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Traffic Fatalities Continue Rising, Mostly Blamed on Cell Phone Use

Traffic fatalities are spiraling across the country. In the first quarter of this year, U.S. traffic deaths reached a high not seen since 2002. According to earlier estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, during that period traffic fatalities increased 7% compared to the year prior. An estimated 9,560 motorists died in accidents in the first quarter. This rise in traffic deaths is continuing a trend from 2021, which saw traffic fatalities reach a 16-year high.

In Iowa, traffic deaths increased 43.8% during Q1 2022 compared to the prior year. An estimated 69 motorists died. Since then the number of fatalities has continued to increase. As of September 30, 2022, there have been 255 fatalities in crashes on Iowa roads, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation report.

The Iowa Capital Dispatch says law enforcement officials believe the state’s difficult-to-enforce laws on distracted driving are playing a role. The latest NHTSA data reveals 3,142 people were killed by distracted driving in 2020. The DOT indicates distraction by an electronic device has been involved in up to 14 fatalities a year in Iowa between 2015 and 2020. Overall in 2020, almost 2% of all motor vehicle crashes in Iowa involved drivers distracted by a phone or other electronic device.

“We’re just trying to really drive down our fatality rate here in Iowa,” Ryan DeVault of the Iowa State Patrol told the Dispatch. “And honestly, the distracted driving statistics that anybody can look up, we in law enforcement believe that those are probably underreported.”

Thirty states, including D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands, prohibit all drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving. Current Iowa law bans texting and driving, but drivers over the age of 18 can make phone calls and use navigation systems. The Iowa Department of Public Safety supports hands-free driving legislation, which has stalled in Iowa for the past four legislative sessions. 

Using apps and practicing safe driving habits can break the cycle of cell phone use while driving. Put your phone in the glove box so you are not tempted to reach for it while you're driving. If you need to use your phone, stop the car at a safe place. If you use your phone for GPS, set it before driving and put on Do Not Disturb to silence notifications until you reach your destination. Last, but not least, set an example for others by following these safety habits when others are in your vehicle.

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