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The U.S. is Opening Up - Are Drivers Ready?

More drivers on the road presents a greater opportunity for risks, especially distracted driving.

Many Americans have been locked down for the better part a year. Schools and businesses shifted to a virtual environment. Amusement parks, movie theaters, and indoor dining closed. Some of us had to change our daily commutes to work, how often we leave our homes, and how we travel to see our friends and family.

It’s been a difficult year for just about everyone, but things are improving, and businesses are starting to open back up.

With the opening of America also comes more vehicles on the roadway. This can present some challenges.

An estimated 28,190 people died in vehicle crashes in the U.S. during the first nine months of 2020, a 4.6% increase when compared to the same period in 2019, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Institute. 

Miles driven were down in 2020 vs. 2019 but the death rate per vehicle miles traveled jumped from 1.10 fatalities per 100 million miles to 1.35. This is the highest fatality rate recorded since 2007.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that about 10% of the fatalities from vehicle crashes are due to distracted driving – things like texting and driving, eating and drinking while driving, or any time someone’s attention is taken off the road. Judging by what I see as I look out the windshield, this estimate may be lower than reality, and it’s likely growing.

In the coming months, driving activity will likely increase. So too, will the risks we face on our roadways as motorists succumb to the temptation to use their cell phones, eat, drink, or even smoke, while driving. The consequences can be devastating, as Sam Hicks, a truck driver and single parent of two children, found out in February of 2018. That day Sam was driving his 18- wheeler when he received a text from his girlfriend to check out an apartment for rent. Sam took his eyes off the road for 8 seconds as he viewed pictures of the apartment on his phone. By the time he looked back up it was too late. Sam’s truck ran over a car stopped at a red light and the occupant of the car was killed. In just 8 seconds, Robert Bursik, a husband and father of 3 children, was dead and two families were devastated. 

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety has released a moving video about this tragedy. In it, Jaci Bursik, daughter of the victim, describes her emotions when she sees another motorist using a cell phone while driving. She wants to grab them and ask, “Do you have any idea what you are doing right now did to my family? Do you understand what you could do to someone else’s family?”

Consider Jaci’s question the next time you are tempted to reach for your phone while driving. If you are managing a fleet, share the story about Sam Hicks and remind your drivers about the consequences of distracted driving. Using a cell phone while driving is a choice. Let’s make the right choice.

Del Lisk, Lytx VP of Safety  Del Lisk, Vice President of Safety Services, Lytx