Data on distracted driving deaths inaccurate

Oct 16, 2014 - Articles - by Dodson & Hooks, APLC

State and federal public safety officials have been broadcasting the dangers of distracted driving for several years. As cell phone use has become more widespread in the U.S., the threats associated with talking on the phone and driving have grown. A study released in May 2013 by the National Safety Council entitled Crashes Involving Cell Phones: Challenges of Collecting and Reporting Reliable Crash Data demonstrated that the statistics about cell phone-related auto accidents are too low, and that the problem is even worse than people believed.

More cell phone auto accidents than reported

Researchers from the National Safety Council examined state and federal auto accident fatality data where there was significant evidence of driver cell phone use. They looked at 180 fatal auto accidents that occurred between 2009 and 2011 linked with cell phones. Of the accidents that occurred in 2011, authorities coded only 54 percent in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s database of motor vehicle accidents as involving cell phones. A mere 8 percent of fatal auto accidents caused by cell phone use in 2009 were coded as such, and only 35 percent of such accidents that occurred in 2010 were labeled as cell phone-related.

NHTSA statistics show that there were more than 32,000 auto accident fatalities in 2011 alone, but only 385 of those fatalities were attributed to accidents caused by cell phone use while driving. Researchers found that even in cases where drivers admitted to police officers that they had been using cell phones during auto accidents resulting in fatalities, about 50 percent of the time those accidents were not recorded in the database as involving cell phone use.

Researchers also found variances among the states in the way that they collect cell phone use data in auto accidents. Since the federal database depends on information from state authorities, the differences in collection methods impact the reliability of the data.

Difficulties linked to underreporting

Researchers suggested that one of the reasons cell phone-related auto accidents were underreported is police do not automatically look for evidence of cell phone use; they only investigate such matters if a driver or witness reports cell phone use. Police often do not want to go through the trouble of obtaining a subpoena to look at a driver’s cell phone records to see if the driver was on the phone at the time of the accident if police can readily attribute the accident to another source, such as running a stoplight.

However, inaccuracies in reporting distracted driving accidents cause major impediments to improving public safety. Without a clear picture of the extent of the dangers of using cell phones while driving, pro-safety organizations have difficulties persuading legislators that they should pass stricter distracted driving laws. Underreporting fatal accidents attributable to distracted driving also prevents the public from understanding what a safety threat distracted driving is.

Talk to a lawyer

Many believe that they have the ability to successfully multitask, and that talking on the phone does not decrease their abilities to drive safely. However, using a cell phone while driving removes part of a driver’s focus from the driving task, making the driver a safety risk to everyone on the road. If you have been in an auto accident caused by a distracted driver, speak with a seasoned car accident attorney who can help you recover for your losses.

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