Study: Highway Fatalities at Highest in a Decade Thanks to Smartphones

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There is now data to back up something you probably already suspected: Highway fatalities are at the highest level in nearly a decade, and the culprit is the smartphone.

According to the New York Times, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that highway deaths have spiked as much as 10 percent in the last year, bringing the annual death toll to its highest point since 2009. The story lays out very bluntly that both the NHTSA and major insurance providers think this spike in deaths is due to electronic distractions.

Yes, some of that is Twitter and Instagram use by younger folks — teens generally keeping their eyes on screens, not the road. But then there’s the apps like Waze that the rest of us use — with features that are intended for use while driving, helping you get to your destination faster while offering rewards for reporting traffic and accidents in real time. It might be giving you information that helps you drive, but is distracting nonetheless.

Part of the solution to these problems might be in the technology itself. For non-driving apps, the choice can be to save ourselves from our own bad habits by putting kill switches in the app. Take Pokemon Go, for example, which introduced features earlier this year to prevent people from playing the game above certain speeds, effectively prohibiting driver misuse.

For the apps that we use to help us drive, hands-free controls and voice activation can limit distractions. If your phone’s app requires you to type and scroll, you should look into new apps, or consider buying an independent GPS system that will talk and listen, screen-free. And if you’re buying a new car, make sure the telematics system — something that isn’t easily replaced — works for you, so that you pay more attention to the road.

Of course, no matter how many bells and whistles your car offers, the best strategy is just putting your phone away.