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| Chaffin Luhana LLP

The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA) recently released a report indicating that traffic accidents are increasing faster than they have in decades. According to Robert Gordon, representing the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, deadly auto accidents have increased by 14 percent since 2014, severe accidents by 12.2 percent, and pedestrian deaths by 22 percent.

What’s causing the increase? Gordon pointed to our increasing reliance on technology in our vehicles, namely, our smartphones. They’ve more than doubled over the past five years, he stated, “and it is not surprising that the percent of accidents involving phone distractions has increased.” He added that he believes the increase is even higher than indicated by statistics.

Drivers Distracted by More than Texting

Gordon was speaking at a National Transportation Safety Board panel that met on April 26, 2017. InsurTech also revealed to the panel that based on data they’ve gathered from driver tracking technologies, the top ten applications used by drivers while they’re behind the wheel include Google Chrome, Netflix, and YouTube, indicating that it’s not only texting that’s causing problems.

Indeed, about a year ago, according to NBC News, a man recorded a bus driver who was watching television on his phone while he was driving. About a year before that, a woman was filmed watching “Masterchef” on a tablet while she was driving.

A report by CBS News indicated that though drivers know that these activities are dangerous, they have a hard time resisting them. An AT&T survey found that 61 percent of drivers admitted to texting and driving, while a third admitted to checking emails, and 17 percent admitted to taking steering-wheel selfies.

What was especially concerning was that 22 percent of the respondents gave “addiction” as a reason for their behavior. Dr. David Greenfield, founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction at the University of Connecticut and who worked with AT&T on the survey, called it a “digital drug,” and stated that getting messages on a cell phone provides rewards similar to playing a slot machine. The “reward” of texts and emails and social media “likes” increases the amount of dopamine in the brain, and makes people crave repeat experiences.

There are apps that will allow drivers to turn off certain smartphone functions while they’re behind the wheel, but safety experts remain concerned that as long as the action remains voluntary, drivers will continue to have trouble resisting.

More Drivers on the Road

The increase in traffic accidents and fatalities has also been blamed on the increase of people on the road in recent years. As the economy improves, more people are working and have disposable income, so they are driving more than they were back in the years around 2008.

This argument was presented to the panel in April, but panelists still agreed that more needs to be done to prevent distracted driving. They recommended increasing awareness among young kids, teenagers, and college-age adults to help prevent the trend.

Meanwhile, insurance companies are working with lawmakers to pass new laws that actually forbid distracted driving.

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