On the eve of the 2010 Distracted Driving Summit, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Monday released statistics for fatal distracted driving-related crashes, which dropped 6 percent last year from 2008.
But LaHood reminded Americans that they shouldn’t be complacent about the issue, since these senseless deaths could have been avoided. And he also believes the numbers are under-reported.
Distracted driving-related crashes claimed 5,474 lives in 2009 versus 5,838 deaths in 2008, according to the Transportation Department. And distraction-related fatalities represented 16 percent of overall traffic fatalities in 2009 – the same percentage as in 2008, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) research.
LaHood chose to unveil the latest statistics in a Sunday op-ed for the Orlando Sentinel. But he stressed that researchers believe the epidemic of distracted driving is likely far greater than currently known. Police reports in many states still do not routinely document whether distraction was a factor in vehicle crashes, making it more difficult to know the full extent of the problem.
“These numbers show that distracted driving remains an epidemic inAmerica, and they are just the tip of the iceberg,” LaHood said. “Tomorrow, I’m convening our second Distracted Driving Summit in the hopes that we can continue to draw attention to the dangers of distracted driving and work together to save lives.”
The NHTSA study found that the proportion of fatalities associated with driver distraction increased from 10 percent to 16 percent between 2005 and 2009. That news came as overall traffic fatalities fell in 2009 to their lowest levels since 1950.
According to NHTSA data, the age group with the greatest proportion of distracted drivers was the under-20 age group. Sixteen percent of all under-20 drivers involved in a fatal crash were reported to have been distracted while driving. Of those drivers involved in fatal crashes who were reportedly distracted, the 30-39 year old group had the highest proportion of cellphone involvement.
Tuesday LaHood convened his summit in Washington. Transportation officials, safety advocates, law enforcement, industry representatives, researchers and the family members of victims of distraction-related crashes will come together to address challenges and identify opportunities for national anti-distracted driving efforts.
U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Sen. Jay Rockefeller and Sen. Amy Klobuchar were also set to speak at the summit.
The summit can be viewed on a live webcast will air on www.distraction.gov.