outside the car. This would require the driver to look down further than usual, cutting their visibility of the road even more – and making the practice even more dangerous.