The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported last month that the death toll from traffic crashes rose 10.4% year over year in the first six months of 2016 compared with the same period in 2015. And traffic fatalities last year rose by the largest annual percentage in 50 years according to a report at The New York Times.
What’s up, of course, is What’s App, Snapchat, Pokemon Go, and dozens of other driver distractions that accompany the wave of consumer electronics innovations of the past decade. Driving while talking on a cell phone was, perhaps, the first manifestation of what is now called distracted driving, but texting while driving and other distractions have made the problem worse.
According to the NHTSA, highway fatalities have declined in 7 of 8 between the fourth quarter of 2012 and the fourth quarter of 2014. Year-over-year fatalities have risen in every quarter since.
The agency says it is “too soon to attribute contributing factors or potential implications of any changes in the deaths on our roadways,” but that does not satisfy NHTSA director Mark R. Rosekind who told the NYT, “This is a crisis that needs to be addressed now.”
Another potential culprit in the rise in traffic deaths is the proliferation of devices that are intended to help drivers be more aware of conditions. These partially autonomous systems may be giving drivers a false sense of security and leading them to pay more attention to distractions. While there’s no research to back that claim, the NYT cites the president of the non-profit National Safety Council who says, “It’s the cognitive workload on your brain that’s the problem.”