More drivers are dying on U.S. roads and smart phones and apps may be to blame. Highway deaths soared by 10 percent during the first six months of 2016 compared with the year before, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The uptick came after the nation saw a 7.2 increase in highway deaths in 2015, the largest percent increase in 50 years.
Messaging, navigation and entertainment apps all allow drivers to post photos, search for traffic jams or play games while cruising the nation’s highways. The distractions have fueled the sudden boom in deadly highway accidents after four decades of steady declines.
Now, the Department of Transportation, the National Safety Council and other advocacy groups are hoping to work together to end all roadway fatalities within 30 years. Getting there could mean advocating for states laws requiring use of seatbelts in cars and helmets on motorcycles, and raising awareness about distracted or drunken driving.
“This is a crisis that needs to be addressed now,” Mark R. Rosekind, the head of the agency, told the New York Times this week.
Distracted driving has also become a concern for foreign governments. The European Traffic Safety Council reported its first increase in traffic fatalities since 2001 this year. It cited the illegal use of cellphones as a possible culprit. In Canada, police wrote more than $1 million worth of tickets, but say drivers are still illegally using their smart phones while on the road.
"The more and more technology that we get offers tremendous value to potentially help save these lives. But there’s also the potential to bring more things into the car that could distract us, as well," Rosekind told NPR.
Insurers also blame smart phones for growing problems on the road. The use of electronic devices while driving is likely the most significant factor in the rise in road fatalities, said Robert Gordon, a senior vice president of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.
“This is a serious public safety concern for the nation,” he told the New York Times. “We are all trying to figure out to what extent this is the new normal.”