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Smartphone apps drive fatal car accident surge

Until recently, the long-term trend in U.S. traffic fatalities was one of steady improvement. Deaths on American roads decreased steadily from the 1970s until about five years ago. But since then the trend has been going the other way; motorists and passengers in Louisiana and across the country face an increasing risk of being killed in their vehicles.

Last year saw the biggest yearly increase in fatal motor vehicle accidents nationwide since 1965. The data for this year is even more discouraging: according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in the first half of 2016, fatal crashes were up by more than 10 percent over the same period in 2015.

Safety experts and insurance companies agree that a major factor in the rising death toll is drivers using their smartphones to access the Internet behind the wheel. Distracted driving has expanded from drivers texting and making phone calls, to include drivers using apps like Snapchat or playing games like Pokémon Go behind the wheel.

Automakers are responding to the crisis by installing hands-free systems in new vehicles that allow drivers to use their phones without taking their hands off the wheel. But some experts say the new systems don't address the real problem, which is the mental distraction drivers experience while concentrating on a task other than driving. And one safety expert worries that the new technologies are actually making the problem worse, by encouraging drivers to perform even more tasks on their phones while driving.

When someone is killed in a fatal accident, their family can be devastated emotionally and financially. Recovering from the loss of a loved one can be a long and painful process. If the death was due to the negligence of another driver, the family may be able to seek compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit.

Source: New York Times, "Biggest Spike in Traffic Deaths in 50 Years? Blame Apps," Neal E. Boudette, Nov. 15, 2016

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