Drivers urged to put phones down amid Distracted Driving Awareness Month in April

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April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and safety advocates are urging drivers to avoid texting and cellphone use while behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2021 there were 3,522 people killed in traffic crashes involving a distracted driver — an average of 10 people killed each day.

That same year, an estimated 362,415 people were injured in distracted driving crashes. In California alone, 828 people have died in distracted driving crashes since the start of 2021. Even with those high numbers, according to AAA, distraction-related crash fatalities and injuries are underreported because the behavior is difficult to detect during crash investigations, and police reports often understate the number of incidents.

“Distracted driving comes in many forms, but texting and cell phone use while driving has become the most common type of distracted driving,” said Greg Backley, president and CEO of the Auto Club. “It is never safe to use a smartphone to text, check email, program GPS, post on social media or take photos and videos while your vehicle is in motion.”

US traffic deaths fell 3.6% in 2023, but nearly 41,000 people died

U.S. traffic deaths fell 3.6% last year, but still, almost 41,000 people were killed on the nation’s roadways, according to full-year estimates by safety regulators.

Authorities have said that even with a decline, the number of deaths is still too high. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Deputy Administrator Sophie Shulman blamed the problem in part on distracted driving. In 2022, an estimated 3,308 people were killed in crashes that involved distracted drivers, while 289,310 were injured.

Almost 20% of people killed in distracted driving crashes were people outside of vehicles including pedestrians, bicyclists and others, she said.

“Distracted driving is extremely dangerous,” she said while kicking off a rebranded campaign against it called “Put the Phone Away or Pay.” The agency will start an advertising campaign this month, and law enforcement officers will crack down on the behavior in a campaign from April 4 to 8.

Traffic deaths spiked in 2021 with a 10.5% increase over 2020 as people started driving more as the COVID-19 pandemic started to ease. That was the highest number since 2005 and the largest percentage increase since 1975.

At the time, authorities blamed the increase on speeding and more reckless behavior, as well as distracted driving.

Part of the increase in crash deaths then was due to people driving more as the coronavirus pandemic waned. NHTSA reported that the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled increased 2.2% to 1.37 in 2021.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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