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What is the cause of the most traffic fatalities—speeding, cell phones or drinking?

LastGary Jaffarian presents the research on the top 5 causes of traffic fatalities. You may be surprised at the findings..

If I had to guess without reviewing all the research, I would guess that the top causes of traffic fatalities are due to cell phone use and drinking. No matter the primary causes, it is very unfortunate to learn that 2016 was the deadliest year on the roads in the past decade, according to the National Safety Council (NSC). Approximately 40,200 people died in motor vehicle crashes last year, a 6% rise from 2015 and 14% increase since 2014—making it the deadliest year on the road since 2007. Over 40,000 lives lost on the road – that is a horrible statistic.

While both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the NSC both paint a dismal picture, the two organizations calculate traffic death rates differently. NSC uses data from the National Center for Health Statistics, an arm of the

speeding accident

Speeding accidents are among the most deadly.

Centers for Disease Control. It counts both traffic and non-traffic deaths that occur within a year of the accident, while NHTSA counts only traffic deaths that occur within 30 days. NSC’s data also counts crashes on both public and private roadways such as parking lots and driveways.


Early in 2017, the NSC conducted an independent survey that shows the kinds of high-risk activities drivers are doing while on the road. The survey asked more than 2,000 people who drive at least 15 minutes on a typical weekday a series of questions about driver safety and actions taken while behind the wheel.

The survey shows drivers are concerned about safety and 83% of respondents said driving is a safety concern. But that hasn’t stopped many of them from speeding, texting, or driving while impaired by alcohol, prescription medication, or marijuana. A startling number of those surveyed said they are comfortable speeding (64%), texting either manually or through voice controls (47%), driving while impaired by marijuana (13%), or driving after they feel they’ve had too much alcohol (10%). Ironic, isn’t it?

While seat belt use has increased and air bags and other technologies have helped save accident victims, the rate is still increasing. Here are the facts by cause:

• Alcohol-impaired driving fatalities accounted for 29% of the total vehicle traffic walking linefatalities in 2015, a whopping 65% decrease since 1982 and a 49% decrease since 1991. Among persons under 21, drunk driving fatalities have decreased 80%.

• Teens continue to have the highest number of traffic fatalities, mainly because of their addiction to cell phones and other electronic devices, according to Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association.SPeeding arrest by age

• The Governors Highway Safety Association also points to data suggesting an increase in distracted driving. While cars and phones now offer advanced voice controls and other features intended to keep drivers’ eyes on the road, apps like Facebook, Google Maps, Snapchat and others have created new temptations that drivers and passengers find hard to resist. “It’s not just talking on the phone that’s a problem today,” said Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association. “You now have all these other apps that people can use on their phones.” Distracted driving affects drivers of all ages.

• The National Safety Council is calling for all states to ban hand-held cell phones. N.H. is one of those states, Massachusetts is not. Ideally, they would like to extend laws banning all cell phone use – including hands-free – to all drivers, not just teens; upgrade texting while drvingenforcement from secondary to primary in states with existing bans, meaning you can be stopped for that reason only.

• Of all traffic accidents, not just fatalities, 23% are caused by cell phone use or texting, whereby eyes are off the road for at least 5 seconds. That mean 1 of every four accidents is caused by cell phone use and the number of functions that take eyes off the road using smart phones. The National Safety Council believes the number is severely under-reported, however, they believe cell phones are responsible for 52% of all fatalities.

• Depending on the year, speeding related fatalities have accounted for 30-32% of all accidents. The charts clearly show males overwhelming speed more than females and the younger the age, the higher the rate of speeding. Most of the accidents caused by speeding are attributed to males 16-25. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), drivers ages 16-19 are three times more likely to crash than drivers over 20, due to risky behaviors including speeding, cell phone use and texting.

• Illicit drug use is more difficult to count than alcohol because of a lack of testing or measurement for drug use. However, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported 1 in 3 drivers killed in car crashes tested positive for drugs.

• However, 43% of drivers tested in fatal crashes in 2015 had used a prescription or illegal drug, more than the 37 percent who tested above the legal limit for alcohol, according to a report by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, therefore making it hard to know exactly but somewhere in the 33-43% range.

• While drowsy driving statistics are also hard to measure and unreliable from admissions point, especially in fatal accidents, the statistics of driving while drowsy are driving drowsyextremely high as Americans have more stress and less quality sleep. The NHTSA believes that 1550 deaths are caused each year by drowsy drivers.

There you have it—drinking, distracted drivers (using cell phones or other devices), drug use, drowsy drivers and speeding are the main causes of accidents. Unlike weather conditions, these are all controllable factors—and in some ways—you could say not accidents, but choices made by drivers before or during getting behind the wheel. Because of the way the statistics are captured, it is still difficult to rank exactly causes, but most statistics point to the causes in this order:
#1 Distracted drivers including cell phones, texting and other electronic device usage
#2 Drug and prescription drug use
#3 Drunk driving
#4 Speeding
#5 Drowsy driving.

And last but not least…according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety….

State With The Lowest Death Rate – Massachusetts  0.6 per thousand!

Please drive safely and don’t become one of these statistics.

Ask Gary Jaffarian




Gary Jaffarian

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