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Distracted driving has become a growing car safety issue, with fatalities rising because of risky behaviors like using smartphones while behind the wheel. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released a report on 2021 data showing increased deaths due to impaired or distracted driving. The alarming trend has many scrambling to find solutions to save lives. 

Traffic fatalities are up across the board

Distracted driving
A person drives with a cell phone (posed scene) | Melissa Erichsen/picture alliance via Getty Images

The recently released 2021 NHTSA report shows a concerning increase in deaths across many categories involving car safety. There was a rise in deaths from not only distracted driving but also drunk driving and speeding.

Kelley Blue Book reports that in 2021, 42,939 people died due to vehicular crashes in the United States. That’s a 10% increase over the previous year. The total number of car accidents rose by 16%.

The report shows that distracted driving increased by 12% in 2021, with 3,522 fatalities. Speeding-related deaths rose 7.9% that year, while alcohol-impaired driving made up 31% of driving-related deaths nationwide. 

With the number of fatalities rising, lawmakers are looking for possible solutions, like enforcing laws and increasing awareness of the dangers of distracted driving, drunk driving, and speeding. The NHTSA report also reveals that bicyclist and pedestrian deaths also rose. There was a 13% jump in pedestrian deaths in 2021 and a 7.7% jump in motorcycle fatalities. Also, there was a 1.9% increase in pedal cyclist deaths, a category that includes bicyclists.

Possible solutions to prevent distracted driving

Some potential solutions could be used to address the issue of distracted driving. The other major car crash testing agency, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), toughened its crash tests to urge manufacturers to devise new safety measures. However, each proposed solution has downsides.

An increase in enforcing existing driving laws sounds like a way to save lives — on paper. Enforcing such laws consistently proves challenging due to civil liberties and privacy concerns.

One new law will require breathalyzer-like technology in all new cars in the next few years, leaving automakers racing to develop the technology needed.

In addition, Kelley Blue Book explains that federal regulators have proposed creating vehicles that can’t speed by using intelligent speed assistance technology. GPS would be used in a system that tracks the car’s location and limits its acceleration so it’s unable to exceed posted speed limits.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk continues to promote the idea of self-driving cars as a safety solution. Though safe and effective versions of such technology are likely years away, KBB points out one good thing about such technology: The vehicle has sensors monitoring the road.

For now, the best car safety measure is the drivers themselves. Motorists can put their smartphones out of reach, focus on the road ahead, and only drive sober. Drive assuming everyone else is drunk, texting, or speeding.

There are no easy fixes for distracted driving

Encouraging drivers to focus more on the road has proven challenging. While most states now have laws prohibiting handheld devices while driving, many motorists still text or check social media on the road. As a result, deaths continue to rise.

Also, many people mistakenly believe that the larger their vehicle, the safer it is. For that reason and others, Americans buy more trucks and SUVs than cars. Still, that hasn’t helped reduce the number of deaths. According to the NHTSA, 16% more people died inside SUVs in 2021, 9.8% more people died in pickup trucks, and 15% more people died in vans.


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