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America's Most Dangerous Highways

The Atlantic: Citylab
October 21, 2016

Why are Southern interstates so deadly? It could be a lethal mix of high speeds, distracted driving, and lax regulations.

Driving in America is becoming more deadly, with nearly 18,000 people killed in traffic incidents in just the first six months of 2016. That represents an increase of more than 10 percent over the same time last year—a period that saw similar gains over 2014. Fatalities per 100,000 miles driven are at a 7-year high. The troubling death spike may have several causes, including the fact that more Americans are driving more as the economy has recovered. But it’s believed that one big culprit is distracted driving. As CityLab reported earlier this year, American drivers are texting, talking, futzing with with vehicle’s ever-more-complex entertainment systems, and otherwise ignoring the road more than half the time they’re behind the wheel. The epidemic of distracted driving is thought to be responsible for about 9 percent of all road fatalities.Meanwhile, anti-cellphone traffic laws remain frustratingly difficult to enforce in most states, and nonexistent in a handful of others.

Under the mantle of a policy platform known as “Vision Zero,” a growing number of cities have launched campaigns to limit and eventually end all road fatalities, and the U.S. Department of Transportation recently jumped on bandwagon, too: The “Road to Zero” coalition will fund initiatives to improve traffic engineering, law enforcement, and educational strategies across the country. It’s all aimed at getting state laws aligned with the best road safety practices out there.

The risks of distracted driving in this under-regulated terrain are suggested by a new analysis that Seth Birnbaum, CEO of the auto insurance marketplace EverQuote, put together. Their safe-driving app EverDrive (co-developed byCambridge Mobile Telematics), which captures a driver’s phone use while their car is in motion, has yielded data from 6 million trips over 75 million miles from 38,000 registered users nationwide. Between this phone-use data and theiranalysis of crash statistics collected between 2010 and 2015 by the Federal Highway Administration, the company put together a ranking of the nation’s most lethal highways. The results show how risky driving habits, coupled withan absence of state policy attempting to curb it, may be pushing up fatalities.

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