It’s been called a disturbing trend, an epidemic and a blight on our roads. These phrases are apt descriptions of the increase in U.S. traffic fatalities that have occurred for two years in a row. The increase in 2015 was the largest in the U.S. in 50 years, and now it appears that 2016 saw a similar rise in road deaths.
Explaining this confounding increase is not an easy task. There are likely several contributing factors. One of the biggest factors is the fact that unemployment is down, so more people are driving to work, taking vacations and getting on the road for any other number of reasons, simply because they can now afford to do so. But this explanation alone has left many safety advocates unsatisfied.
To truly understand and address the increase in fatalities, we must dig deeper, which is precisely what many states are hoping to do. To make our roads safer, some states in the U.S. are proposing legislation to curb one of the other major contributors to the increase in vehicle crashes – distracted driving.
California Has Had Enough of Distracted Drivers
Distracted driving has become a serious problem on our roads. Most Americans own smartphones, and many of us seem to be more than happy to use them while behind the wheel. But California is trying to eliminate distraction among drivers, and states around the country are looking to the Golden State to see if their efforts get results.
In January of 2017, California took the bold step of banning drivers from even holding mobile devices when operating their vehicle. Several states, including California, have passed laws that prohibit drivers from talking or texting, but the new legislation in California goes a step further, and the motivation behind the law makes sense.
It can be difficult for police officers to prove that a driver was texting behind the wheel. That makes enforcing a texting-while-driving ban a big challenge. Drivers can be distracted by mobile devices in many ways beyond texting, including watching videos, live streaming their own videos or using mobile apps. A texting ban doesn’t explicitly prohibit those mobile-related activities, but California’s new legislation does; and 2017 will prove to be a big test, one that might show whether tougher laws correlate to safer roads.
The Relationship Between Laws and Safety
Safety advocates argue that tougher laws make motorists safer, and they offer data to back up their point. As reported in the Washington Post, the Auto Insurance Center released a report in 2016 finding that states with stricter laws saw fewer traffic fatalities than states with more lax traffic laws.
The group looked at rates of fatalities in all states and compared those numbers against each state’s laws on seat belts, teen driving restrictions and speed limits. The results speak for themselves. The maps provided by the group show that the stricter a state’s laws are when it comes to traffic safety, the safer that state’s roads will be.
Another safety advocacy group, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, is pushing for more states to pass legislation proven to reduce road fatalities. One of main concerns of AHAS is addressing the rise of distracted driving, which brings us back to California.
Seat belt laws are easy to enforce for police officers. When a driver or vehicle occupant isn’t wearing a seatbelt, they get pulled over. Drivers don’t want to get pulled over, so they wear a seat belt. The same logic applies to speeding. But distraction is a different beast, one that a texting and talking ban fails to address. For the reasons mentioned above, California’s new law banning drivers from even holding a mobile device does away with even the possibility of mobile-related distracted driving, and that’s why its success will likely affect the considerations other states make in the months and years to come.
There are no signs that the number of road fatalities will decrease anytime soon. Even if rates held steady, that’s still roughly 35,000 traffic-related deaths every year in the United States. It is in everyone’s best interest to make our roads safer. Conquering distracted driving has proven to be the new frontier in road safety, and California might just be the pioneer who leads the way.
Neale & Fhima serves accident victims and has offices in Dana Point, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego to meet the needs of its clients throughout California.