Distraction is a Major Threat on Houston Roads

by Terry Bryant

Last year, it seemed like the news couldn’t get any worse on our roads. The 8% increase in road fatalities in 2015 was the largest increase in 50 years. That was an alarming jump in traffic deaths — enough to prompt safety advocates to push for even more safety features on vehicles and launch safety awareness campaigns.

Unfortunately, the news gets worse. Now, we have the numbers from 2016, which reveal that traffic deaths jumped another 6%. That puts the number of traffic deaths over 40,000 for the first time since before the Great Recession. Road safety experts are still saying that much of that increase is related to an improving economy. More people have money in their pockets, so they tend to drive more.

But there is another concern on our roads, one that is prompting a justified wave of anxiety among drivers and safety advocates alike. Distracted driving is proving to be an incredible challenge. Studies indicate that many of us may not be taking the calls to put our phones away as seriously as we should.

We’re Getting Texts, but We Might Not Be Getting the Message

AAA released a survey that sheds new light on just how dire the problem really is. As reported in USA Today, the survey found that 88% of drivers 19 to 24 years old, admitted that, in just 30 days before being surveyed, they engaged in reckless driving practices, including texting while driving, running red lights, or speeding.

Young people have long been culprits of distracted driving, but the study shows that the distracted driving problem is likely much worse than we thought. As it turns out, distraction is prevalent across all age groups, even if it is not as acute as it is among millennials. For example, over 40% of all drivers admitted to reading a text or email while behind the wheel.

One of the biggest challenges we face is that people don’t view distraction with the gravity it deserves. Nearly 80% of drivers surveyed said that reading an email or text while driving was completely acceptable behavior.

Houston Should Be Especially Concerned About This Trend

Texas perennially tops the lists of traffic death statistics in the U.S. It’s likely no coincidence that we are also one of the few states that doesn’t have a complete ban on texting while driving. Some estimates say that distracted driving accounts for around 20% of Texas vehicle crashes.

In Houston, the problem is especially a concern in school zones. Though police can and do give citations to drivers who use their phones in school zones, a deputy with the Harris County Sheriff’s Department says that it doesn’t seem to stop drivers from using their mobile devices.

Texas lawmakers have tried and failed to pass a full ban several times, but some of those legislators believe that 2017 could be the year they finally make it happen. If we hope to stop the trend that we’ve seen over the past couple of years, something must be done. Cracking down on distracted driving will be central to our efforts.