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Distracted Drivers

Excerpt from 6 part series – Houston Chronicle Out of Control Part 5 -Distracted drivers struggle to keep eyes on the road in Houston region.
by Dug Begley and St. John Barned-Smith

Drivers in Houston know if they look to their left or right, there is a good chance they will see someone paying more attention to their phone than the road ahead. A recent survey conducted by Zendrive, which monitors mobile-phone use for trucking and delivery companies, showed that Houston had more distracted drivers than any other city measured. Nearly one in 12 drivers were observed using their phones, up from one in 20 the previous year.

Other studies over the years have shown similar growth in cellphone use while driving by the region’s motorists, including an analysis by the Houston-Galveston Area Council. It found that distraction-related crashes grew 23 percent from 2012 through 2016.

In the nine-county Houston metropolitan area, the number of fatal and injury crashes in which distraction was identified as a likely cause jumped from 5,796 in 2011 to 8,211 in 2016, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis of state crash records. Most of those resulted in minor injuries. During the same period, however, those killed or seriously injured increased from 509 to 735, according to crash data maintained by the Texas Department of Transportation.

The spike in disastrous distracted crashes, which officials note declined in 2017 but remains above 2011 levels, helped fuel a troubling period on the region’s roadways. The Houston area is the deadliest in the country for drivers, passengers and people in their paths, a Chronicle analysis shows.

Along with speeding and alcohol and drug impairment, safety officials say distracted driving is reaching epidemic levels, even if it is not being blamed for the bulk of the body count.

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