Are Phone Apps Behind Big Spike in Highway Deaths?

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Experts say the biggest surge in highway deaths in 50 years is due to app-using distracted drivers.

More people are dying on America’s roadways, and highway safety experts say smartphones are to blame.

After steadily falling for decades, highway fatalities are on the rise, according to The New York Times. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the number of people killed on America’s highways shot up by 7.2 percent from 2014 to 2015 — the biggest increase in more than half a century.

And it’s worse this year. Traffic fatalities spiked 10.4 percent during the first six months of 2016 compared with the same period last year.

“This is a crisis that needs to be addressed now,” Mark R. Rosekind, head of the NHTSA, tells the Times.

Distracted driving due to car Wi-Fi and smartphone app use is being blamed for the increase in deaths.

It’s not as if apps discourage motorists from using them while driving. For example, the Snapchat messaging app allows drivers to post photos that record their driving speed. Waze, a navigation app, rewards motorists with points when they report things like traffic jams or car accidents.

Janet Brooking, executive director of DRIVE SMART Virginia, tells TV station WTVR in Richmond that texting or using smartphone apps while driving is never a good idea.

“It’s just causing crashes. … We have safer cars than ever, we have safer roadways than ever, but our injuries and fatalities are generally increasing, so there’s a problem here and it’s the driver.”

Many newer vehicles have Bluetooth-enabled software installed that allows drivers to dictate texts, make phone calls and use some apps hands-free. But it’s not yet clear if that kind of technology is reducing distracted driving or encouraging it, since free hands don’t necessarily mean clear heads. The Times says:

[N]ew cars make up only a small portion of the 260 million vehicles on the road in the United States. Digital diversion is harder to address in older models.

For more on this topic, check out “A Device That Will Allow You to Text and Drive Safely?”

Do you use your phone while driving? Sound off below or on our Facebook page.

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