EDITORIAL: Insurers hiking rates due to increase in crashes involving cell phones

Highway fatalities on America’s roads jumped 7.2 percent in 2015. Preliminary numbers from the National Safety Council suggest a 6 percent increase in 2016. This comes after decades of declining traffic deaths and despite myriad safety enhancements in the modern automobile.

While some advocates call for tougher seat belt laws or lower speed limits as a way to stem this deadly shift, that ignores the elephant stuffed the back seat: smartphones and other electronic distractions. And if there’s any doubt about the role these devices have played in the soaring death toll, the nation’s auto insurers have settled the question.

It’s “an epidemic issue for this country,” the CEO of State Auto Financial Corp. told the Wall Street Journal this week.

As a result, the Journal reports, major auto insurers are raising rates to cover costs associated with the leap in vehicle crashes. The industry is finding that “the use of smartphones to talk, text and access the internet while on the road is a new and important factor behind the wrecks,” the paper notes.

Law enforcement data on the issue tend to underestimate the problem. But insurance companies often do more detailed analyses, particularly to defend themselves in lawsuits. “The alarms being sounded by the industry are based partly on internal investigations to determine causes of policyholders’ crashes,” the Journal reports.

The higher insurance rates will affect most drivers, but that pales in comparison to the human costs. Until policymakers get serious about making it costly for motorists to use their electronic devices while on the road, the trend for traffic fatalities will get only worse.

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