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Traffic deaths rise -- are apps to blame?

The biggest spike in motor vehicle traffic deaths happened last year after four decades of decline. Although some attribute the uptick in more people on the road due to lower gas prices, many others have blamed distracted driving, and specifically on using mobile apps while behind the wheel.

App usage while driving has become rampant in addition to the relatively new option of Wi-Fi included in cars. Combine the two, and it's a recipe for vehicular disaster. A person keeping their eyes off the road or hands off the wheel puts themselves and other motorists in serious danger.

Apps and driving are a relatively new problem

Distracted driving due to people using their phones behind the wheel isn't a new phenomenon - it's been around for a decade. However, 10 years ago the problem was people sending texts or talking, not interacting with an app that requires even more attention from the driver. Waze is a popular navigation app to get you to point A and B the fastest way based on community-sourced warnings and tips like hidden cops, lane closures, traffic jams and accidents. Snapchat offers a filter that displays the speed you're moving at on your snap. And most unfortunate: Pokémon Go, the ubiquitous-as-of-late gaming app, is being used to catch them all by drivers on highways and in neighborhoods.

2015 saw the largest percentage increase per year of highway fatalities in 50 years, and so far, 2016 is looking worse. From January to July this year, deaths increased 10.4 percent compared to 2015's numbers from the same portion of the year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Officials and experts are calling the sharp increase a "crisis," and just recently the president's administration announced a 30-year goal to eliminate traffic deaths altogether.

Florida in the news for deadly distracted driving

Unfortunately, Florida has recently entered the spotlight for a horrific crash last month that left five dead. The Florida Highway Patrol is still investigating the crash near Tampa on Oct. 26 where the teen passenger had used Snapchat to record the car's speed just before the crash - 115 mph.

While new campaigns and strategies to prevent fatal motor vehicle accidents are created and begin to be implemented, distracted drivers will continue to harm people in Florida and the rest of the country. We need to take it upon ourselves to consciously keep our phones out of our hands and our eyes on the road while driving; it's easier said than done. Keep your phone out of reach in the car, and set any navigation or music before taking off to save on distractions.

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