The number of highway fatalities in Wyoming is up precipitously this year. To date, 76 fatalities have occurred on Wyoming highways, including four fatalities on highways in Johnson County. Statewide, that compares with 42 at this time last year and 61 in 2017.
Theories as to why the accidents are resulting in such a high number of fatalities range from simple speeding to distracted driving. Lt. Erik Jorgensen, supervisor for Wyoming Highway Patrol District 4 Division C, believes it’s a combination of many factors.
“There’s a lot of distracted driving going on,” Jorgensen said. “And distracted by multiple different things – like cellphone use and the advancement in technology within the vehicle itself.”
Infotainment systems in automobiles have come a long way and the screens have gotten larger. Although those screens may display a wealth of information, they also distract drivers, Jorgensen said.
“You can send text messages, make phone calls, check the weather and get on your Facebook account,” Jorgensen said. “You can do that all from your car. I think some of that is an additional distraction.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that in 2017, there were 3,166 people in the U.S. killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.
Six percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes were reported to be distracted at the time of the crashes. Eight percent of drivers 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes were reported to be distracted. This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted at the time of the fatal crashes, according to the report.
While distraction has certainly proven to be a factor, speed plays a large part in both driver reaction time and the severity of trauma and damage caused by collisions.
“When we have speed limits that allow people to travel at 70 or 80 miles per hour as the law, we get people who are trying to push that even more,” Jorgensen said. “When we have people pushing the limits at 80 mph to try and drive faster than that, it’s going to cause much more trauma in a crash. When you increase your speed that much, you’re also increasing the energy that a vehicle has to dissipate in a crash.”
Reaction time varies from person to person, but according to an article published on howacarworks.com, the average person has a reaction time of approximately 0.5 seconds to apply the brakes in an emergency. The distance required by a vehicle to make a complete stop within that time varies with speed. While traveling at 50 mph, a reaction time of 0.5 seconds requires approximately 50 feet. While traveling at 70 mph, that distance increases to 70 feet.
Should your reaction time be slowed by distraction by only 0.4 seconds, that distance is increased to 90 feet, according to the website.
Slowing down and paying attention to the road will decrease reaction time and allow the driver more time to prevent an accident, Jorgensen said.