April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. For the first two weeks of April, police departments across the United States will be adding patrols to catch more distracted drivers. Why? Pedestrian deaths in the U.S. spiked to nearly 6,000 in 2016, and research from the Sam Schwartz Transportation Consultants claims that distracted driving is the likely reason for the increase in deaths. The number of miles walked and driven has gone up, but not enough to account for the dramatic rise in deaths.
The jump in pedestrian deaths from 2015 to 2016 was the largest annual increase—both by percent and numbers—in the 40 years that the national statistics have been kept. The second biggest increase was between 2014 and 2015. In 2015, out of 568 Washington state road deaths, 171 (a little over 30%) of them were at the hands of a distracted driver.
In Washington, you can’t text or hold your phone up to your ear while you drive. However, the law currently doesn’t stop anyone from writing a Facebook message, sending a Snapchat, or even FaceTiming Grandma while they’re behind the wheel. The Electronics-DUI Act, currently being considered by our state legislature, would make it illegal to operate a phone with more than one finger while driving in the state of Washington.
Studies show that driver reaction times when texting and driving are comparable to reaction times for someone driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.19, which is more than twice the state’s legal limit of 0.08.
Just last Wednesday, a pickup truck in Texas swerved into a bus and killed 13 people returning from a retreat. Two witnesses had noticed the pickup truck zig zagging, and worried that the driver might harm people, so they called the police. Tragically, the truck struck the bus before any police arrived. The only two to survive the crash were the truck driver, and a bus passenger who was in critical condition as of Thursday night. Why does any of this matter? The driver of the pickup admitted to texting just before the crash. Equally disturbing is that texting while driving remains legal in Texas.
Ken Selander is a plaintiff’s personal injury attorney in Seattle who handles cases involving drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians who have been harmed due to careless and distracted drivers. Ken has visited local high schools in conjunction with the Casey Feldman Memorial Foundation to teach teens about distracted driving. He is available to speak at your school upon request.