3 factors causing a spike in Illinois traffic deaths

Drunk driving, cellphone use and hands-free systems have all been linked to traffic fatalities in Illinois.

The number of traffic fatalities in Illinois is up nearly 8 percent compared to last year's information. A recent report in the Chicago Sun-Times found that approximately 50 more people have died following a motor vehicle accident so far this year than the number of people who died during the same timeframe last year.

According to experts, there are several reasons that could explain the uptick, which is also happening on the national level. The National Safety Council reports that traffic deaths are up 14 percent across the country. The following explanations could account for the increase, according to a traffic death researcher interviewed in the Chicago Sun-Times:

1. Handheld cellphone use

Under Illinois law, no driver may use a handheld cellphone while behind the wheel. However, many drivers in the state and around the country use the devices despite laws in place banning the behavior. A survey from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that there are 660,000 drivers on their phones at any given moment during the day.

These numbers are particularly alarming given the research that demonstrates just how dangerous the behavior can be. Distraction.gov reports that a driver who is texting while driving will have his or her eyes off the road for an average of five seconds. Further, distracted drivers were involved in accidents that caused 3,154 traffic deaths in 2013.

2. Car entertainment systems

An AAA report took a deep dive into so-called "infotainment" systems that many new vehicles have. These systems are designed to allow drivers to use devices in a hands-free way, sending texts or emails without having to pick up a phone. However, according to the study, these systems still cause a cognitive distraction because a driver's brain is still focusing on the activity instead of the road. AAA researchers reported that both using a handheld device or an entertainment system to talk on the phone resulted in the same amount of risk.

3. Drunk drivers

Drunk drivers are a major threat to themselves and others on the road. The Illinois Secretary of State reported that in 2012, 41 percent of the 956 traffic fatalities were alcohol-related. On top of that, 37,126 drivers are arrested on charges of drunk driving each year in the state.

Each of these three factors is entirely preventable. Drivers must behave responsibly in order to maintain safety on the road. When someone suffers a serious injury or dies as the result of such blatant negligence, legal action can and should be taken. Anyone who has suffered as the result of a distracted or drunk driver should speak with an attorney.