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Experts identify new foe in the fight against distracted driving

When the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released its annual highway fatality numbers last year, many were anticipating another year of declining figures consistent with a trend that has endured for roughly four decades. What they received, however, was a rather sobering wake-up call about the current state of road safety here in the U.S.

These NHTSA figures revealed that 2015’s highway deaths constituted the single biggest annual percentage increase in 50 years. Furthermore, in case anyone was tempted to dismiss these numbers as a statistical anomaly, consider that preliminary figures for 2016 have painted an even worse picture, with the first six months of 2016 seeing a 10.4 percent increase from the same time last year.

These startling figures naturally raise the question as to what’s behind this spike in motor vehicle fatalities.

According to many safety experts, while the familiar foes of talking and texting while driving are playing a role, so too are ubiquitous phone apps like Waze, Pokemon Go and, of course, Snapchat, with drivers — especially teens — misusing them behind the wheel.

Another potential cause, say experts, is the proliferation of in-car WiFi and computerized in-vehicle systems found in most new vehicles that enable connectivity with a smartphone.

For their part, automakers claim that the ability of these systems to make phone calls, dictate texts and even access apps via voice command (and/or simplified menus) enables motorists to keep their hands and their eyes on the road.

Safety experts aren’t entirely sure, however, theorizing that this technology is actually doing very little to address the problem of distracted driving, as even though the motorist’s eyes and hands might be free, their mind is nevertheless occupied with everything but driving.

“It’s the cognitive workload on your brain that’s the problem,” said the president of the National Safety Council.

While many, including the U.S. Department of Transportation, are touting the development of autonomous driving technology as a panacea for the danger posed by distracted drivers, experts caution that the technology still has a long way to go and that drivers today could be lulled into a false sense of security.

It’s safe to say that things like in-car WiFi and computerized systems aren’t going away anytime soon. As such, we can only hope that the development of truly self-driving technology is developed sooner than later and, more significantly, that many motorists start showing some common sense.

If you’ve been seriously injured or lost a loved one in a car accident caused by a distracted driver, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional to learn more about your options for seeking justice.

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