TRAFFIC

Rise in traffic deaths comes as U.S. drivers face more distractions than ever

Dec 12, 2023, 2:09 PM

Cars drive through the I-15 and I-215 interchange -- traffic deaths in the u.s. have seen an increa...

FILE: Cars drive through the I-15 and I-215 interchange in Murray on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. (Spenser Heaps/Deseret News)

(Spenser Heaps/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Traffic deaths have leveled off in the U.S. since a spike in 2020 says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but the number of driver distractions continues to pose a threat.

It’s a problem unique to the United States said Jason Mettmann, communications manager with Utah Highway Safety.

“We are a car-centric society. And there are lots of other nations around the world that are older than ours and designed differently than ours that are not as car-focused,” he said.

There are also more cars on the roads.

Smartphones, smart cars, and distractions

Some experts think smartphones and smarter cars have impacted driving behavior, causing drivers to be careless.

Most of the cars in the U.S. are also automatic, freeing up a hand to do something other than shift a gear.

Mettmann said anything that causes a distraction can be dangerous, including certain safety features.

“If automakers have designed that to be a feature in their vehicles, I would urge drivers to consider whether or not they personally are distracted from the task of driving when they’re using that (safety) feature and that technology.”

He said more distractions are likely, as technology advances.

Safety officials laud one piece of safety technology

Mettmann said there would be many more deaths if the invention of the seatbelt hadn’t change the game.

“For the last 40 years, automakers and safety advocates and transportation departments and law enforcement officials, we’ve all been pushing the concept of making sure that you buckle up whenever you get into the vehicle, he said.

“It’s an easy, two-second behavior that absolutely saves lives.”

Along with limiting distractions and using seatbelts, better roads, stricter laws and advanced safety technology can also contribute to fewer deaths on U.S. roads.

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Rise in traffic deaths comes as U.S. drivers face more distractions than ever