The number of people killed in distraction-related crashes rose to 3,331 in 2011 from 3,267 in 2010, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported Dec. 10.
About 387,000 people were injured in wrecks blamed on distracted driving, a 7 percent decline from the estimated 416,000 people hurt in those crashes in 2010.
Overall, national highway deaths fell to 32,367 in 2011, the lowest level since 1949 and a 1.9 percent decrease from 2010, the NHTSA reported.
There was an overall 4.6 percent decrease in young driver-related fatalities, and a 5.5 percent decline in crashes involving young drivers. Distracted driver laws in some states single out young drivers, barring them from using cell phones and text messaging. Young drivers also are the focus of most distracted driving awareness campaigns. (The report did not break out distracted driving data by age group.)
The 2011 numbers provided the first year-to-year comparison since the NHTSA changed its way of tracking distracted driving accidents. That revision resulted in a significantly lower number of deaths reported for 2010 vs. 2009.
The 2010 switch to reporting “distraction-affected crashes” was made to focus on cell phone use and text messaging, the NHTSA said.
Since 2005, the overall number of U.S. traffic fatalities declined by 26 percent, the NHTSA said in its 2011 report on vehicle deaths and injuries (PDF).
“Even as we celebrate the progress we’ve made in recent years, we must remain focused on addressing the safety issues that are continuing to claim more than 30,000 lives each year,” NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said.
His boss, DOT chief Ray LaHood, the nation’s highest-profile fighter against distracted driving, said of the report: “As we look to the future, it will be more important than ever to build on this progress by continuing to tackle head-on issues like seat belt use, drunk driving, and driver distraction.”