41% OF ROAD ACCIDENTS DUE TO DISTRACTED DRIVING: TRENDS, COVID EFFECT AND FUTURE OUTLOOK
Mortality rate tripled among teenagers
Every year, in the world, the main road safety agencies record a high number of deaths caused by distracted driving. The victims are often the drivers who, distracted by the smartphone, lose sight of the road and the signs.
Not seldom – and even more tragically – passersby and bike riders are part of this unfortunate statistics too. These two latter categories have always been the weak side of road safety. Too often they risk to get on the news for no fault of their own or due to distractions by their portable devices and headphones. Finally, we also find young people, definitely the category most at risk from the (often deadly) effects of distracted driving.
A FEW NUMBERS
Whatever is the cause of each individual case, we cannot ignore the statistically high numbers. Just considering the United States, in 2018 the GHSA – the Governors Highway Safety Association – recorded 2,841 victimsof distracted driving, while in 2019 they were 3,142, a 10% growth. In this case, we’re talking about numbers exclusively related to highways, not to all the country’s road network.
In 2017, instead, the IIHS – the Insurance Istitute for Highway Security – reported that on a total of 37,000 road victims in all of the United States, 800 cases of deceased drivers were directly related tothe use of smartphones while driving. According to IHS’s estimates, the risk of mortality due to distraction by smartphones is 66% higher.
In the same statistics, however, we could also notice a greater public awareness for this topic in 2018 compared to same samples analyzed in 2014.
YOUNG PEOPLE IN THE USA
Unfortunately, we had to reserve a paragraph for the age group from 16 to 19 years old. The numbers are clear.
Distracted drivingis the main cause of more than 58% of accidents among adolescents and drivers younger than 20 – less experienced drivers – alone cause 16% of all the accidents caused by distracted driving.
The rate of deadly incidents per driven mile for kids between 16 and 19 years oldis threefold compared to the rate of deadly accidents in drivers older then 20. In 2018, deaths in teen drivers recorded a peak among 18:00 and 21:00 and caused the loss of 434 young victims. Of these, 351 were 16 and 17-year-old adolescents who consumed alcohol before driving.
EUROPE AND ITALY
As for Europe, and Italy in particular, we can start from 2018: after the infamous incident on the A1 highway at Borgo Panigale (Bologna), likely caused by a moment of distraction, Alessio Nisi told AGI – the Italian Journalist Agency – how awareness on distracted driving was an increasingly relevant topic in road safety. According to the yearly ACI-ISTAT report of 2018, between 2016 and 2017 the number of road victims increased by almost 3%, close to 3,400 yearly victims. Always according to an ACI report of 2016, the agency supposed that, in Italy, 3 incidents on 4 were caused by distracted drivers.
Through the years, companies and agencies tested and developed several tools to solve the “distracted driving” issue with mobile apps available on Android and iOS and the introduction of safety settings through firmware updates developed by the device manufacturers to limit the distractions caused by tech devices while driving.
In September 2019, insurance firm Linear Unipol shared the Italian statistics reported in the usual, joint report by ACI and ISTAT. In 2018, as we can read in the report, almost 41% of road incidents was caused by distracted driving, failing to yield the right of way and speeding. The number of deaths on Italian roads was substantially the same compared to the previous year, but highway deaths increased. The report, then, ends with an unfortunateconclusion: given the European goal to halve the number of victims in the 2010-2020 decade, the recorded fall of road deaths between 2010 and 2018 was only 2.6%, a too little drop.
2020: THE COVID19 EFFECT
So, we get to the last two years we available data about: 2019 and 2020. 2020, the year of pandemic and of total lockdowns limited traffic and road circulation. As expected, this recorded a substantial drop in road incidents.
Let’s focus on 2019: it started with a higher reduction of road deaths compared to the previous year, a -4,8% y.o.y., a definitely encouraging datum. Distractions, failing to yield the right of way and speeding were still the main causes for the 38% of the analyzed samples, with a little drop compared to 2018. In 2019, according to ISTAT’s data, the age group with the most victims due to road incidents is that of the elderly between 75 and 89.
Going back to 2020, between January and September we could already notice the impact of the Covid19 restrictions and the consequent reduction of vehicles in circulation and thus of road deaths. We’re talking about a drop of more than 26% compared to the same period in 2019, a substantial difference. Especially, the reduction of incidents was 72% in March and 85% in April during the hard lockdown. In county towns, incidents and deaths dropped more than 70% in March and 80% in April.
PRESENT DAY AND NEAR FUTURE
We’ll see how the topic will evolve in 2021. It depends on whether the technological capabilities of new generation vehicles - with increasingly adopted and functional ADAS, the design of specific UX and software programs in mobile devices and the definite entry of artificial intelligence and voice commands in the on-board infotainment – will bring to substantial improvements in the yearly statistics, as hoped by the ruling authorities.
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