Distracted drivers cause 3,166 deaths in 2017

Joseph Schulz, Regional Editor

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Distracted driving accounted for 9% of fatal crashes and 3,166 deaths in 2017, according to a joint study between the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

According to the study, 6% of drivers involved in fatal car accidents were distracted, while the age range with the largest percentage of drivers involved in fatal crashes as a result of distracted driving was 15 to 19-year-olds, with 8%.

In 2017, cell phone activity accounted for 14% of all distraction-affected fatal crashes, and of those crashes 434 people died, the study said.

According to a DOT and NHTSA study on driver electronic device use, 3.9% of 16-to-24-year-old drivers visibly use a handheld device while driving, whereas only 1.9% of 25-to-69-year-old drivers visibly use a handheld device.

While 16-to-24 year-olds are the age group with the most electronic device use while driving, Anderson Merchandisers LLC employee Amanda Heyn said she travels across Wisconsin providing merchandise for local retailers and sees distracted drivers of all ages.

“Every single day, [I] have people swerving slowly into my lane before jerking back into theirs while checking out their phone, going past me over 70 mph on the highway in any direction,” Heyn said.

UW Oshkosh junior Ishani Sharma works at Jimmy John’s as a delivery driver and said that she sees distracted drivers every single shift.

“One time I was about to start driving when the light turned green and a distracted driver just blew a red light long after it was red,” Sharma said. “They weren’t even speeding; they were just so distracted they didn’t even know their light was red.”

Distracted driving isn’t a new phenomenon, and it isn’t limited to cell phone use. The NHTSA defines distracted driving as “any activity that diverts attention from driving” including eating, changing radio stations or adjusting routes on a GPS.

UWO sophomore Austin Lee said he believes people don’t fully understand the risks associated with texting and driving.

“People die on a daily basis due to distractions,” Lee said. “Today, people are on their phones while driving more times than not.”

Lee said one of his best friends was involved in a close call when driving distracted on the highway during a snowstorm.

“He was snapchatting and obviously wasn’t paying attention,” Lee said. “He ended up swerving slightly, but the snow caused his car to completely turn around into oncoming traffic.”

Lee said luckily his friend wasn’t injured, but not all distracted drivers are quite as lucky.

UWO senior Landen Moore was in fifth grade when a distracted driver hit his family on their way home from church.

“The lady that hit us pretty much came into our lane and hit us head-on,” Moore said.

Moore said there was a full investigation into the crash, and several months later it was discovered that the driver who hit their car was texting while driving.

“My parents had a few broken bones; I had some chest pains but nothing serious,” Moore said. “The lady that hit us did die.”

Moore said there was a snow plow behind his family’s vehicle, and when their car was hit they went into the ditch.

“The snow plow, the blade in front of it went right into the front of her car, and that’s what did it,” Moore said. “She was killed on impact, and the scary thing is if our van hadn’t turned the way it did, that plow would’ve gone right into where I was sitting.”

Moore said that incident motivates him to stay off his phone when driving. He doesn’t text, play music off his phone or opts to use the radio.

“I put my favorite station on, and I go that route,” Moore said. “I never look at my phone when driving.”