The latest statistics on U.S. roads show that we are continuing the dangerous increases in fatalities and injuries we have seen over the last two years.
I am travelling all over the world this year, both for my racing and for my work with Automobile magazine. So far, I have been to England, Germany, Spain, France, Australia, Portugal and the UAE. Wherever I go in the world, I rent a car and often drive hundreds of miles over a race weekend.
During my travels, I have learned that the differences between drivers in the U.S. and the seven other countries I visited are striking. In my three trips to Germany this year, I have not seen one driver looking at their phone while behind the wheel; it was the same in the U.K. My experience in the five other countries was very similar; I caught almost no one looking at their phone, even while stopped at traffic lights.
I asked the mechanics and managers on my German race team their thoughts on using a phone while driving. The simple answer most of them gave was, “I never look at my phone while driving, it makes no sense and is way too dangerous”.
In Germany, drivers are educated and warned very early about the dangers of using cell phones while driving and, as phones became popular, laws followed very quickly to further discourage their use.
It is basic common sense for drivers to never look at their phones while driving, but there is much more to it psychologically. If someone is willing to take their eyes off the road, even for a second, then they are putting a selfish need to look at their phone above the risk of possibly injuring or killing passengers, pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and other drivers.
Unfortunately, we now have a culture in the U.S. where looking at a phone while driving seems to be perfectly acceptable to most drivers. It will take a massive shift to turn things around.
Over the last eight years, I have frequently written about the need for all drivers to use their full awareness, including eye-scanning and anticipation, at all times while driving. It is now even more important, as things are getting even worse on U.S. roads. I have witnessed 11 actual crashes since January of this year. Over the previous 20 years, if I saw one crash every two years, that would be about it.
The problems we currently have on U.S. roads are avoidable; 94 percent of them are caused by human error. We have gone from 35,398 motor-vehicle fatalities in 2014 to an estimated 40,000 in 2016, the most dramatic two-year escalation in 53 years.
The smartphone is the 800lb gorilla of distracted driving. Many parents use their phones with children in the car with them and, of course, these children grow up thinking this behavior is normal, continuing this dangerous cycle.
In the U.S., we may not change these problems overnight with legislation and enforcement, but we can change our dangerous and selfish driving behaviors as individuals. I hope all drivers will consider the downside to their distracted driving decisions and start to value all other road users as they value their own children and families. We are all part of the human family and we can all do a much better job of protecting each other on our roads.