1-800-Car-Wreck examine the prevalence of automated driver-assistance systems and how they are affecting driver behavior
The Dallas Auto Accident Lawyers at 1800 Car Wreck are reporting on the 2015 motor vehicle accident report, which showed an increase in car accident fatalities, and newly-released statistics for the first six months of 2016, which show the trend continuing.
NHTSA 2015 Stats
This past summer, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released the 2015 motor vehicle statistics, which showed that 35,092 people were killed in car wrecks in 2015, a 7.2-percent increase that was also the largest percentage increase in 50 years.
More troubling, fatalities in nearly every type of vehicle on the road increased across the board.
For example, the number of car accident deaths in SUVs increased by 382, which was 10.1 percent higher than in 2014, and the number of people killed in van accidents increased by 95, a 9.3-percent increase from 2014.
Passenger car deaths also increased, with 681 fatalities, 5.7-percent higher than in 2014, and the number of pickup truck fatalities increased by 200, a 4.7-percent increase.
But the news was even grim for motorcyclists, as those types of fatalities increased by 382, which was not only an 8.3-percent increase, but was the largest spike since 2012.
Pedestrian deaths as a result of motor vehicle accident also increased by 9.5 percent from 2014, and were the highest since 1996.
The 2015 statistics were troubling for several reasons, but especially because car accident fatalities had been trending down over the past decade.
As an example, there were more than 42,000 deaths caused by car accidents in 2006, but an emphasis on auto-safety methods, including a focus on seat belt use, and nationwide programs regarding the dangers of driving under the influence, had helped to lower accident fatalities.
Furthermore, an improvement in auto technology, such as the development of electronic stability control (ESC) in SUVs, has also helped to lower the incidences of rollover accidents that were a big problem in the early part of the decade.
“The 2015 motor vehicle statistics were troubling, there’s no other word for it,” stated Dallas car wreck attorney Amy Witherite, partner at the personal injury law firm of Eberstein Witherite, LLP, which serves Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Texarkana, Lubbock and El Paso. “First, you can’t deny that the percentage increase in fatalities doesn’t concern you, because we are all drivers on the road, and one mistake can mean involvement in a car accident. Second, you have to look at the fact that the upward trend in car accident deaths is really across the board. There is no safe haven that you can point to and say, ‘ok we have some success here,’ so I think that is something to pay attention to in the future. Third, we have to look at the causes. What is behind this increase in fatalities? Is it more impaired driving? Failure to wear safety belts? Distracted driving? Trends happen for a reason, and the challenge now is to understand the biggest factors contributing to this increase.”
2016 On Track To Be Even Worse
Witherite’s concern is confirmed by the NHTA’s release of the estimated number of car accidents in the first six months of 2016.
The statistics showed that there were 17,775 fatalities from January 2016 to June 2016, a 10.4 percent increase from that same period in 2015.
What’s even scarier than the huge percentage increase in fatalities is the fact that the second half of 2016 is expected to trend even higher in terms of car accidents, as those statistics will include the summer driving season and the holiday driving season, in which there are a much greater number of vehicles on the road.
In fact, the NHTSA estimates that the number of fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel will rise in 2016, an indication that a spike in vehicles on the road is a contributing factor to the number of accidents.
New Technology In Vehicles An Issue?
But another factor that may be overlooked is the prevalence of social media apps and new technology that allow motorists to do a variety of things as they are driving.
For example, Snapchat has a feature that lets drivers post pictures that show how fast a vehicle is traveling.
A navigation app named Waze even has a reward system for motorists who post locations of traffic congestion and car wrecks.
And Bluetooth systems have also undergone upgrades, with many now offering drivers the opportunity for hands-free phone communication.
High-end luxury cars have raised the stakes by offering options such as a digital windshield display that shows drivers their speed, the speed limit in the area where they are driving and other navigation information such as local maps and directions.
As mobile phones have become the most used form of communication in the world, auto safety experts have been alarmed by the incidences of driver inattention directly related to drivers talking on cell phones, texting or even posting images on social media sites.
But rather than solving the issue of distracted driving, some auto safety experts believe that the ubiquity of these new technologies may actually be taking the focus of drivers off the road and contributing to the surge in car accidents.
Deborah Hersman, President of the National Safety Council (NSC), and the former head of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), said that the new technologies in many cars that are intended to prevent distraction are actually encouraging drivers to focus on the technology instead of on the road.
Hersman believes that while a hands-free system may allow a driver’s hands to stay on the wheel, it doesn’t guarantee that the driver isn’t mentally distracted.
“It’s the cognitive workload on your brain that’s the problem,” Hersman stated.
In fact, Brett Hudson, a teacher in Michigan who was interviewed by the New York Times about this issue said that he uses a Bluetooth system for his mobile phone.
However, he admits that distraction is sometimes a problem.
“I’ve noticed that when I do have to touch the phone, my brain becomes so totally focused, even in that short period of time, and I don’t really remember what’s happening on the road in those four or five seconds,” he stated.
Distracted Brain Creates Issues On the Road
Under Hersman’s guidance, the NSC released a study that explained how the brain functions when it is faced with accomplishing more than one task at the same time.
The major takeaway from that report was that hands-free devices are not effective at lowering distraction, because distraction is not just about the physical act of holding a phone or gripping a steering wheel, it is mostly about how the brain reacts to multiple tasks.
The report found that the human brain is forced to toggle between multiple tasks that are occurring at the same time, which often means that reaction time related to each task is slowed.
For example, if a driver is staring at navigational information that is displayed on a vehicle’s windshield, and trying to focus on the road at the same time, the brain doesn’t perform both of these tasks simultaneously, according to the NSC study.
Instead, the brain switches back and forth between the two tasks, which slows reaction time when a third task is introduced.
So in that same example, the driver who is staring at the navigational information on the windshield and trying to focus on road traffic may not react in time when a car suddenly swerves into his or her lane, resulting in a car accident.
“The NSC study was very revealing,” added Witherite. “What it said was that distraction is primarily about how much information the brain can process and react to before a glitch occurs. We use the world ‘multitask’ so much in our daily communication, but there’s growing evidence that the brain can’t do two or more things with equal focus and attention. So that means even with all this technology designed to reduce driver distraction, motorists still have to perform cognitive tasks that can be just as dangerous when they are on the road.”
The surging number of car accidents hasn’t gone unnoticed, and the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has responded by promising to push states to enforce safety belt laws, and tightening regulations for driving while impaired.
The USDOT has also promised to help speed up the development of fully autonomous vehicles that would not require any human intervention to safely navigate on the road.
That may be years away, as recent car wrecks in driver-assisted vehicles such as the Tesla that has the Autopilot feature, has cast doubts about the whether a fully self-driving car can ever be completely safe.
Car Accidents Are Here To Stay
While the government is initiating a campaign to end all car accident fatalities within 30 years, the reality is that car wrecks are happening every day, and victims of those accidents need the help of an experienced personal injury lawyer.
There are so many big and little things that need to be handled after a car accident, and if you have suffered injuries in a wreck, it’s extremely difficult for you to know what to do when your mind is still recovering from the trauma.
If you have been in a car accident, please call 1-800-Car-Wreck, and speak to one of the Dallas car accident lawyers at Eberstein Witherite. We have spent decades helping people like you find peace of mind and heal in mind and body after a traumatic wreck. Call us today or complete the online form, and someone from our team will contact you for a free consultation.
Eberstein & Witherite, LLP
Email: [email protected]