The increased popularity of cell phones, text messaging and portable electronic gadgets has increased the potential for drivers to become distracted. In response to the rise in distracted driving accidents, automakers and the makers of phones and cell phone applications have offered potential technological solutions to the problem. While additional gadgets and apps may help combat the problem of distracted driving, some safety experts believe that technology will not be enough to stop the increase in distracted driving car accidents.
The National Transportation Safety Board voted unanimously in support of a proposal to lower blood alcohol limits for drunk driving from .08 to .05 last May. The group contended that adoption of a lower standard would save between 500 and 800 lives every year by reducing drunk driving car accidents. Since that proposal, no state has moved to make the recommended change and several prominent safety organizations have failed to endorse the move. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Governors Highway Safety Association and Mothers Against Drunk Driving have declined to endorse the move. Despite the cool response NTSB chair Deborah Hersman indicated that the group is confident that the lower BAC limit will eventually be adopted.
The use of personal electronic devices has coincided with an increase in the number of accidents attributed to distracted driving. The connection between texting and car accidents has led to texting bans in 41 states, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. A recent study conducted in the first state to pass a texting ban, Washington, showed that a larger than expected percentage of drivers are using electronic devices behind the wheel. Of those using such devices, 45 percent were shown to be using them to send or receive text messages.
Allstate America recently released its annual report of America's Best Drivers. In that report, it uses car collision data to rank the 200 largest cities in America in terms of safe driving. The drivers in Chicago placed 150th out of 200. The size of the city is clearly an issue, however. Among cities with populations greater than one million, Chicago placed 4th out of 9. According to Allstate's data, Chicago drivers experience an accident once every eight years, with the national average being one accident per decade.
Early numbers show that traffic fatalities will likely drop in 2013. After a steady decrease in deadly traffic accidents from 2005 to 2011, fatal crashes rose in 2012. Preliminary data collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration led the organization to predict a 4.4 percent drop in fatalities compared to 2012. While some of that can be explained by a decrease in the total number of miles being driven, there are several potential explanations for the drop in deadly car accidents.
The speed limit on rural interstates in Illinois will be raised to 70 miles per hour next year. Critics of the change suggest that increased speed will inevitably lead to an increase in car accidents. A representative of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said that increased speed limits lead to people driving faster, which means that "more people will die on the roads as a result." The Illinois Department of Transportation joined state police in opposing the increase.
When a person agrees to be a designated driver, what are they agreeing to? Are they agreeing to refrain from drinking in order to provide a safe ride home? Are they agreeing to refrain from getting drunk? Are they agreeing to arrange for a safe ride home for the people who are drinking? The understanding of what a designated driver is and what he or she is supposed to do may not be as clear as some believe. A study appearing in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs concluded that a surprising number of designated drivers may be consuming alcohol before driving home. The result could be a deadly car accident.
With Illinois considering a statewide ban on the use of handheld cell phones by drivers, the measures already enacted by individual communities are drawing attention. Three years ago, the Evanston City Council passed a handheld device ban in an effort to curb distracted driving accidents. Cell phones are considered a primary culprit in the nationwide increase in distracted driving fatalities. Texting while driving has garnered much of the attention, but any diversion of a driver's attention from the road is a safety hazard. With three year's worth of data available, it appears that Evanston's ban may have been successful.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 2,700 teens are killed each year in car accidents where a teen driver was under the influence of alcohol. In addition, an estimated 282,000 injuries are suffered in such accidents. According to recent research, that makes drinking and driving the second most deadly behavior among teen drivers. A study conducted by researchers at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park suggested that teen deaths caused by texting drivers total more than 3,000. It estimated that 300,000 injuries result from this form of distracted driving.
The Governors Highway Safety Association has compiled a report based on traffic accident figures for the first six months of 2012. According to the report, 2012 will mark the second consecutive year in which highway fatalities have increased for 16- and 17-year-old drivers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has projected that 2012 will show an 8 percent increase in traffic deaths for 2012. Teen drivers are responsible for some of that increase as teen driver deaths are estimated to rise 19 percent from 2011 to 2012.