Declining Highway Death Rate Challenges Distracted Driving Fears
The distracted driving debate is being marred by an overdose of hype and hysteria.
My weekend nearly got off to a disastrous start when a driver, busy texting, suddenly realized he was going to miss his exit. At the last possible moment, he slammed his brakes and surged across four lanes of traffic, avoiding the need to go a few miles out of the way – but nearly touching off a multi-car accident in the process.
There's no question that there are some things you just shouldn't be doing behind the wheel, and few would argue against the laws that many states have passed prohibiting motorists from texting while driving. But what other steps are needed? The latest federal data on highway fatalities suggests we've probably gone far enough – and that the
distracted driving debate is being marred by an overdose of hype and hysteria.
Paul A. Eisenstein is Publisher of TheDetroitBureau.com, and a 30-year veteran of the automotive beat. His editorials bring his unique perspective and deep understanding of the auto world to Autoblog readers on a regular basis.
Everyone is in favor of improving highway safety, but this is a world of vested interests, each with a distinct agenda.
"If cellphones and all the other new technologies are so dangerous, why aren't we seeing carnage on the highways?" asks Aaron Bragman, automotive analyst with the consulting firm IHS. "We're not. The number of highway fatalities is lower than it has been in years."
Indeed, the federal government
last week released data showing there were 33,808 highway deaths in the U.S. during 2010, a 3% decline from the year before. That's the lowest figure since 1949. And lest you attribute that to a downturn in driving because of economic hard times, the reality is that U.S. motorists reversed course in 2009 and have since been clocking more mileage. So, measured by that standard, there were just 1.09 deaths per 100 million miles driven last year, down from 1.13 in 2009 – and again the lowest number since Truman was in office.
You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who isn't in favor of improving highway safety, but this is a world of vested interests, each with a distinct agenda. There's Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which has focused on intoxicated motorists. Insurance organizations often focus on
speeding. And now there's the distracted driving lobby, as it were, with
Secretary Ray LaHood at the helm.
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