A Public Health Crisis: Distracted Driving

Michael Bloomberg recently published an important piece on vehicle safety in the Detroit Free Press. He points out that low- and middle-income countries account for 90 percent of crash fatalities, many of which could be saved with standard safety features. Bloomberg appropriately dubs the issue a ‘major public health crisis’ and emphasizes the fact that it has not received the attention that it deserves.


Significantly, he argues that were car crashes an infectious disease, they would be receiving far more attention than they are currently garnering.


That is a very important point, and one that applies to car crashes in developed countries as well developing ones. It has been taken for granted for years that car crash fatalities would fall year over year in the United States and for many years that was indeed the trajectory. Yet that was reversed in 2016: it was the deadliest year on the roads in more than a decade, with more than 40,000 deaths according to the National Safety Council.


In comparison to many public health crises, however, that news was significantly underreported. And many avenues for addressing the increase in fatalities are going unexplored.


One of the main culprits for the increase in fatalities is something that likely everyone with a phone in their pocket can guess: distracted driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA): “Ten percent of fatal crashes, 15 percent of injury crashes, and 14 percent of all police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2015 were reported as distraction-affected crashes.” And those numbers are very low as compared to the reality on the roads.


The need for new approaches to reduce distracted driving is critical. One of the companies that we work with here at Scoville, TrueMotion, has collected fascinating—and scary—statistics on the topic. A lot of folks seem to be aware of that distracted driving exists, but they don’t think that it applies to them. So we exist in this limbo of quasi-awareness, and, meanwhile, the number of distracted driving fatalities continues to increase.


TrueMotion is doing its best to nip that trend in the bud. Their app tracks your time distracted behind the wheel, so you can’t just point the fingers at the driving habits of others. And with their UBI program, they add an economic incentive for you to avoid distractions while driving.


We are very much in need of new approaches to reduce distracted driving in countries across the globe—creative ones like the ones that TrueMotion offers. A significant part of adopting those new approaches, however, is universal awareness of the issue. Echoing Michael Bloomberg, is important that we start treating car crashes as a public health crisis. We need to make some noise and garner enough attention so that lives can be saved.