Gridlock Guy: Distracted driving cause of traffic fatality increase

Gridlock updatesMark Arum’s column appears Mondays. Listen to his traffic reports daily on News 95.5 and AM750 WSB, and see him each morning on Channel 2 Action News. Connect with Mark on Twitter: @markarum.

From 2006 to 2014 we saw a year-to-year decline in traffic fatalities in the state of Georgia. That means every year there were fewer deaths on the road than the previous year. Increased seat belt use, safer cars, fewer drunk drivers and greater awareness were probably all factors in this nine year decline. Sadly, that nine year run is coming to an end in 2015.

Through Nov. 9, 2014 there were 999 traffic fatalities in Georgia. Through Nov. 9, 2015 we have seen 1,170 traffic fatalities in the state. What has caused such a huge increase after an almost decade-long decline? Most likely it is the smart phone you are probably holding in your hand right now.

“This is an alarming trend that we are seeing, and even more alarming is that it is mostly attributable to human behavior,” said Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry. “We need people to take responsibility for their lives and that of their loved ones and ensure that they buckle up; put down the phone and do not drive impaired.”

I have little doubt that distracted driving, primarily the proliferation of smart phones is the main reason for the increase. Our phones can now do so many things and we are becoming more and more addicted to them. Texting, social media, a variety of apps — we use our devices so often throughout the day they have truly become another appendage.

It makes it that much more difficult to separate ourselves from these smart phones when we get behind the wheel. We check our phones when we first wake up, when we eat our meals, when are in meetings, when we use the facilities (don’t deny it), that when we get behind the wheel it is almost muscle memory to just grab our phones and look at them even when driving 60 miles per hour on the freeway.

There is no doubt that distracted driving is quickly becoming our most dangerous foe on the roads.

“We must turn the tide on distracted driving before we lose even more valuable lives,” said Natalie Dale of the Georgia Department of Transportation. “As of today we have lost 1,190 people. Each of these lives is important.. These are fathers, sons, mothers, and daughters who won’t be going home to their families.”

I admit that I am probably just as addicted to my smart phone as the next person. I often get called out by my wife for checking it during dinner or by a co-worker during a meeting. And yes, I find it difficult to not glance down at it while driving. Even when I make a concerted effort to not be distracted by my phone, I subconsciously find myself picking it up anyway.

The only solution is to put it in my glove compartment completely out of harms way.

“The simple, but important, act of putting down the phone, buckling up, and focusing on the road ahead can save your life and the lives of others,” Dale said. “We don’t have to build a huge interchange or wait for a multimillion dollar project to change this alarming trend in Georgia. We can each make a difference today by pledging to be responsible and safe drivers and put action behind those words.”