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California road deaths: reversal of downward trend, Part 2

It is certainly food for thought to see the word "only" in a sentence that refers to the 2,739 traffic deaths that reportedly occurred on California roadways in 2010.

By any measuring stick, that number would seem notably high and remarkably sad. It equates, on average, to more than seven people dying in motor vehicle accidents on state roads every single day of the year.

Tellingly, though, that dismal statistic is in fact comparatively positive -- if that or a similar term can logically be used in such a context -- when considered in a contrastive sense to preceding years in which the death toll was even higher.

As noted in a recent newspaper article on traffic fatality trends in California, more than 4,300 people died in street and freeway accidents inside the state in 2006. When extrapolated, that number means this: Nearly 12 people died on the aforementioned "average day" in California that year.

Was 2010 a watershed year in terms of the comparatively few fatalities that occurred within it?

Recent -- and troubling -- assessments indicate that it might have been. Following that year, traffic-related deaths began ticking upward again, which has safety regulators justifiably concerned.

More vehicles are on the road these days than in recent years, given the improving economy that has resulted in more job commuters, and that is certainly one reason why more accidents are occurring.

And, yes, many Californians seem every bit as enamored of their smartphones as are motorists in other states. Paying more attention to a mobile device than to immediate roadway challenges is an obvious recipe for disaster, and many accidents are attributed to distracted driving.

And here's something interesting and ironic in a major sense: It just may be that some accidents are occurring because of the very existence of safety-enhancing technology that is incorporated into newer vehicles. Some drivers might actually feel so comforted by their tech assists that they are becoming overly reliant on them.

In other words: They're becoming lazy drivers.

Whatever the underlying causes are contributing to the rise in accidents and fatalities, traffic officials obviously want to limit the upswing.

"We want to keep it as minimal as possible," says an official with the California Office of Traffic Safety.

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