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Editorial: We need an answer to the recent surge in highway deaths

Automobile manufacturers and the makers of smartphones need to get together and figure out how to make the roads safer.
That’s because more and more people are driving while texting, swiping and posting. Talking on the phone used to be the problem. Now the options for distracted driving seem to grow with each new generation of smartphone.

A recent Bloomberg News article stated that after decades of decline in the number of traffic fatalities, the number has surged by 14.4 percent in the past two years. The total of more than 37,000 deaths in 2016 works out to more than 100 fatalities every day in America, the highest in a decade. Regulators claim not to know why crash-related deaths have increased but motorists need only keep an eye on other drivers. It isn’t too hard to see someone dangerously preoccupied with a smartphone or other electronic device.

Laws are in place across much of the country prohibiting talking on the phone while driving and even texting while driving. Yet, drivers still engage in those activities.

The danger seems destined to grow as developers come up with more ways for us to stay in instant communication with others. At the same time, more and more people have smartphones. From 2014 to 2016, according to the article, the slice of Americans owning an iPhone, Android or another device rose from 75 percent to 81 percent.

Texting, tweeting, Facebooking and other social media require a certain amount of concentration be directed away from the duties of driving. When that happens, bicyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians are most at risk of dying.

Those slight figures are harder to make out by drivers dividing their attention between the road and smartphones or touch screens on the dashboard.

Persuading drivers not to swipe, tap or text won’t be easy. Too many of them are unable to resist the siren song of social media, even for a few minutes. Therefore it’s time for manufacturers of automobiles and technology to come up with solutions to bring down the highway death toll.

It’s happened before in the decades-long effort to build safer cars. Seats belts, multiple air bags, crumple zones, better mirrors, electronic warning devices and more dropped the death toll from 55,000 to about 32,000 as recently as 2014. The recent increase should concern everyone.

Societal pressure and even laws are not going to shame drivers away from their technology while driving. Experts need to figure out how to prevent drivers from using social media or make it safe to use.

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