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The rising death toll of smartphones behind the wheel

Let's face it: Most of us are addicted to our cellphones. We use them to stay in constant communication with friends and family. We endlessly scroll through social media posts. We rely on our GPS apps to get places. We have round-the-clock access to email, news headlines and traffic updates - not to mention Google - at our fingertips.

Yet smartphones kill people at staggering rates, and for one simple reason: We can't seem to put them down when we're driving.

A widespread problem

If you frequently find yourself glancing at text messages or talking on the phone while driving, you're not alone. Drivers nationwide use their phones during 88 percent of all trips, according to a Zendrive study. And the National Safety Council estimates that more than 1.6 million crashes every year are at least partly attributable to cellphone use.

It's no surprise that traffic fatalities have risen in tandem with increased smartphone use. Death rates soared with a nearly 15-percent spike from 2014 to 2016 alone. A disproportionate number of those fatalities were pedestrians, motorcyclists and cyclists - those most likely to be struck by distracted drivers.

Why it's so dangerous

It's easy to overestimate our ability to multitask, especially when it comes to driving. Most distracted drivers who end up causing devastating crashes meant no harm. They thought they were in control, but they weren't.

Using a cellphone causes distraction on multiple levels. It takes your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel and your mind off of what's going on around you.

Nobody would drive for five whole seconds with their eyes closed. Yet that's essentially what happens if you text while driving.

Changing the culture

Despite clear evidence that using a cellphone while driving can have deadly consequences, far too many people still do it. The challenge lies in changing our culture.

People rarely have the same level of disgust for distracted driving as they do for drunk driving, even though multiple studies have shown that using a cellphone while driving is just as dangerous (if not more so) than driving drunk. Unfortunately, for many, this lesson comes too late - and at far too steep a price.

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