More phones, more wrecks? Distracted driving on the rise

Cell phone-related car crashes rise
Cell phone-related car crashes rise

With people increasingly plugged in because of the ubiquity of mobile devices, drivers are also more distracted than ever, according to an advocacy group, and the result is a bigger share of motor accidents.

Recently, the National Safety Council (NSC) released data showing that 27 percent of car crashes—or 1,535,490 in 2013—were caused by cell phone use.

The boom in cell phone use is adding to the already costly problem of road injuries and deaths.

In an interview with CNBC this week, the CEO of the NSC, Deborah Hersman, said the percentage of cell phone related crashes isn't surprising, since cell phone use behind the wheel happens frequently. The challenge is to find a solution, she said.

"People are not surprised because they see so many people doing it," Hersman said. "What they need to do is talk about the things that business leaders are doing. They are leading the way."

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Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say distracted driving kills 9 people and injures hundreds of others on a daily basis. It also costs taxpayers billions per year.

In a 2014 study, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) put the total economic cost of motor vehicle accidents at $277 billion. Given the casualties and costs, observers such as the NSC say drivers and businesses should do all they can to cut down on accidents caused by cell phone use.

Hersman told CNBC that over 8 million employees are covered by bans from their employers on driving while using cell phones. She cited Exxon Mobil as one of the early pioneers of the movement.

"It's not just about safety, there are liability issues. It's just good business practice."

Technology might be perceived as the problem, but it can actually provide a solution, Hersman said.

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"We are getting to the point where we have collision-avoidance technology in cars," she said. "I do think when it comes to cell phone or in vehicle device use, anything that is nomadic or in vehicle, we will get smarter about that and technology can prevent the driver from being distracted."

Hersman added that there are future opportunities for the self-driving cars being currently developed by companies such as Google.

"It will help us with distracted drivers, and also fatigued and drunk drivers and teen drivers," Hersman said.

With the excitement surrounding the release of the Apple Watch, the NSC warns it comes with a new set of driving risks. The organization recently cautioned that Apple's latest gadget—whose functions include texting, web surfing and making phone calls—could also be disruptive to drivers.