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Distraction-Related Car Accidents Remain Underreported

Distracted driving represents one of the single fastest growing causes of car accidents in the United States. Nearly all of us have a cell phone or handheld device in this day and age, and far too many of us pay more attention to our electronic technologies than we do the road. One need only examine the most recent studies to understand that cell phone use behind the wheel is a huge problem, but its quite possible that our statistics don’t even scratch the surface.

According to a recent investigation of state and federal traffic data conducted by the National Safety Council, motor vehicle accident fatalities resulting from phone usage have been seriously underreported over the years. The advocacy group reviewed approximately 180 fatal car accidents spanning 2009-2011 in which there was strong evidence of cellphone usage by the driver. The results illustrated that just 8% of all 2009 crashes surveyed were coded as involving cell phones; while cell phone awareness by authorities increased in 2010 and 2011, neither had more than half of their accidents coded for cell phone distraction. Even in cases where drivers openly admitted to having used a phone during an accident resulting in a fatality, roughly half of the cases cited other causes instead.

This underreporting sends a message of false security to drivers all across our country, and may foster a false belief that distracted driving isn’t as dangerous as people have been told. Officials say it is clear that the number of crashes caused by cellphone use is far greater than what is being reported, but it may not be possible to ever get complete reporting of cellphone involvement as long as reliance on admission is a factor. Instead, the council has asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to head up related studies, which seek to determine whether it is feasible to estimate cellphone distraction-related car accident numbers in a way that is similar to the estimates already being made for other data lacking vehicle accidents, such as instances involving drunk driving. (USA Today)

Of the more than 32,000 traffic deaths that occurred in the United States in 2011, only 385 were listed as involving cellphones. Our lawyers have spent their careers helping catastrophic injury victims, and we know that despite the statistics, distraction is a serious problem on our roadways. The first step in combating distracted driving is educating drivers, both young and old, about the serious consequences of diverting attention away from the road. Our attorneys believe that we can curb this trend, but to ensure a high level of efficacy for future anti-distracted driving initiatives, the collecting of reliable statistics will be invaluable.