If you regularly drive on the streets of Houston, you probably see drivers every day who are focusing more on their cellphones or other electronic devices than they are on the highway in front of them. The danger is real, as evidenced by an analysis of Texas crash reports by the Houston Chronicle.
In its survey of the nine counties comprising the Houston Metro area, researchers found a major uptick in the number of collisions with injuries and fatalities where distraction was a likely factor. In 2011, they identified 5,796 crashes. By 2016, that number had climbed to 8,211.
A driver’s unnecessary death
In one tragedy, police found a deceased driver’s cellphone near the accelerator on the wrecked SUV’s floorboard. It was opened to SnapChat. The driver was the sole occupant and was doing 55 mph at the time of the crash. The speed limit was 45 mph.
She had been eastbound in Deerfield Village on Clay Road shortly after 5 a.m. Something caused her to veer abruptly from the left lane over to the right shoulder. Overcorrecting caused her Toyota 4Runner to go into a counter-clockwise spin and clip the median. Her car continued sideways until it was stopped by crashing into a tree.
City governments aware of problem
The distracted driving problem no longer flies under the radar. In fact, the Houston-Galveston Area Council conducted their own research of motorists in the region. They determined there was a 23 percent rise in distraction-related accidents in the four-year period from 2012-2016.
Of course, not all of those crashes caused deaths or even serious injuries. Yet, there was a corresponding uptick to the number of serious injuries and fatalities, jumping up from 509 in 2012 to 735 in 2016, according to crash statistics on file with the Texas Department of Transportation.
Most deadly roads in America
The Chronicle concluded that Houston had the most dangerous roads in the country. It should be noted that Texas was one of the holdout states when it came to banning texting while driving. Even after state legislators caved to public pressures, they still offered motorists many exceptions that permit phone usage while driving.
The problem is exacerbated when law enforcement officers fail to enforce the ban. The sheriff of Chambers County stated those cases were notoriously difficult to prove and that he didn’t want “deputies to write tickets on anything they can’t 100 percent swear on the fact the person was committing a violation of law.”
In the nine months following the ban taking effect, his deputies issued no citations for cellphone usage behind the wheel.
Injured motorists can take action
If the police and state legislature drag their feet when protecting the public from the hazards of distracted driving, they do have a path to justice via the Texas civil courts. Motorists who suffer injuries caused by at-fault drivers who were distracted can file claims for their injuries and other damages.