After years of decline, fatalities spike on America's highways

Some point to an increased use in smartphone apps
Posted at 5:41 PM, Nov 16, 2016

After years of declining numbers of traffic fatalities in America, there has been a sudden and drastic spike, and the trend has some people pointing to the increased use of smartphone apps as a likely culprit.

On America's highways, the first half of 2016 proved to be significantly more deadly than the same time last year.

17,775 people died from January through June of 2016, according to numbers compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Last year, 16,100 people died in the first half of 2015; the spike marks a 10.4% increase.

The number of fatalities from the first half of 2016 is the highest number since 2008 when the number of fatalities began to decline.

Safety advocates point to certain smart phone apps like Snapchat and PokemonGo as possible reasons people are driving less responsibly.

Florida Highway Patrol for instance is investigating a recent deadly crash that killed 5 people in Tampa that involved someone using a Snapchat feature that shows your speed. The video, obtained by ABC Action News, showed the driver reaching speeds of about 115 mph, if the number is accurate.

Other apps, like the navigation app Waze, are also showing increased use on America's highways.

Floridians in general have actually experienced a steady rise in the number of fatalities on highways over the past few years, and the state is on pace to exceed last year's numbers again.

In 2015,  2,940 people died on Florida highways, up from 2,497 in 2014, and 2,403 in 2013, according to state numbers made public by Florida's Integrated Report Exchange System.

Florida is on pace in 2016 to surpass the number of fatalities in 2015.

Driver safety advocates point to Florida's weak punishments against infractions, such as Florida's laws against texting-while-driving.

In Florida, such a rule remains a "secondary offense" which means, unlike in other states, a driver can't be pulled over by a law enforcement officer just for using their phone.

And the penalty? Just a $30 fine for a first offense.

The trend to use a phone while driving appears to be most popular among young drivers: a Pew Research Center survey revealed that about 40% of teen drivers admitted to being in a car when the driver was using a cell phone at a time that put the passengers in danger.