A new study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that “it is too soon to speculate on the contributing factors,” but the potential role of distracted driving “can’t be ignored.”

According to the NHTSA, driver distraction was a factor in 3,328 deaths in 2012, and some 421,000 people were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver — a 9 percent increase from 2011. The Federal Highway Administration says that distracted driving “may be a factor” in 10 percent of all crashes.

Journalist’s Resource of Harvard University dissected the latest data.

“The good news: Over the last century, driving has become significantly safer, with the per-mile fatality rate dropping 90 percent between 1925 and 1997,” writer Justin Feldman concluded last week. “The bad news: Motor-vehicle crashes continue to kill more than 33,000 people in the United States every year, making them the leading type of unintentional injury resulting in death. And fatalities rose in 2012, snapping a six-year streak of reduced deaths.”

(Many states — including Hawaii — have passed laws to reduce the number of deaths and injuries due to distracted driving. This past session, the Hawaii Legislature amended state law to exempt drivers who are completely stopped, changing the penalties for violations and making a violation a traffic infraction.)

texting and driving

Please do not do this. Please.

Chad Blair/Civil Beat

OK, here’s some more data from the Journalist’s Resource article: A 2014 study published in the American Journal of Public Health analyzed data from 48 states from 2000-2010. (Alaska, Hawaii and the District of Columbia were not part of the study.) The study compared motor-vehicle death rates in states with texting bans, and states without.

Here’s a few of the study’s findings:

  • Laws allowing police officers to pull over all drivers who are texting, regardless of age, resulted in a 5 percent reduction in the incidence of fatal accidents among individuals ages 15-21. This figure includes deaths of both drivers and non-drivers.
  • States with laws that only allow police to pull over young drivers who are texting experienced an 11 percent drop in the incidence of motor vehicle fatalities for individuals ages 15-21.
  • “Secondary” texting bans, which only allow police to issue texting citations while pulling a driver over for an unrelated offense, had no effect on fatality rates for any age group.
  • No type of anti-texting law reduced fatality rates for individuals above age 21.

“Our analyses indicate that primarily enforced texting laws are associated with fatality reductions among younger individuals, both drivers and nondrivers,” the authors conclude. “Thus, our second main finding is that our results provide strong evidence that the primarily enforced texting laws seem to be reaching the intended subpopulations who are most at risk for texting while driving.”

Finally, a 2013 study compared the “relative safety of the primary modes” of transportation in the United States. Among the findings:

  • Highways are by far the most common place of transportation fatalities in the United States (94 percent) and those in rural areas are particularly dangerous, with a fatality risk that is 2.7 times greater than that in urban areas.
  • Males are three times more likely to die in a road accident than females, while people between the ages of 18 and 29 are at a 50 percent to 90 percent greater risk.
  • Half of vehicle occupants who die in automobiles and light truck incidents (49 percent) were not wearing seat belts or using child safety seats, and alcohol played a role in approximately a third of all highway fatalities.

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