Texting While Driving Deadlier Than Ever; 16,000 Deaths From 2001 To 2007
THURSDAY, Sept. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Distracted driving fatalities caused by cell phone use and texting soared in the space of three years, according to new U.S. government research released Thursday.
Texting alone caused more than 16,000 deaths in car accidents from 2001 to 2007, the researchers estimated. But auto deaths involving cell phones and texting while driving rose 28 percent in just three years, from 4,572 in 2005 to 5,870 in 2008.
"The increases in distracted driving seem to be largely driven by increased use of cell phones to text," said lead researcher Fernando Wilson, an assistant professor in the School of Public Health at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth.
"Overall use of cell phones have been pretty steady, but texting volumes have increased dramatically in the last few years," he added.
Distracted driving and its deadly toll was the focus of a government summit this week in Washington, D.C., at which officials called for tougher laws to counter the growing trend. They reported that more than 5,000 people were killed last year in distracted driving crashes.
In January, the government banned truck and bus drivers who travel interstate roadways from using a handheld device to send text messages.
The latest report, published online Sept. 23 in the American Journal of Public Health, uses data from the National Center for Statistics and Analysis's Fatality Analysis Reporting System, which recorded all fatalities that occurred on public roads in the United States from 1999 to 2008.
Wilson's team found that drunk drivers are less inhibited about using cell phones as they drive. And there were also increased crashes into light poles, trees and other objects, with men involved in growing numbers.
"All this is consistent with people not paying attention while they are driving," Wilson said.
Solving the problem is complex, Wilson noted. He has no ready answers, but he suggested that "we need technologies that inhibit cell phone use while driving" and that more effective law enforcement of cell phone bans would also help.
Frank Drews, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Utah, said that "this is a timely study that adds another piece to the literature on driver distraction."
Drews added: "With work like this, it will be a little bit harder to deny that cell phone use while driving has a significant negative impact on public safety. I think at this point, once again, the question comes to mind, how much more scientific evidence will politicians need to put laws in place that protect the public from the dangers associated with cell phone use while driving?"
Jennifer Smith, a board member of FocusDriven, which advocates against cell phone use while driving, put it more bluntly.
The more than 5,000 traffic deaths each year from cell phone use is "equivalent to a major airliner going down every week in this country," she said. "If that was happening, they would ground all flights until they figured out what the problem was and they solved it. But because everyone likes their cell phones, we have to debate this."
Smith noted that all cell phone use when driving -- including hands-free cell phone use -- is dangerous. "All we need to be doing in our cars is driving. No phone call is that important that you can't wait until you stop," she said.
- CLICK HERE TO READ MORE
Most Popular StoriesMost Popular StoriesMore>>
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Latest on the budget battle in Congress (all times local): 12 midnight The U.S. government shut down at midnight after Congress failed to resolve a partisan standoff over immigration and spending. In a late-night vote, Senate Democrats joined to block a bill that would have kept the government running for another four weeks. A flurry of last-minute negotiations failed to beat the deadline. Democrats have tried to use the F...>>
SPOKANE, Wash. - Cobwebs hang from the exposed pipes running along the ceiling of a dimly lit, dirty basement. The underground labyrinth is used as storage space at Mount Saint Michael’s Academy in Spokane. But several decades ago it served as a safe haven. During the Cold War, the Office of Civil Defense designated the basement at Saint Michael’s as one of hundreds of fallout shelters throughout the city.>>
- Tuesday marks the eighth day of the government shutdown, and there's still no deal made on Capitol Hill.>>Tuesday marks the eighth day of the government shutdown, and there's still no deal made on Capitol Hill. Some federal employees are back to work but 500,000 are still furloughed. All non-essential government offices have been closed for a week now. But House Democrats and Republicans are still no closer to making a compromise.>>
PULLMAN, Wash. - It was an incredibly emotional evening on the Washington State University campus in Pullman Friday as the Cougar family remembered one of their own, gone too soon. In the shadow of Martin Stadium, hundreds gathered in silence to remember quarterback Tyler Hilinski and those whose lives have been touched by suicide. Family, friends and teammates held candles as they wiped away tears. Tyler's parents held>>
CLATSOP COUNTY, Ore. - A salmon fisherman who abandoned ship by leaping into the Columbia river last summer, right before another boat crashed into his, is suing the other boat driver for $372,000. The Oregonian reports that the Clatsop County sheriff's office accused Marlin Lee Larson of several crimes after the boater told investigators he couldn't see where he was driving because the dash of his boat was blocking his view when he was sitting down.>>
SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. - Spokane Valley police and deputies continue to investigate the beating and sexual assault of a woman in a Spokane Valley gas station near Trent and Vista over the weekend. Investigators say responding deputies detained and arrested registered sex offender Michael Rush as he was seen leaving the bathroom, where a woman in her 40s was found beaten and strangled.>>