A new study released last week, based upon U.S. government data, confirms what our Chicago wrongful death lawyers have been saying all along: driving and texting is a recipe for disaster.
The researchers, led by assistant professor Fernando Wilson of the School of Public Health at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth, looked at data spanning nearly the last decade. The results were published in the American Journal of Public Health. The researchers looked at data from the National Center for Statistics and Analysis’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, comprehensive a agency which records all deaths occurring on public roads in the United States.
What they found was staggering. From 2001 to 2007, more than 16,000 people were killed in accidents involving a texting driver.
And the number of distracted driving deaths is only increasing. In 2007, accidents involving cell phone use or texting resulted in 4,572 deaths. In 2008, such behaviors resulted in 5,870 deaths. The nearly 1,300 additional deaths represent an increase of 28%, or almost one-third again as many deaths. The researchers stated that this increase was caused almost entirely by texting while driving – although cell phone use has remained relatively flat in recent years, texting has increased rapidly.
And lest you think that these rates are happenstance, or that the deaths are coincidence, consider the following: the researchers found not only this staggering death rate, but an increase in particular types of crashes. For example, growing numbers of accidents involve crashes into trees, light poles, and other stationary objects, the hallmark of a driver too distracted to even watch the road and keep his car on course. Our Chicago car accident attorneys have seen the increase in such textbook distracted-driving accidents.
FocusDriven, an organization that advocates against distracted driving, puts the problem properly in perspective. As board member Jennifer Smith has noted, the 5,000 annual American deaths from cell phone use and texting while driving is roughly equivalent to a commercial passenger airplane crashing every week for a year. As Ms. Smith noted, “If that was happening, they would ground all flights until they figured out what the problem was and they solved it.”
But cell phone use, and texting, are wildly popular. Although people are frightened of others engaging in these behaviors while driving, many people – including our lawmakers – engage in them themselves. That makes getting effective legislation in place extremely difficult. Our Chicago wrongful death attorneys echo the sentiments of FocusDriven: if anything else were causing these numbers of deaths, our legislators would have acted by now.
Other research, which our injury attorneys have previously discussed, shows that texting while driving increases the risk of an accident by about the same amount as driving drunk. Although many, including lawmakers, have an immediate reaction of doubt when they hear this, the research was straightforward and undeniable: when the overall accident rate is compared to the accident rate of those driving drunk and those driving while texting, we see accidents increase by the same rate in each group.
The research released last week thus adds yet another troubling layer to the debate over cell phone use while driving. The researchers found that drunk drivers are also more likely to use a cell phone or text while driving, perhaps because of lowered inhibitions and awareness of risk. As if each of these behaviors alone were not dangerous enough, innocent drivers and pedestrians are thus faced with drivers engaging in both.
The government response: a “summit” held in Washington, D.C., at which our leaders and lawmakers called for tougher laws to combat this growing menace. While such a show is certainly appropriate, it is no longer adequate. We call on our leaders to stop talking, and lead.
Not that there has been no government action at all. Although this action has been stunted and truncated, it is happening, slowly but surely. For instance, at the beginning of the year, truckers and other commercial drivers who use interstate highways were prohibited from sending text messages while on the road. And the City of Chicago has banned the use of hand-held cellphones while driving. That leaves a patchwork of surrounding suburbs and unincorporated areas unprotected, however, and many of the governing bodies of these areas have voted against appropriate restrictions.
Slow and steady is no longer acceptable. We simply must have a statewide ban, in every state, on the use of hand-held cellphones and other text-messaging devices while driving. Ideally, we would also have a federal ban on such behavior on interstate highways, by private drivers as well as commercial.
In the meantime, the innocent victims of distracted driving must stand up to these wrongdoers. If the government will not protect us from distracted drivers, then we must protect each other – by bringing civil actions against such drivers when they injure the innocent, and thereby making drivers think twice before picking up the smartphone.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago wrongful death lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.