According to official statistics, about 3,000 road users die each year in New York and around the country in motor vehicle accidents caused by distracted drivers. That is approximately 8% of all road deaths in the United States. Many experts believe the true distracted driving death toll is much higher because distraction is hard for accident investigators to identify. The National Distracted Driving Coalition believes that between 25% and 30% of traffic accident fatalities are distraction-related.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which is a member of the NDDC, recently polled 2,000 American drivers about cellphone use, and the results of the survey suggest that pleas to avoid distraction from loved ones could help to solve the problem. Most of the drivers surveyed admitted to using their phones almost every time they got behind the wheel, but they also said that they would take steps to curtail this behavior if they were reminded of the dangers of distraction by somebody who they cared about.
This suggests that public information campaigns similar to those run to discourage drunk driving could do more to tackle driver distraction than rigorous law enforcement and stiff fines. Cellphone companies include features on their devices that prevent calls and notifications from getting through in a motor vehicle, but few consumers use them. When Apple introduced an opt-in feature that disables phones to prevent motor vehicle accidents, only one in five iPhone owners activated it. Instead, drivers use their phones to do far more than make calls and send text messages. When Travelers Insurance surveyed its policy holders about cellphone use in 2022, 19% of them said they use the devices to shop online while behind the wheel.
Surveys like these reveal that drivers are aware of the dangers of distracted driving but choose to ignore them. This is the same kind of cognitive dissonance that leads drivers to get behind the wheel after drinking. Harsh DWI penalties and media campaigns about the consequences of drunk driving and the toll it takes on society have made the roads safer in recent years, and a similar approach could reduce the annual distracted driving death toll.