As more drivers took to the road following the outbreak of COVID-19, the nation chalked up a significant increase in the number of crashes to distracted driving in 2021.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that there were 3,522 fatal crashes nationwide in which at least one driver was distracted in 2021. That’s 368 more fatal crashes due to distracted driving in the previous year — an increase of 12%.
Handheld phone use, either texting or surfing social medial, is at the center of the problem of distracted driving.
“It is definitely cellphones, but really it can be anything that’s taking your attention away from your driving,” said 2nd Lt. Ian Yost, of the Traffic Division of Fairfax County police.
“It could be just as simple as adjusting your radio controls. You look down for a second, the next thing, you know, something happens in front of you and you just don’t have the time to react.”
Speeding is another contributing factor to crashes in the area. Both speeding and distracted driving sharply reduce a driver’s reaction time to road events.
“Any time you’re either distracted or speeding, your reaction time is going to be slowed down, and then that’s going to increase your chance of a crash … your focus and attention is taken away by either speeding or doing something other than focusing on driving. You’re just not going to have the time to react. So whether that’s somebody running out in front of you or seeing a bicycle, or just another car pulling out in front of you, you’re just not going to be able to have that reaction time,” Yost said.
The latest crash data made public by NHTSA showed that there were 973 fatalities in road crashes in Virginia in 2021 — a 14% increase over 2020.
There were 41 crash deaths in the District of Columbia compared to 26 in 2020, for a 14% increase.
Maryland recorded a drop of 2.1% in traffic crashes — 561 in 2021 compared to 573 in 2020.