Distracted driving cited in traffic deaths

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The Associated press

WASHINGTON — Auto insurers believe drivers who text, use smartphone apps or are otherwise distracted are a big factor in the recent surge in traffic fatalities and injuries, an industry official said Thursday.

The Transportation Department recently announced that deaths spiked 10.4 percent in the first six months of this year. That followed a 7.2 percent increase in 2015 after years of decliningdeaths. Robert Gordon, senior vice president for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, told a safety forum that the increase isn’t spread evenly across the country. He said insurers are seeing bigger increases in the frequency of auto collisions in urban areas where traffic congestion is getting worse, and declines in area where congestion isless of a problem. For example, the frequency of collisions dropped 11.3 percent in Alaska from 2014 to 2016, but rose 14 percent in the District of Columbia and 5.9 percent in neighboring Maryland. Other stateswith big increases in collisions include Florida, 9.1 percent; Georgia, 9.4; South Carolina, 7.9 percent; Mississippi, 6.7; Texas, 5.7; Nevada, 9.7; Oregon, 6.1, and Washington, 6.2. States with declines included Minnesota, 10.7 percent; North Dakota, 9.7 percent; Michigan, 9.3; Vermont, 7; Wisconsin, 6.5; Maine, 5.4; New Hampshire, 4.8; Iowa, 4.7; and West Virginia, 4.2.

The analysis relied on insurance data on collisions and Federal Highway Administration data on congestion, Gordon said.

There are other factors that drive up collision rates. People are driving more miles than ever before as the economy has improved and gas prices have dropped, for example. But those are national trends that don’t explain the local differences, he said.

“Our auto insurance companies feel the biggest cause of the increasing accident frequency is this type of distracted driving,” Gordon said.

Demographics are also a factor. Areas with larger shares of older or younger drivers also have a higher frequency of collisions, he said.