American Drivers: distracted, drunk and lousier than ever


When you look at any modern car the list of pieces of technology that are designed to keep us from killing ourselves is impressive and growing. Year after year car companies and government agencies work to include yet another piece of tech that will prevent humans from their own demise behind the wheel. And the result? For 2015 traffic deaths are on the rise by 9.3 percent. 

An estimated 26,000 people died in vehicle crashes in the first nine months of 2015, a 9.3 percent jump from a year earlier and the greatest number since 2008. This was measured from January-September of 2015 and is the largest increase since 2012 when the death rate went up by 5.3 percent according to a statement by the US National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA)

So is the cause the fact that we are driving the oldest average fleet of vehicles in history? Nope. It’s bad driving, plain and simple. Things like driving drunk, driving without wearing a seatbelt and, most of all, playing around with things that are not related to actually driving. You know, that smart phone. 

“We’re seeing red flags across the U.S. and we’re not waiting for the situation to develop further,” said Dr. Mark Rosekind, NHTSA Administrator. “It’s time to drive behavioral changes in traffic safety…” 


Ut oh, that means more regulations. Which means it’ll be more expensive to drive and much more expensive to buy a car. But there’s a very simple solution. Get caught using a smart phone while driving, get a $1000 fine and have your drivers’ license yanked for six months. That would certainly stop me. 

And I have to admit there are few who are worse offenders than I am. While I don’t text and drive (much) I do listen to podcasts a lot. In fact, listening to podcasts is such an obsession of mine I replaced the radio in my truck so that the new one had Bluetooth functionality so I could both listen to podcasts and talk on the telephone. 

Let’s also be honest about something - if you go buy a new vehicle it’s going to have a big screen on the dashboard (Tesla is the biggest offender here) which, for a tech junkie like myself, would be the equivalent of putting a meth lab in the back seat of an addict’s car. 

While the government is going to enact all sorts of well-meaning legislation about this, none of it is going to work. Or at least it won’t work long term. How do I know? Look up - we already have a 9.3 percent increase in deaths despite having the safest fleet of vehicles in history. 

What would work is enacting very severe punishment for using a phone or forcing the phone manufacturers to enact a speed block - essentially the phone would only provide specific limited functionality above a certain speed. This would literally be a few simple lines of code because the phone already knows where you are, who you are and how fast you’re going - remember it’s got a GPS inside of it. 

Another way of reducing traffic deaths is to work together as a country to further develop self-driving cars. Now I know every old car guy who reads this just decided to never come back to this site, but driving is unnecessarily dangerous because most people see it as a distraction to doing something else. Like using the phone. 

But let’s look at driving as pleasure because I actually love to drive. When I’m on vacation, I want to see the scenery but I have to focus on the road so I don’t leave it unexpectedly and interact with the scenery in an unpleasant manner. Self-driving technology would let me enjoy the surroundings and the person I’m with. 

Fortunately spewing this verbiage is my job but if I had to go to a place where I was forced to be an adult in exchange for a paycheck, driving to and from said place is pure drudgery so a self-driving car would allow me to get work done while going to work, or plan off-hours fun. 

Self-driving cars would result in significantly fewer traffic deaths and probably be more environmentally friendly as not all drivers are so wise with their use of the accelerator. It’s just a good solution. And a much better one than the government deciding to enact more restrictions and safety junk on cars that really don’t solve the problem anyway. 

I absolutely couldn’t care less about spending billions of government dollars to stare at far-distant planets that I’ll never go to - how about we work as a country to figure out this, which will positively affect all of our lives? When we all worked together in the 1960s some dudes got to walk around on the moon and bring rocks back and leave a car parked up there. Hey, the universe is our front yard and it’s our right to leave cars anywhere we want, darnit. 

There are 26,000 dead people who weren’t dead the year before and I bet most of them would agree with the idea that we should figure this out. Well, except the fact that they’re dead. While some are attributable to things like drunk driving or just bad driving even these would be reduced with self-driving cars. I really think it’s time that we put a collective energy into this technology. Because a car is a comfortable place to play with your phone. 

Interesting related story: Volvo targets 2020 model year when nobody is killed in one of its vehicles


Tony Barthel

Tony Barthel has been writing articles and blogs since 1996 with reviews of new cars, stories about old cars and the people who love them and finding the best car shows around for the Curbside car show calendar. He is also author of a book on event planning and public speaker on business and tourism marketing plus a YouTube creator of travel videos. Tony loves RVing and is the co-publisher of the StressLess Camping blog.