Drivers who were distracted by talking or texting on cellphones killed approximately 16,000 people between 2001 and 2007 according to an scientists at the University of North Texas Health Science Center.
To make their estimate, Fernando Wilson and Jim Stimpson compiled data on deaths attributed to distracted driving from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. For ancillary analyses, they also used FCC data concerning cell phone ownership and text messaging volume.
The scientists found that in 2002, Americans sent about 1 million text messages per month. By 2008, this figure had exploded to 110 million per month. “Our results suggest that recent and rapid increases in texting volumes have resulted in thousands of additional road fatalities in the United States,” they wrote in the American Journal of Public Health.
The shocking statistic comes at a time when overall traffic fatalities are actually down in the US. In fact according to the Transportation Department, the number of traffic fatalities in 2009 (33,963) was lower than at any time since the mid-1950s.
“Distracted deaths as a share of all road fatalities increased from 10.9% to 15.8% from 1999 to 2008, and much of the increase occurred after 2005,” wrote the scientists. “In 2008, approximately 1 in 6 fatal vehicle collisions resulted from a driver being distracted while driving.”
Numerous studies have shown that talking on a cell phone distracts drivers, even if they use a hands-free set-up. Of course, texting, emailing and other smartphone applications provide an even greater distraction since users must take their eyes off the road in order to carry out those functions.
Approximately 30 states have made it illegal to text message while driving. In other jurisdictions, hands-free devices are required for drivers who use cellphones.