Traffic deaths in Pennsylvania reached an all-time low in 2013, according to figures announced this spring by PennDOT. Fatalities on our state’s roads were down almost 8 percent from a year earlier.

Everyone can agree that those numbers are good news. The overall picture, however, masked a disturbing trend that we’ve been following closely here at Scartelli Olszewski, P.C.

Even as the total number of traffic fatalities in Pennsylvania declined, the number of traffic fatalities in accidents involving distracted drivers rose 12 percent between 2012 and 2013. Distracted driving was listed as a factor in more than 14,600 motor vehicle crashes in Pennsylvania last year.

Those numbers are increasing even as the public has developed a new degree of awareness of the dangers of text messaging and other cell phone usage while behind the wheel. In Pennsylvania, it’s been illegal to send text messages while at the wheel of a moving vehicle for more than two years, even if media reports suggest that those laws aren’t having much of a deterrent effect.

Distracted driving is not a new phenomenon, though, and it’s certainly not limited to cell phone use. Any activity that takes a driver’s attention away from where it belongs — on the road ahead and on the other neighboring vehicles — is a potential cause of distracted driving. Looking into the back seat to settle unruly children. Consulting a dashboard’s GPS screen. Looking down to retrieve coffee or a soft drink from a cup holder. Changing the station on the car’s radio. All of these have been documented as causes of distracted driving accidents.

As for that person in your rearview mirror who is using their visor to apply makeup or use an electric razor during the morning commute … well, you can see for yourself how much attention they’re giving your vehicle.

In the moment it takes to perform any of these actions, the situation on the road can change dramatically, and inattention in those crucial moments has the potential to change lives … or end them.

The Pennsylvania Association for Justice has partnered with EndDD.org and the Casey Feldman Foundation to provide drivers and parents with resources to educate themselves and their driving-age children on the importance of staying focused behind the wheel. PennDOT has its own resource site, Just Drive PA, which is available at www.JustDrivePA.org.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of a distracted driver, call our office today. In the meantime, pay attention when you’re on the road. The next text message you send at the wheel might cost you a lot more than a traffic ticket.