An alarming increase in traffic fatalities in Kansas reiterates the importance of limiting cellphone use while driving.
There were 432 traffic fatalities in the state in 2016, a rate of almost 1.2 deaths every day. The total number of fatalities increased by 22 percent from 355 in 2015. In fact, 2016 was the deadliest year on Kansas roadways in more than a decade. And after a quarter century of steady declines in the rate of fatal accidents per million miles traveled, the rate has ticked upward each of the past two years.
The trend is not isolated to Kansas. The National Safety Council reported that fatalities nationwide increased 6 percent in 2016. The number of people who died in traffic accidents last year was more than 40,000 for the first time in 10 years.
The National Safety Council reports that only Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa and New Mexico had a larger percentage increase in traffic deaths than Kansas from 2015 to 2016.
About 20 percent of all traffic accidents in Kansas are caused by what the Kansas Department of Transportation calls “failure to give full time and attention” to the road, by far the leading contributing factor in Kansas traffic accidents. Cellphone use falls under the “failure to give full time and attention” category.
Ken Kolosh, a statistics manager with the safety council, said cellphone use is not the only factor in the spike in traffic accidents. As the economy improves and gas prices fall, more cars are on the road, increasing the risk of accidents.
“We have been examining traffic fatalities since 1913, and we know they ebb and flow with the economy,” Kolosh told the Wichita Eagle. “When our dollars improve, our roadways become more dangerous.”
But Kolosh said miles driven increased 3 percent while traffic deaths increased 6 percent, meaning other factors such as cellphones are at play.
It’s illegal to text while driving in Kansas, but it’s not illegal to talk on a cellphone while driving. Studies have shown that using a cellphone is distracting for drivers and it doesn’t matter if the driver is holding the phone in his or her hand or is using a hands-free device.
More than a dozen states — California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia — plus the District of Columbia prohibit the use of hand-held cellphones while driving. Given the alarming increase in traffic fatalities, perhaps it’s time Kansas reviewed the effectiveness of such laws and considered a similar ban here.