Now that digital devices have become more pervasive in our daily lives, they pose a serious threat as a distraction — not only at our jobs, but also in our cars. According to a recent study, the number of pedestrians and bicyclists who have been killed by distracted drivers has risen significantly in the past several years — up to 50 percent more in 2010 than in 2005.

Researchers say distracted driving is a public health threat. Even though vehicle deaths have decreased in the U.S., the number of pedestrian and bicyclist deaths caused by distracted driving has actually been increasing. “We’re constantly exposed to distracted drivers,” Fernando Wilson, author of the study and an associate professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said in a news release. “I don’t think there’s a day that I don’t see someone driving and using their cell phone. A lot of times they’re texting. It’s something that’s pervasive in society. That’s one of the reasons it’s so difficult to deal with.”

The study, which used data from the U.S. Fatality Analysis Reporting System, found that mostly white males between the ages of 25 and 64 accounted for the distracted driving that ultimately led to pedestrian and cyclist deaths. The number of pedestrians killed by distracted driving reached 500 in 2010, from 344 in 2005; the number of bicyclists killed, meanwhile, rose 30 percent, from 56 in 2005 to 73 in 2010. Half of these deaths occurred during daytime hours.

According to Distraction.gov, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website dedicated to distracted driving, there were 3,328 people who were killed in distracted driving accidents in 2012. There were a total of 32,885 people who died in traffic crashes in 2010, and some 10,228 who died in a drunk driving accident. Though drunk driving still takes up the bulk of traffic-related crashes, distracted driving has become a cause for concern. Since 2009, NHTSA “held two national distracted driving summits, banned texting and cell phone use for commercial drivers, encouraged states to adopt tough laws, and launched several campaigns to raise public awareness about the issue,” it states. The NHTSA also explains that there are three main kinds of distraction: manual distraction, which involves taking your hands off the wheel (eating or applying makeup while driving); visual, meaning your eyes are no longer on the road (texting); or cognitive, taking your mind off driving. Find a number of research reports on distracted driving accidents here.

Currently, 41 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have bans on texting for all drivers. 12 states ban drivers from using handheld cell phones at all. Some states only have bans on cell phones for novice drivers, while other states — such as Montana — currently do not have any bans regarding distracted driving.

The authors hope the data from their study “can be used by advocates of policies to reduce distracted driving or improve the safety of the built environment for pedestrians and bicyclists,” they wrote in the conclusion. “If you don’t [use seat belts or car seats for children], which are now the social norm, it’s viewed negatively,” Wilson said in the news release. “The laws are stricter. With cell phones, we don’t have that social stigma. Not to mention that distracted driving is more difficult to enforce than other driving-safety laws.”

Source: Jim P. Stimpson, PhD, Fernando A. Wilson, PhD, Robert L. Muelleman, MD. Fatalities of Pedestrians, Bicycle Riders, and Motorists Due to Distracted Driving Motor Vehicle Crashes in the U.S., 2005–2010. Public Health Reports, November-December 2013