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Text me the death total: 5,474 died last year in traffic accidents linked to distracted driving

By dcuff
Tuesday, September 21st, 2010 at 10:59 am in driving, Safety.

Some 5,474 people died last year in this country in traffic crashes linked to distracted driving practices like texting or making cell phone calls, Obama administration transportation leaders said today at a summit on trying to reduce the carnage. That’s a heavy toll for people not paying attention.

The good news is that the death toll dropped by nearly 400. The bad news is distracted driving still is a contributing factor to 16 percent of the deaths and injuries from car crashes in America. And the figure likely is  higher because some police agencies aren’t rigorous about reporting distracting driving as a contributor to accidents, says Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.


“We’re hooked on our devices and we can’t put them down, even when it means jeopardizing our own safety and the safety of others,” LaHood wrote in a blog post. “And we have young people texting habitually long before they learn to drive who then can’t even imagine turning off their devices when they climb behind the wheel.” Click here to read about the summit.

Personally, I recall in the last week seeing several motorists driving in Danville or Walnut Creek while holding a cell phone to their ears. I braked to avoid one driver who was turning from a parking lot into a street while holding a phone to her ear.

Why are we so hooked? This is what happens to your brain on computers, writes Matt Ritchel of the New York Times. The digital stimulation of commuication devices gives people a mini-jolt of excitement – “a squirt of dopamine” that can be additive – in responding to a primal instinct to respond to threats or opportunties. Without the stimulus, we get bored.

Ritchel writes that the technology can save labor and improve communications, but when done in excess, the multi-tasking to the beat of a digital drummer can disrupt people’s focus, family lives, stress levels and have deadly consequences on the highway.

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